4 Suggestions for Would-Be "Social Justice Warriors"
My friend “O” will call you out if you’re being a fool. Recent examples include people who said, ” – but you don’t want to go to that neighborhood, not since all the black people moved in” (O: “What do you mean? No, I don’t know. Tell me. Tell me exactly why I don’t want to go to that neighborhood. Tell me exactly what you mean by ‘since all the black people moved in.’ I really want to know, because I don’t find that decent or atrocious behavior is confined to skin color. Explain what you mean so that I can understand.”), and, “Have you seen [Co-worker]‘s wife? Who knew he swung that way?” (O: “Not only have I seen her, I took the time to talk to her. She’s very sweet. You should get to know her. Maybe you can find something to dislike about her that isn’t based on your own narrow-minded prejudice.”)
O doesn’t know what a “social justice warrior” is, however, and she would probably laugh if I explained it to her.
“I’m not a social justice warrior,” is most likely what would come out of her mouth. “It’s called being a decent human being.”
Here’s my problem with the people I’ve encountered who proudly declare themselves to be “social justice warriors”: like any vociferous section of a group, they seem more intent on being seen a certain way as opposed to actually making changes. I feel comfortable making this statement since I have occasionally incurred their scorn, in spite of being one of the minorities for whom they supposedly wish equality. I’ve been treated like the enemy because I don’t react the way they think I should, or see things the way that they do.
Here are four suggestions for that type of “social justice warriors”:
4. See the bigger picture
While reading the comments on another blog, a user referred to something as racist. Another user immediately jumped in and said it wasn’t racist, because racism involves elements of systematic oppression and the dominant group cannot be the recipients of racism.
If you read the paragraph above and are nodding along in agreement, I’m thinking about people like you while I write this post. Look, the definition is beside the point if you really care about social justice. At the end of the day, there’s a right way and a wrong way to treat people, and if you’re going to get stuck on “but that is not the definition of racism” then you’re doing it wrong. Stop trying to sound like you know more than the next person and focus on the change that you say you want to see.
3. Stop telling me how to feel
I’ve had people who get mad at me because I don’t get as mad about racism as they would like for me to be. Often, I leave these exchanges with the feeling that I am supposed to look at every white person as the root of all evil and mistreat them accordingly.
People cannot dictate how others feel. This is especially true if one is not a member of the group that they are lecturing.
On that note…
2. Don’t tell me I need to educate myself
Somebody once told me that I’d feel more outraged if I studied the history of my country, knew how white people had colonized it, the things they did to my people, etc.
Actually, I tend to feel outraged at people who presume to know how I will feel, or should feel. Things that happened generations ago? Perpetrated by people who are no longer alive? I think it’s ridiculous to hold a grudge against an entire race or color of people because of something their ancestors did. I’ll judge the character of people on a case by case basis, thanks, the same way I hope they get to know me as opposed to discriminate based on something some other Asian did to them.
1. Don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like to feel discrimination
I actually had somebody say this to me. Apparently, since I wasn’t as outraged as this person thought I should be, I had no idea what it was like to feel discrimination. I had never been the object of somebody’s prejudice. If I had, I’d be angrier.
Off the top of my head, I can recall being told to go back to Mexico and stop taking jobs from real Americans, that my people should be put in internment camps (this was shortly after 9/11), and – passive aggressively by a woman on a bus – that those Asians were the reason bird flu was going around. (I was rather impressed by the last one, since the first two are evidence of the fact that mother people can’t properly guess my race.)
Over all, I don’t get angry because my experiences have shown me what my parents said all along: that people who spout such things are ignorant, and I shouldn’t get upset, but work toward the kind of success and power that would mean people like them couldn’t touch me.
Speaking of my parents, they’ve told me some doozies about the things they endured. My experiences pale in comparison, partly because people aren’t as ignorant. North American society has changed a lot over the last few decades. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better.
If somebody wants to make the world an even better place, I am all for that effort. I just don’t believe that the change will occur by people being obsessively angry and argumentative.