Can We All Be Influencers?
Mikaela Loach, climate justice and anti-racism activist based in Edinburgh is also a blogger, writer, and co-presenter of her podcast. She also regularly speaks at various events, and pre-pandemic could often be found attending marches and protests. Impressively, she does all this while studying for her medical degree! However, this staggering list of achievements (while very impressive) is not the reason I am writing about Mikaela.
While impossible to quantify, I think some of the most important activism that Mikaela has done has been calling out racism in her university course. In her lectures, Mikaela was being shown how illnesses present themselves on the skin. But she was only shown examples on white skin. By excluding non-white skin from these lectures her university was preparing her – and all the other future doctors in her class – to be deficient in knowledge to treat white patients and non-white patients equally. Mikaela called out this as medical racism.
It should never have been the burden of a Black person, let alone a Black student, to point out the inadequacy of education her university was providing her. However, her action of speaking out when she saw institutionalized racism has resulted in change. The content has been updated to show how the same conditions present differently on different skin colors.
A lot of people have taken to trying to be more politically and socially engaged this year, particularly on social media. Many of my friends posted about Black Lives Matter in June or anti-Asian racism that was exacerbated by Covid-19, when previously they never would have. Words like ‘privilege’ and ‘intersectionality’ have been plunged into everyday language as we endeavor like never before to reflect and recognize the advantages and disadvantages we have compared to others in society. It’s great that social justice concepts have been mainstreamed and that we are all trying to show support for causes that might not have had a big enough share of our attention before. But we also need to remember that posting about inequality does not absolve us of responsibility from upholding it, that sharing a cute infographic makes very little impact on its own, and that to really understand something we need to read more than an Instagram caption about it.
Most of us do not have Mikaela’s reach on social media, but most of us don’t need it. After seeing a wave of performative activism in the wake of Black Lives Matter this summer, I reflected on how much work I was actually doing to improve the inequalities I am directly confronted with. The answer was not a lot. We all have circles of influence; families and friends, schools and universities, and workplaces. If everyone felt responsible for making sure who and what they engage with are in active pursuit of equality, the change would be seen much faster than with everybody posting on Instagram.
It's always more difficult for marginalized people to speak up in unjust situations; they may fear for their physical safety, mental wellbeing, or financial security. So when we are safe, we should speak. Mikaela's actions encouraged me to join in on efforts to review my university course material to make sure it is not exclusively referencing white, Western scholars. A small step, but one that could help stop the normalization of racist or Eurocentric understandings of global politics. I am very privileged to access higher education, so am also involved with clubs trying to make my university more accessible to the average high school student instead of exclusively catering to the wealthy and privately educated. Even having ongoing conversations with my friends and family that we might have previously avoided – about gender, race, and class – has allowed for nuanced understanding and continued learning that just doesn’t happen when we turn to social media for information.
It can sometimes feel like everybody on social media wants to be an activist. However, Mikaela's posts have reminded me that for most of us, the most important thing we can do is to actively engage with the injustice around us. We don't need tens of thousands of followers, the ripple effect of influencing what's around us will do more than posting a black square or an infographic ever will.