No one wants to talk about how easily hated the genuine well-meaning social justice activist is. In our online communities, we like to pretend like we don’t care about those basic white/cis/straight/male people’s opinions anyway. And on many levels, we don’t. There’s more to life than other people’s opinions. But this attitude is only viable when you’re in contact with the online community. In the real world, being a social justice warrior is only cool in moderation, and there’s only so much patience your real life available “friends” have.
This isn’t popular, but it is the truth, and it’s an under-recognised truth. We don’t talk about it, because that will be weakness, and we seriously don’t want to focus on ourselves when there’s so much bigger stuff out there. The truth is we’re only human, and ignoring this will lead to trouble. In general, people like other people, and want to be validated, not just in cyberspace. It’s incredibly lonely to contemplate giving up all your real-life human approval, just in the name of your politics, and the fact that so many people are prepared to do that, I think is a testament to the strength and conviction of people’s belief in the greater good of activism.
It’s hard when you’ve come this far, and learnt so much, and grown into a glorious socially aware butterfly, to then be forced to choose between standing by as good people remain ignorant, or alienating yourself completely. But the real choice isn’t that cut and dry, and you’ll hurt yourself if you think that it is.
When doing your “best” is woefully unpopular (and possibly inadequate)
The key to drawing the line is making sure you (and the underheard people you are ultimately trying to amplify) are being HEARD. If you become so hyper-critical and aware that it’s “ruining” every conversation, people start to simply blame you, and when you’re the only one in your real life friend group who genuinely gets it, that can be incredibly draining. Not to mention, it’s incredibly risky. When they ask “why exactly are kimono’s racist?” do you actually have a solid answer, white girl born and raised in the UK with no Japanese friends?
No, not really. You do your best, you point them at the nearest blog, and you know that though you’re not the victim here, you’re doing “the best you can”.
It’s a fine line. At some point, your privilege and legitimacy as a friend and the person you were “before”begins to run out, and you begin to be seen as a problem, a dismissable stereotype, not even standing up for yourself but for strangers who never even asked you. This is an awfully lonely place. You could say that’s just how it is as someone who stands up for social justice, that it’s just a lonely path and who cares if you’re liked? Resistance was never a popular concept with the status quo, by its very definition. However, if you’re alone and unliked and unpopular, then how exactly are you helping?
The Actual Choice
The actual choice isn’t between selling out and being frozen out. For one thing, it’s rare that you’d actually lose all of your friends and family just for politics, even if it feels very possible. But for another, you do start to change how you bring it up, and it’s not selling out, because it’s simply being more efficient and subtle at what you do, and the awareness you’re fostering. Being hugely unsubtle and having a huge vent at all the problems and systematic cruelty in the world does feel cathartic, but the backlash means you quickly gotta learn to reign it in; there’s no point being right if no one is listening anymore.
But you can still be right ~subtley~, and at choice moments. You don’t have to actively endorse cruel ideas and behaviours, but you don’t have to flame up about them either. The key is allowing people to see what you think without feeling personally threatened or attacked. The phrase “it’s just my opinion” is used an awful lot by people with unjustifiable opinions based in prejudice, but there is no reason that it can’t be used as a non-defensive statement to nullify a perceived threat from a statement of disagreement.
A short “look” or a refusal to laugh are also incredible effective, and in their subtly and lack of theatre, often massively more effective and long lasting than a full blown discussion would have been. There’s no dismissing justice as mere “drama” if you are matter-of-fact about your belief in equality and how you exercise and express it. Your small action becomes easier to palate and absorb as a legitimate way of thinking, rather than a choice to be under the spotlight of justice. Think Eddie Izzard and his small but steadfast refusal to call his clothes “women’s clothes”, and how much more powerful and influential that is than a thousand academic thinkpieces that explain in detail why clothing is not gendered inherently but only through social norms and culture.
That’s not to say rants and thinkpieces aren’t valuable! You know I’d love to read that clothing one, and this entire blog is a place where I can one-sidedly rant and monologue about whatever I want; but this is for people who Get It. If someone doesn’t Get It, then they aren’t going to be forced to by someone else — you cannot Give It (the understanding of systematic inequality) to other people! It has to be an active process, and you can be a small part of triggering that learning curve in other people, as opposed to trying to BE that learning curve for other people.
*Note: I wrote this ages ago and have now edited it, cos I wanted to get it out there, but it’s still not perfect and I will write more on this topic soon!*
(Alternatively: Did It Take A Village To Create The Orlando Killer?)
