Pipe Dream spoke with Ranier Maningding, a Filipino-American advertising copywriter and writer for The Love Life of an Asian Guy (LLAG), a social media platform devoted to discussing race, politics and pop culture. Maningding’s talk, titled “Social Activism is the New Civil Rights Movement,” discussed the digitization of activism. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Ranier Maningding: My name is Ranier Maningding. I’ve been a writer on social media since I was 15, so I’ve been around for quite some time. I focus mainly on race, politics and pop culture. I am mainly on Facebook, I’m also on Twitter and the page and the community is bustling.
The last two years, we’ve grown exponentially. We’re reaching about 11 million people every single week and we talk to different communities of color and tackle issues of racism. We try to just break things down and make sure that it is really accessible, so that way anybody who is curious about getting involved can just jump in.
PD: You started LLAG back in college. How have you evolved to where you are now?
RM: When I started LLAG, it was mainly about my personal love life. It eventually spurred off into civil rights because I was always talking about race. With the events surrounding the death of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, I felt there was a lack of discussion in the Asian-American community. I felt that this needed to change, so I started talking about it very intensely.
I shifted away from my love life. People get really confused about my page because they come in thinking I’m going to talk about dating and whatnot, but I don’t talk about that at all. The platform has grown, and I am able to speak at different universities and to different college students. Especially after the election, I have a lot of different Asian organizations from colleges that need an Asian American voice. It has been really great to meet these students, to go to these small towns and be like, ‘Hey, everything is going to be okay, and this is how you can fight back.’
PD: Tell me a little bit more about your talk today. How did you decide on the topic?
RM: I’m speaking about how the digitization of activism contrasts to activism in the 1960s, and how that actually impacts our larger understanding of race. More specifically, I’m looking at how that impacts our perception of racism and the severity of racism today.
Usually, my talks are focused on Asian communities. I had to figure a way to talk about this that would be more accessible to people who are outside an Asian American community, or even outside of the activist community. I chose my topic knowing that I had to make sure it was complex enough where people can hear something new and also wouldn’t entirely turn people off.
PD: What do you view as productive or successful digital activism?
RM: There is a passive form of digital activism, where people just like things and share things. I call it performative activism, where people want to come off like they care. It’s more akin to going to Whole Foods, and when someone says, “Hey, would you like to donate 5 cents to feed the children?” you say, “Ok, sure!” and then you feel good about it. It’s sort of the same thing where people share something, and they think, “Well, I have done my work for today.”
If you really want to be proactive, at the very least you need to start articulating why you’re sharing the things you do. If you say “I care about these things” and then expand on it, it is more productive.
But I also encourage people to actually get involved in communities and talk, and go to Facebook groups, and have Twitter conversations and get in fights. Talk to trolls on Twitter and take them down. Don’t just watch and hope that activists will do the work for you.
PD: Frequently, people share posts with those who have like-minded opinions. Is this still productive?
RM: Everyone is having conversations about this idea of an echo chamber and this idea of how people shouldn’t have the same opinions. While I do think that has a lot of truth in certain subject areas, if you’re talking about racism, if you’re talking about xenophobia, if you’re talking about inequality, I don’t think there is room for disagreements. You’re talking about infringing on other people’s civil rights, and I don’t think there is space for feeling like being a racist is an opinion. If you want someone dead, that’s not an opinion.
So long as that’s not the stance that you’re taking, then you can have conversations. So, for things that do have solid discourse, get involved in communities and talk about it. Don’t just do what I like to call flashcard activism, where you’re pointing at things saying, “this is racist!” — you have to explain why it’s racist.
PD: What happens when you engage with someone who is bigoted, even if there is no room for disagreements?
RM: I think it depends. I don’t have this set sort of expectations that everyone needs to deal with racism the same way or that you need to explain it. At the end of the day, I don’t think that anyone is responsible for eradicating the bigotry of someone else. I don’t think that if someone is being sexist, and they are face-to-face with you, that you have an obligation to teach them how to behave. You don’t have an obligation to teach someone how not to be racist — they just should not be racist.
If you don’t feel comfortable, if you don’t feel like you even want to engage them, then that’s totally fine and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. The burden is on the one who holds the bigotry. But if you are interested, and you want to break things down and you feel like you can get something out of it, then by all means go ahead and do that.
PD: What is the main point you hope students take away from your talk today?
RM: Racism has always been a constant. It’s not this thing that has gotten worse because [President] Donald Trump came in. It’s unfortunate that we’re having these conversations on a larger scale just because he won, and it almost makes me wonder if it would have been different if he lost.
I want people to understand that if he gets impeached, or after his term ends, that the level of racism is still going to be the same. We’ve always been a racist country, and I think that it’s time people recognize it and take action.