Today, Pearson checks in with her take on the discussion. Pearson calls Memphis, Tennessee home. She is a Program Coordinator for New Student & Family Programs at Florida State University. She received her Bachelor’s in Secondary English-Education (2013) and Master’s in Higher Education/Student Personnel (2015) from the University of Mississippi. Pearson will begin her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Higher Education-Student Affairs at Florida State University in Fall 2017.
Technology has been a part of my life for the majority of my life. As a 25 y.o. Black, new professional, I identify very heavily, but also very positively and passionately, with being a millennial.
My earliest memory of technology is slightly different as I obtained by first email address when I was in middle school. My parents had divorced a few years prior and my dad was about to, for the first time in my life, move really far away. My father has been in the military my entire life so not seeing him for long periods of time due to deployment was pretty normal. But this time (perhaps due to the divorce, distance, and deployment), my mom set up an email account for me so that I could write to my dad. It was my first taste of digital messaging.
Later on, Tagged, AIM, Yahoo Messenger & MySpace emerged. By the time, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & SnapChat emerged, there wasn’t a big learning curve for me. I knew how to use the tools, but perhaps the biggest learning curve was determining what my digital identity was going to look like. This didn’t mean much to me until, in 2012, I participated in an interview with Don Lemon on CNN where he shared my Twitter username on national television. My social media presence and digital identity took quite the turn when I was elected homecoming queen at the University of Mississippi (affectionately known as Ole Miss). Being the first (and currently only) black woman to hold this position, I received a lot of media attention (sometimes not always positive) which, in my opinion, required me to be more sensitive to my digital identity.
It wasn’t just about my digital identity and potential future employers, but more so about my family and my church. My family is huge (this is not an exaggeration)! And how I represented them was important to me. They purchased over a 100 tickets to Ole Miss’ Homecoming Game to see me. Every article, interview, magazine, etc. that I was featured in was shared and probably is still somewhere in their homes. I was also born and raised AME (African Methodist Episcopal) and was (and still am) very passionate about that identity and how I represent my God, my faith, and my church. Saint Andrew AME in Memphis, Tennessee is where I gave my life to Christ when I was 15 or 16 years old and it is still, to this day, one of my favorite places in the world.
Those are the aspects that really provide my standard operating procedures online and with technology. I learned very quickly (due to a really degrading YouTube video) that how I represent my God and my family was all I cared about and regardless of how much effort I put into my digital identity, much would be left to interpretation as well as criticism. I think that’s what makes my digital media use authentic.
As a professional of color, it’s really important for me to be authentic in all spaces. I realized just how authentic my digital media presence was when I transitioned to Florida State. New to my position, I did not talk a lot and to some students my vernacular made it appear that I was “not woke” (aka “You talk white”–but that’s an issue for another day). When this particular student followed me a Twitter though, he pronounced me as “radical” the next time he saw me. My views aligned with many of his own and my engagement in Black Twitter was genuine. I shared stories of injustice and privilege while also contributing to the comedic nature that is often embedded within Black Twitter. Since then our relationship has been dramatically different. His level of comfort to discuss his identity and his experience increased. His desire to gain my opinion and advice heightened. It was interesting because he didn’t allow my skin color to immediately determine his comfortability. My twitter feed was vetted first. While I think my actual voice is the same in person as it is on twitter, he was able to decipher something different in that digital space. He was able to learn a lot about me without asking a lot of questions. That’s how that relationship was established and really that’s how it continues to develop. My students favorite and retweet a lot of my feed and I am cognizant of what that means. Mirroring how I navigate these spaces could be how they are learning to navigate their digital identity.
However, I do think that the level of authenticity depends on the platform. On twitter, it is easy to retweet someone’s 140-character response that I agree with. However, on Facebook, I am much more intentional. Because Facebook tends to have lengthier articles—I use caution before I just share an article. Did I read the whole article? Do I holistically agree with everything in the article?
As I navigate social media as a young, black, and new professional, I often find that I am at a crossroads. Because I share a lot on social media, I unfairly have that expectation of others. Because of the heightened climate in our country, I wonder (again, unfairly) that if you’re not speaking out against the injustices, do you care? Do you know? Are you even attempting to understand? I constantly have to remind myself (for the sake of others and myself) that while social media is a great platform for sharing injustices, that we can also share trivial things. It’s okay to post a funny story, something related to pop culture, or a fun trip I went on. It doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else) has forgotten or is overlooking the world’s injustices. It means that we can do both—we have the capacity to denounce something inhumane and share that really funny meme.
But at the same time, there are barriers and limitations to how I navigate social media. There are articles that are sent to me or I send privately because white fragility is real. But in the same breath, so is black pain. I am 100% comfortable sharing an article about the unjust killing of a black man or child, but when it comes to sharing the Root’s 2016: Wypipo Awards, I hold back. I haven’t discovered why yet.
One of my favorite tweeters, Blair Imani (@BlairImani) once tweeted, “If being vocal about injustice will tarnish your career, it is a career worth pursuing.”
I hold on to this sentiment very strongly when I am engaging in social media and while my family and my faith provide my standard operating procedures, this statement is also my foundation when I consider my standard operating procedure for social media as it relates to my profession.
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