Homophobia, mental illness, religion…. all different motivators. Does it matter? Is it more important to focus on gun control or the shooter’s incentives? Ultimately, micro-aggressions turn into macro-aggressions which turn into the worst kind of record breaking for american citizens.
All the debate at the moment can be summed up as a conflicting mess of who to think of; do we think of the victims and of the future; homophobia clearly matters right now and gun control matters because it was lgbt+ people being murdered with guns, the whole community is shaken, the line towards open bigotry because clearer and closer, people do not feel safe and perhaps they actually aren’t.
Or do we think of the shooter; of mental illness and religion and race? Because the shooter shot people so they must have been aggressive and therefore mentally ill (by “definition”), and the shooter claimed allegiance to conflicting religous islamic groups despite not being described as particularly religious and this being during ramadan, race because he wasn’t white so it must be factor and white people never murder people ever.
Or as less mainstream media sources say, shall we think on what we’re not being told; how the shooter was an authoritarian into police work and security and beating up his ex-wife…and why we aren’t being told it by the mainstream media? Is it, as many suspect, because it looks like a far larger number of people than limiting it to the mentally ill and muslims, both targeted groups in their own right.
“An inspector kills calls”, and who killed these people? What incremental steps were taken in each of these areas?
Cops have been consistently glorified for bravery in killing innocent people who were charged with no crime (because they were already dead by then), perhaps there aren’t enough people protesting that..
And even before that, there’s thousands of movies and media glorifying violent stories of battles of strength and blood, and there’s generations of women are blamed for making their men angry, what kind of culture around conflict does this make? One that produces mass murderers on a practically regular basis maybe?
Mentally ill people are defined as dangerous. Dangerous people are defined as mentally ill. Again, it conflates and conflates and so now of course dangerous people don’t get treated with compassion and treatment, and so mentally ill people don’t either because they aren’t dangerous so they can’t be mentally ill and mental illness treatment is increasingly hard to come by and stigmatised. Now we have a constant scapegoat available just in case the muslim terrorist one doesn’t apply. Illness transcends all boundaries and demographics; what a perfect solution.
Homosexuality is winning, America has gay marriage! People delight. Now homosexuality is fine but don’t let weirdo trans gender-benders in my bathroom, because they don’t need to pee, they must only exist to scare me (because they do) and therefore that means they are dangerous to me (see mental illness above), I’ll do whatever it takes to find evidence of this. Homosexuality is accepted but you can fire them for it if you want, you can refuse to serve them if you want. homosexuality is accepted but if you’re a gay character you are tragic and need to die in my show because real people need to know that they will never be gay and happy in this world where it is totally fine to be gay. america is a free country and does not endorse homophobia.
Gun control is too soon to talk about. It’s too soon but it’s also too late for these now dead people. But look at all the other issues hat it could be! Maybe more guns will fix it and the good guys with guns will never get killed only bad guys. (Police have guns and they kill people and they are the Good Guys TM, why can the rest of the world not be like this corrupt system which has systematic control over who is seen as good and bad, we see no reason why not).
Maybe he was a closet gay man! Fantastic, we can pin it on this aspect of the case, perfect! case closed, it’s circular like an Ouroboros, the fact that there is a closet definitely doesn’t come from the fact that you still have entire churches saying that gay is a sin , entire churches in multiple religions, and entire systems and societies casually endorsing and condoning homophobia and treating lgbt+ people like second class citizens and alien creatures who shouldn’t be seen.
So pick your demons
Who do you think it was? Was it homophobia, gun control, islam, mental illness, being gay, being an authoritarian who loved the force? It won’t bring the 50 people back. It won’t stop the hundreds who have yet to die in the future mass killings, not unless something changes.
Can you get rid of an entire religion because of someone who conflated two different sects whilst they committed their mass murder and who didn’t practise the faith? Can you get rid of people who want to live their lives and don’t want to kill people? Can you stop glorifying violence and force and start respecting love and peace, stop demonising mental illness and start treating it instead (how it needs to be), stop conflating danger with illness in a way that lets dangerous people off the hook?
Respecting the innocent dead is a good sentiment, but respecting the innocent living would be an even better start. Whichever demon is the one stopping this from happening for you, you pick that one, and then go change it.
For years, this was my only source on the beginning of US history. Broad and logical-sounding, it resonated, but I didn’t yet have the time or the inclination to find out more…what really was there?
Turns out, quite a bit!
The timeline starts, according to Wikipedia, in 1619, in the newly founded town of Jamestown, founded by English settlers. A Spanish ship is conquered and the enslaved Africans are brought into the community and deemed free by their Christian status, because under English custom, a christian cannot be a slave.
