August 2nd, 2020

Words by Ranyechi Udemezue · Artwork by Tina Tona

A shift towards obtaining a new type of communal glo-up had emerged and the trending topic was systemic racism


I’ll admit that when I first heard of the coronavirus pandemic, I didn’t quite believe that much would change. I certainly never anticipated how long it would last. Amidst news stories, rumours and the eventual government-sanctioned lockdown, it became increasingly difficult to predict what the world would look like when we were finally allowed to venture back outside.


In late March, I said goodbye to my dorm room in central London and embarked on the treacherous journey back home, to a less glamorous part of town. A few days later, the entire city was in lockdown. The Western world began to realise that COVID-19 wasn’t just a Chinese or Iranian problem; whether we liked it or not, it was going to affect us all. As a reaction to this revelation, quotes such as, “The world has slowed so you can rediscover yourself” began to flood social media and the idea of working to obtain that “post-quarantine glo-up” was born. The notion that the pandemic was merely a blessing in disguise began to infiltrate the minds of the privileged, and lockdown became a chance for personal growth, new business ventures and a golden opportunity to get well-acquainted with the intricacies of baking banana bread.

A few years ago, I would have revelled in the opportunity to wake up late, watch endless movies and daydream about what life would be like once we got past this “little bump in the road”. I selfishly wished that I was too young to truly grasp what was happening, so that I could in some ways feel unaffected by the consequences of the virus. 


Throughout lockdown, it became easy to retreat into the false sanctuary of my mind and feel as though I was utterly alone. My parents were at home but constantly working, while my siblings were occupied with their now-online classes. Acknowledging that the world had come to a standstill made me extremely anxious. Everyone seemed to be channelling their uncertainty and apprehension into making grand plans to transform their lives for the better: Friends became interior designers, nail technicians and fitness gurus overnight, whilst I felt somewhat useless and needed more than a moment to process why I couldn’t visit my grandparents anymore, and whether or not I would ever see some of my university friends again. The pressure of achieving an awe-inspiring glo-up was the cherry on top of the vile corona-shaped cake and I felt extremely guilty every day in those first few months because I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to have something to show for myself in order to prove that I deserved to survive this pandemic.


In May, all conversations surrounding book-reading challenges and “how to get that summer body” disappeared. George Floyd was murdered and “I can’t breathe” was the new phrase being featured on everyone’s Instagram stories. Although our lives remained the same in terms of the physical restrictions placed on us, the content that we were consuming on social media changed drastically. As a Black British teenager, all anxieties that I had previously felt surrounding a shallow, personal glo-up were now revealed to be entirely trivial. That week, Generation Z made the switch from decoding the Tik Tok algorithm to utilising every last stan account to create an army of abolitionists. For the first time in my teenage years it was socially acceptable to say: Black Lives Matter.


In some ways, it was quite triggering to see people who had been perpetrators of racial abuse in my personal life suddenly begin to start “speaking up” by sharing copious amounts of information on Instagram. It felt as though some were just mechanically moving from one social media fad onto another, refusing to recognise that this was a movement rather than a moment. A shift towards obtaining a new type of communal glo-up had emerged and the trending topic was systemic racism. During this time, much of the online activism I was witnessing felt forced and fake. Individuals, schools and corporations that had previously provided black people with zero support and even rejected the movement in the past were now abruptly jumping at the chance to prove that they were anti-racist. In the following weeks, my friends and I ranted on FaceTime, comparing inadequate responses from our respective secondary schools and sharing stories with one another about how difficult it had been to deal with constant micro-aggressions growing up. We did not feel empowered by random white people posting a black square or a photo of George Floyd with a broken heart emoji, we just felt disposable and angry. 


Upon reflection, it is of course positive that a lot of learning has taken place over the last month, though everyone has to continue to have difficult conversations with family members and friends. Colleagues must continue to call each other out and schools have to work much harder to eradicate the racism that exists within their hallways. My friends and I should never have felt unsafe or unsupported at school; teachers shouldn't have shamed us for wearing our natural hair or told us that we couldn’t sit in a group because we intimidated other students. We shouldn’t have discovered the existence of the n-word by way of our classroom peers at the age of eight. 


The response to George Floyd’s death marked a turning point in our relationship to social media during the pandemic. It has become apparent that working towards a self-serving “post-quarantine glo-up” doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, as there is no tangible limit or goalpost that can be placed on self-development. Instead, we desperately need to divert our attention to the various inequalities that exist within our communities and have to actively listen to each other’s experiences. Our post-quarantine world should be a place where voices that have previously been silenced are uplifted. It should be a place where everyone feels safe and valid. 

Ranyechi Udemezue is a university student and fashion enthusiast from London. She is fond of indie music and enjoys writing thought-provoking personal essays about her experiences as a Black British young woman. More work can be found on her blog 

Tina Tona is a 19-year-old multi-medium Rwandese/Ugandan artist from the DMV. They specialize in film photography and collage art, and use their work to highlight the nuances of Blackness and femininity. They are deeply inspired by black artists such as Solange and Andre 3000, and hope that one day their work can be used as a tool to engage with Afro-futurism the way theirs is