A group of clergy members wanted to change the conversation when they heard that a Florida police department was using mug shots of young black men as targets for shooting practice.
But the well-intentioned hashtag is provoking mixed responses.
It wasn’t long before Broderick Greer, a 24-year-old student at Virginia Theological Seminary, noticed something about the pictures showing up under #UseMeInstead.
Most of the participants were white.
“I’m conflicted. I have so many wonderful white clergy friends involved in that hashtag,” Greer told HuffPost. “But it’s fallen into a ‘white savior’ narrative, that these white clergy have come to the aid of these helpless black people. And I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to promote.
“We don’t want white people to be used instead of black people as a target, we don’t want anyone to be used as target practice,” Greer continued. “We want everyone to live in a society where they’re not targeted for anything."
The idea for #UseMeInstead emerged from a discussion on a private Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Facebook group, according to the Rev. Angela Shannon, pastor of Dallas' King Of Glory Lutheran Church. A black clergy member alerted the group that bullet-ridden mugshots of young black men had been found at a shooting range used for police training in Florida. The North Miami Beach City Council has since permanently banned the practice.
Shannon said she suggested clergy members send their own photos to the police department. The Rev. Joy M. Gonnerman and two other clergy members created a Facebook event, inviting pastors to send in photos of themselves in their religious clothing.
“Our faith teaches us that all human life is sacred. And when human life is devalued, Jesus teaches us to put ourselves in the place of those whose humanity is denied, just as he did,” the pastors wrote on the page.
"These young men [the police] were shooting at were black, but this was a reminder that they are human people, regardless of race," Gonnerman told HuffPost about #UseMeInstead. "I understand the sentiment of the 'white savior' thing, but it doesn't mean we should stand aside and say we have nothing to do at all."
Shannon supported #UseMeInstead initially, but said the good intentions of the hashtag soon "derailed for a variety of reasons."
"My white colleagues were using their privilege to step in, so to speak, but privilege is a double-edged sword because in the end what happened is that the privilege was used for both good and ill because it silenced black voices," Shannon said.
Nyasha Junior, an assistant professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Howard University School of Divinity, said the hashtag moves the focus away from black lives and runs the risk of “centering whiteness.”
Like Greer, Junior said she noticed that black clergy members hadn’t embraced #UseMeInstead on Twitter.
“I think that’s because black clergy recognize that they could have been those photos, that they look like those mug shots and that their lives really are at stake,” Junior told HuffPost.
While Junior acknowledged hashtag activism can be useful, she said a better way for the clergy members to show solidarity would have been to work within their own communities to build bridges.
If anything, the episode was a teaching opportunity, Shannon said. It was a moment to step back and think about what it means to be a supportive ally, without becoming the hero of the story.
The Rev. Lura N. Groen, one of the administrators of the Facebook event, said pastors of color need to have their voices elevated in the discussion.
“I'm happy so many Lutheran pastors were motivated to jump into the conversation about race, which we've been far too silent on," Groen wrote on Facebook. "But I hope we keep learning how to do it more responsibly, be better allies.”
What do you think about #UseMeInstead?
— Lura Groen (@lura_groen) January 18, 2015
— Zoe Nicholson (@onlinewithzoe) January 25, 2015
— PrJGonnerman (@JoyGonnerman) January 17, 2015
— Elahe Izadi (@ElaheIzadi) January 26, 2015
— Jason Chesnut (@crazypastor) January 18, 2015
— Bruce Reyes-Chow (@breyeschow) January 18, 2015
— Graeme Fancourt (@graemefancourt) January 18, 2015
— Sean (@FrSeanFerrell) January 18, 2015