There are some wonderful things happening right now. All last year, I said it again and again, we’re on the cusp of something great. Sites trying to create positive change in the world dominate my social media feeds. I was getting my hair cut today and I said I do “social justice work” and the hairdresser actually [kinda] knew what that meant. We’re more aware than we have been in my lifetime, and we’d be okay with a revolution.
But we still have a long way to go (hard to believe, I know, what with a Black president and all). So what do we do in 2014 to capitalize on the momentum we built in 2013? There are a few things I would like to see happen. Or, rather, some things that happened a lot in 2013 that I’d like to see less of.
1. Spend Less Time Preaching to the Converted
If you’re doing social justice work you probably surround yourself with social justice people, whether it’s in person or online – that’s great. Everyone needs a network or family of support. SJ work is inherently stressful, depressing, and all-faith-in-humanity-depleting, so you could argue we need it more than most. I would argue that.
But there’s fine line between support system and echo chamber. We need the support system, but I’m hoping in 2014 we can spend less time in the echo chamber. I’m hoping we can step outside and start to engage in more conversations with the folks on the fringes and beyond. Helping these folks better understand SJ issues and, hopefully, jump aboard means change.
It’s far more difficult to talk to lay people than folks well-versed in SJ issues. You have to start at square one every time, go in without assumptions, allow them to ask questions and guide the conversation, and who got time for that? Well, hopefully, you. There are other questions for us to mull. Your blog post has 1,000 shares? Who is sharing it? Or, more importantly, who is reading it? Who is showing up for your SJ session at that conference? Who isn’t? Why not? How can we get them interested? How can we get through to them? Who let the dogs out?
I love talking SJ with SJ people. It’s like mutual verbal masturbation. But moreso, I love the idea of a socially just society, and that’s not going to happen if we spend all our time mutually verbal masturbating each other. Also, probably won’t help if that analogy catches on.
2. Spend Less Time Vilifying Ignorance
Here’s a [non-scientific and likely exaggerated to make this point] distribution of the links in my Facebook newsfeed:
- Blank Ways This Blanky Blank Blanked That Will Blow Your Mind (42%)
- This Asshole Who Doesn’t Understand Social Justice Said/Did Something Bigoty (32%)
- Adorable Animals (16%)
- Something Anti or Pro Gun Rights (7%)
- George Takei (3%)
Here are some things I would love to see more of:
- This Person Screwed Up, Which Is Understandable. Social Justice Issues are Complex.
- Here’s An Easy To Understand, Non-Vitriolic Explanation of This SJ Concept
- I Remember Back To When I Didn’t Understand this Issue, So I Can Empathize With Why You Can’t Wrap Your Mind Around It
- This Person Asked An Honest Question And We Gave Them A Compassionate, Patient Answer
- George Takei
I wrote about this the other day: ignorance isn’t a bad thing. We need to stop treating it like it is, and creating demons out of ignorance. Most of us are incredibly ignorant about most of the things in the world, and all of us_ _started out completely ignorant to SJ issues. We all started at square one, we all learned, and now we have the opportunity to share that learnin’ with others. We can allow ourselves to hate the ignorant folks, or we can choose to love them and do what we can to make them feel safe outside of their echo chambers.
3. Spend Less Time Acquiescing to the Status Quo
The majority of Americans support the majority of the big issues American social justice people are working toward. I’m not sure exactly how things look elsewhere, but that’s a pretty shocking fact to experience here.
States opposing marriage equality are dropping like flies, but they are still in the majority, even though the populous has spoken. Why is that still being “debated”? Even in red states, the vast majority of people believe climate change is real and that the gov’t should step in. Mostmost (sorry, running out of synonyms) think capitalism is broken, or are at least displeased with wealth inequality in the US. I could go on, but I won’t. You get it.
It’s a weird time to be alive as a social justice advocate. We have the majority — we’re not some ruffian group of rabble-rousers — and we’re bowing out to the minority, a few old, outmoded, racist rocks standing against a surge of progress. But we’re still complicit in supporting huge systems of racial (and other identity-based) oppression. Aziz Ansari is comforted knowing racist people are dying off (FYI: I was doing that joke in 2006 — still have the notebook I wrote it in, but this isn’t about that… Aziz).
It’s like our cell phone reception was bad when heard that famous Maya Angelou quote, and internalized it wrong:
“If you don’t like something
, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’tcomplain.”
Noooo! You must have been going through a tunnel. You missed the two most important parts. Change it! Change it. We can change it, y’all.
I was talking with this person on the bus the other day who was part of the civil rights marches in the 50s. He told me all these amazing stories, and I was completely enamored, and then I excitedly told him what I do. “I got a bone to pick with you,” he said. “You got the internet, and it seems like everyone’s talking about how things need to get better. Y’all got it so easy. We didn’t have none of that. So what the hell is wrong with your generation? We’d’ve fixed everything by now.”
People with privilege, start using your privilege to make change, instead of falling back so hard on the privilege of being able to ignore how broken things are.
#1 and #2 will help #3, but ultimately nothing will change unless we stop supporting and perpetuating the things we don’t believe in and start raising hell to see them changed.