When Avery Francis posted a graphic on Instagram about “Things not to say to a Black woman,” she assumed it would reach mostly friends and family. Francis, a 32-year-old HR consultant based in Toronto during the pandemic, was working on the post for a client back in June, and threw it up on her personal account while it was still “riddled with grammatical and spelling errors,” she says.

The post took off, eventually receiving more than 370,000 likes and essentially turning Francis into a public figure overnight. In the months since, she has amassed more than 80,000 followers and continued to share pastel-colored, text-based graphics that she creates on the design program Canva: “I took my Twitter energy to Instagram,” she quips.

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Hey new + old friends 👋🏽 just shy of 10,000 of you started following me recently! Hello and thank you for wanting to learn + grow with me ❤️ Since I have your attention — I figured I’d share some things that non-Black folks should really stop saying to us. What seems like a compliment or a passing comment can sometimes cut really deep. These are all considered microagressions (look that up) and the best way to describe it is death by a thousand cuts. But, instead of death it’s dehumanization — and — instead of cuts it’s ignorant comments from friends, colleagues and family members. Generally speaking most people that say these things mean well! I would even argue that they are trying to pay us a compliment but today I’m letting you know it does not feel that way. As you’ve all been learning we have a lot we deal with already — let’s all agree to just spare Black women of this comments. Slide design + words by: me ☝🏽 Photo by @emmatrim

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Earlier this year, scrolling through Instagram and encountering a 10-part PowerPoint-style presentation with multiple citations would have been unexpected. But amid protests against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd, people have turned to social media to learn about topics and histories they did not even know they had missed. Infographic influencers, as you might call them, have become the leaders of this exercise in DIY education, repurposing tools from marketing or human resources jobs and drawing on their own personal experiences to explain anti-racist ideas to a growing audience more concerned with substantive ideas than carefully chosen filters.

Instagram infographics are not new. Major social justice organizations including Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter have posted them for years. But what is new is how widely they are circulating and the way in which they’ve been able to do so. In 2018, the Instagram app finally allowed users to share others’ content, via “Stories” — which are particularly conducive to helping these graphics spread.

While volunteering on the Bernie Sanders campaign, Jess, 27 — who asked to be identified only by her first name because she regularly receives graphic death threats — was struck by how cryptic political language can be to an outsider. She started @soyouwanttotalkabout in February to simplify political concepts into plain language. The account has since exploded, going from 500 to 1 million followers in just over three months, and she spends most of her weekend and two to three hours on weeknights making thoroughly researched presentations about, say, apoliticism, medical racism or the psychology of Trump voters.

Looking through the shocked comments on her explainers about gerrymandering and the Tulsa Race Massacre reveals just how much has been left out of curriculums around the United States. Jess recalls other users leaving comments like, “I went through four years of college about this and I could have just read this post and it would have been everything I’ve learned.”

Many of these accounts seek to make academic or activist terminology more accessible. Isaias Hernandez, 24, who runs @queerbrownvegan and is based in Los Angeles, posts about the intersection between race and the environment, explaining terms such as topophilia, eutierria and tierratrauma.

Hernandez says that he struggled to grasp concepts in this area when he was studying environmental science at the University of California at Berkeley with mostly White professors. “They come from a very rigid academic research background and so the way that they talk about communities of color is more as subjects of research instead of actual peoples,” he recalls.

Hernandez grew up in Sylmar, a majority non-White neighborhood in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley that experiences high rates of pollution due to nearby industrial facilities and highways. As someone who directly experienced the effects of environmental racism, he often adds personal anecdotes to his definitions of terminology, bringing what could be ivory tower terms back to earth, and the people most affected by them.

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Many ancestral BIPOC communities have always implemented traditional, circular, and regenerative embedded practices that allowed/ (allows) them to be interconnected to their land. "We experience the state of Eutierria when we are feeling the oneness of the Earth" (Albrecht 2018). Eutierria is the emotion and thoughts an individual feels when they feel interconnected with Earth and find absolute rest. This type of feeling promotes interconnectedness as we had been talking about in previous posts. When we delve deeper into environments, it's hard for me to interconnect honestly, because I know at the end of the day I am sitting on stolen land. Yes, it's true that nature has truly reduced my stress and allow me to gather my thoughts more clearly, but to be honest, I don't think I have experienced Eutierra since I was a small child. - - Glenn Albrecht expressed that when one is in the "boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated, and a deep sense of peace and connectedness pervades consciousness." When we think of rest, I think about homeostasis and how our bodies self-regulate themselves to find balance. I remember going to a park when I was young, and walking through the trees and grassy fields; I felt so excited, adventurous, and curious about the creatures, trees, and people! I believe that this experience at a younger age may have been Eutierria since I remember taking naps at the parks and feeling almost connected to that specific environment. - - Eutierria is an interesting term to describe the feeling of interconnectedness to Earth. Have you experienced Eutierria? Please share your thoughts, and how do you see interconnectedness with Earth? - - #sustainableactivism #sustainability #environmentaljustice #environmentalracism #socialjustice #climatejustice #climateactionnow #climatestrikeonline #ecojustice #ecoeducator #queerbrownvegan #ecotips #soliphilia #ecoparalysis #soliphilia #nature #outdoors #pocoutdoors #pocenvironmentalist #outdooradventure #outdooractivity #pollinatorsweek #regenerativesystem

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While Eiselle Ty, a 25-year-old designer, works on her graphics for her account @eisellety, she imagines how she would like to be talked to about race and political issues. When she moved to San Francisco, she says, she avoided becoming actively political: “I just had so many quote-unquote woke people that would just tell me and talk at me. It was very intimidating.”

Dom Roberts, 22, describes her tone on @domrobxrts as a “soft correction.” Recently, the L.A.-based college student has been posting guides to topics such as how to address someone who has made an offensive comment, and “questions to ask yourself before going into a hard conversations.” “I believe in telling the truth, but also doing it in love,” she says.

Instagram’s trendy roots live on in these informational posts, many of which have managed to cross the logic of textbook diagrams with what Jess describes as the aesthetic sensibility of Goop. When developing @soyouwanttotalkabout’s aesthetic, Jess recalls looking to the “Instagram model types” and thinking about the impact they could have with their audiences. “I was really motivated with the aesthetics of it because a lot of women I know my age are very removed from politics,” she says. With spaced-out text on pale pink and blue backdrops, her posts have a uniform, sparse look akin to wall decor you might find in a chic minimalist apartment.

On the day we spoke, Jess had received a message that read: “I agree with basically nothing in these posts, but I couldn’t stop looking at them.” Looking is at least a start.

Some have criticized these kinds of posts for being performative, saying change will only happen as a result of tangible, real-world actions and suggesting offline conversations are more productive. This is similar to the criticism leveled against Blackout Tuesday (when mostly non-Black Instagram users and companies posted a black square in vague solidarity with BLM). But unlike the square, in the case of infographics, the design is not the endpoint. Many of these influencers emphasize action, directing people to petitions they can sign, organizations they can support and ways to get involved in activism IRL.

Ty likens her approach to the work she does in her day job, food packaging design. “If someone is walking through a store, you have like 3½ seconds to get their attention,” she says. “If you put a big paragraph, no one’s going to read it, but if you are able to break things down into shorter sentences that helps."

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#codeswitching #blacklivesmatter

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Ty got into posting infographics while trying to do the “complete opposite” of posting a black square. For Ty, the black square was not functional, and design — be it that of a chocolate wrapper or a Miranda Rights explainer — must be functional. “You always have to think about the person on the other side,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things about design. It’s art with empathy.”

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