Since arriving back to the United States, most mornings I wake up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my students. Typically, these messages read “Miss what are you doing?” or “Miss how is the pandemic in America?” prompting casual updates on our shared experiences in quarantine. Recently, these messages have taken on a new urgency, with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests happening in more than 2,000 cities in the United States. Worldwide people are demanding justice for the killings of Black Americans by white police officers. The killing of Black Americans is a systemic problem in the United States and requires action beyond police reform and prosecution.
These morning messages are now filled with voices of concern and confusion. Students are now asking “Miss why are people protesting in America?” Social media and the world wide web allows worry for my safety, and while I myself am not in any immediate danger, I struggle to put into words the long history of racism in the United States and what these protests mean beyond me as an individual.
TikTok is a social media application that many Indonesian high schoolers rely on for global news and honest portrayal of experiences beyond their grasp. On such a platform, posts are spread at the swipe of a thumb, offering little pause for reflection and making misinformation rampant. The Black Lives Matter Protests in the United States of America have not been exempt from the consequences of fake news. For instance, a Tiktok of President Donald Trump supposedly mocking the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has been circulating. The clip of President Donald Trump standing in front of a crowd exclaiming “I cant breath, I cant breath” was taken out of context. It was originally from a rally held in Colorado Springs where President Trump was referring not to George Floyd’s death, but to former democratic primary presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, fumbling with his answers during a debate. Students were shocked by such a seemingly insensitive act on the matter of race in the United States.
How do you explain how such a video was taken out of context without denying the reality of which we currently exist over WhatsApp? How do you summarize the complexities of the history of race in the United States through language and cultural barriers? How do you explain the larger backdrop of a United States that still has confederate statues to a student who has never traveled beyond their hometown? To answer these questions, I turned to the support and creative brain power of my cohort. While social media platforms can accidentally cause students to promote misinformation, they can also be a teaching resource. Here are some suggestions I gained from the collective man power of my 2019-2020 Indonesian ETA cohort.
Use your social media platforms to share, repost and send information to your host community. Try to engage in the post before posting in order to make sure you yourself are not also spreading false information. When sharing posts, consider translating some of the information, making it even more accessible to your students. There are many social media accounts currently explaining the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in America. Reshare a post on your story or personal accounts that is visible to your students. Also, many social media accounts share free books and resources that you can also repost and share with your community abroad. Many social media platforms allow you to post polls or host a Q&A with your followers. Make the most of these functions by allowing your community to ask you questions and providing answers on your story. For members of your host community that may not be on social media, share articles and posts to any WhatsApp groups you are still a part of as well. This will broaden your reach of interaction with your host community to anyone who might be curious and not sure how to ask you.
Similar to when you were teaching grammar and vocabulary to your students and would have to review the material and create an age appropriate lesson, you can review the information about the Black Lives Matter movement and create a lesson plan to teach your students. Your lesson plan can include explaining the history of police brutality in America coupled with videos of people protesting and the reason why they are protesting. You could end the lesson with an activity where you ask students to create a poster they would carry to a Black Lives Matter protest. There are several online resources that also provide lesson plans to teach students about the Black Lives Matter movement that you can lean on. Take a look at the “For Children” tab on websites like, blmresources.net, for children’s books on race that may be more appropriate for students where English is their second, third, or even fourth language.
Another way you can approach conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States is through comparisons to your host country. An article posted in the Jakarta Post highlighted how systemic racism is not unique to the United States. While the history and cultural contexts differ greatly, this article discusses the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter, a spin off of #BlackLivesMatter trending in Indonesia, calling for Indonesians to reflect on their own history with racism and oppression. Papua is an eastern region of Indonesia notoriously exploited for its abundance of natural resources, while simultaneously being denied basic public amenities. This offers a starting point to both improve your understanding as an ETA of the political climate in your host country as well as have students draw their own parallels and make their own conclusions on the Black Lives Matter movement.
From this, I was able to meet my students on a common ground of understanding, allowing us to share about how racism persists in our respective countries and what we can do to combat it as individuals. Similarly to how the shared experience of social isolation once prompted conversations around COVID-19, recognition of racism across the world has facilitated meaningful WhatsApp conversations.
-Lucy Srour, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia
-Ammarah Rehman, 2019-2020 ETA to Indonesia