So they join the ranks of the indentured servant class, who work for a landowner on a fixed contract of 7 years or so, upon which time they will be free men who have earned their positions in the new colony and may in turn become landowners themselves. How egalitarian.
Fast forward to 1640, 20 years later, and it’s already apparent that there are exploitable holes in this egalitarian system. In a case that echoes the “subtle” prejudice and stereotyping of cases today, 3 servants escape. 2 get off with warnings and slight extensions of their servitude of a couple of years, and 1 is sentenced to life-long servitude, essentially slavery. Guess which one is African.
So John Punch is officially an African American slave, but he’s not really called that yet, and his case is simply punishment for a crime, and let’s conveniently ignore that it’s an unfair punishment according to race. This is still a totally free system so God bless America…right?
…Until 1654. Another John, John Cassor, is declared a “slave” in an ownership battle between his black owner and his white neigbour. Racists like to point to this as if this proves that black people somehow invented American slavery, and thus white people are guiltless. Obviously, that’s nonsense. The first recording of a case is not the first actual happening of a practise, and the court and other significant powerful forces are unlikely to all be black African Americans.
In fact, this source (http://www.mythdebunk.com/first-slave-owner-african-american/) heavily suggests that people of African descent were already being treated as slaves through official census records failing to report surnames, marital statuses, and most pointedly, dates of contract completion dates, without which, it can be assumed servitude is expected to go on indefinitely. In times when only the privileged have access to writing and reading, this exploitation is almost too easy.
It’s likely that Anthony Johnson, himself a legitimate free man under the indentured servitude system, was simply targeted for perpetuating the same system of undefinitely extending a servitude period as his neighbours in an attempt to disadvantage him against his neighbours. (Or simply to use his name as the first official case on the records, and create some plausible deniablity for racially biased slavery systems, one might think, if one was cynical, and didn’t live under a rock regarding current shady practices by the media and courts, and therefore logically concluded that this might have been even easier to pull off pre-literacy and pre-internet.)
Now how does sexism come into this toxic mix of capitalist landowner exploitation, xenophobia, racial bias and profiling I hear you ask? Glad you asked! Of course, sexism finds its way into this exploitative mess, through the case of Elizabeth Grinstead, a woman borne of a (legally) enslaved black woman (no citizenship), and a white English landowner. Against what honestly sounds like all odds, her parenthood is proved and supported by witnesses who vouch for her and against her white and married English father, and, combined with her Christianity (which is still being considered important at this stage), allow her to escape being sold as a slave for any longer than her (already extended) indentured servitude had already entailed.
Of course, this is a massive flaw in an exploitative system: how are you going to exploit women by sexually terrorising them, if you also have to also be responsible for the (mixed-race) children that this spawns? How are you going to use the patriarchy to win in this scenario? By cheating! Literally! Simply define a law called “Partus Sequitur Ventrum” that means it’s all the mother’s responsibility to determine the status of your illegitimate child, and boom! You’re no longer responsible for this mixed race child, and you’ve also gained another slave, indefinitely!
So a few more laws fit in now around the gaps, to really cement the structural inequality to make sure no one’s getting up and out of this system again easily, they pass laws against inter-racial marriage (1691), they define everyone who is NOT a christian as a slave in 1705 (a powerful reversal of the original “if you are a christian you’re not a slave” principal of the English founding colonies), and a petition from Quakers in 1688 against slavery on moral and religious grounds is ignored and then conveniently lost for 150 years, so it’s no far stretch to say other stands against the system were similarly quietly erased from history.
Then the history books like to start talking about Abolition, as if it’s a simple storybook process: beginning and nasty set up of some little intolerances of new and scary skin colours, middle and the brave northern abolitioner’s storm the system and break it down, end and Obama is elected and everyone holds hands. If you’re reading this, you know it’s not, tune in next time for my Abolition piece. Obviously this is not a complete and perfect history course about the start of Slavery in the US and the America’s, but I have found it useful to summarise my findings of this initial period of slow encroachment and codifying of bigotry and removal of liberties in the early American colonisation period.
I’ve been spontaneously researching this the last few days after I saw a post making a shocking claim that “only 1.4% of people owned slaves in 1860!”, followed by claims that the first slaveowner was in fact, black.
Obviously, these are pretty big claims, and I realised I knew nothing about the start or timeline of slavery, despite having studied the following civil rights movement in GSCE history. All I knew was that slavery had happened, was influential in the American and British economy, and had ended…I wasn’t even sure exactly when it had ended.
Over the following few days, I’ve filled myself in through some vigorous wikipedia-mining, and now feel confident enough in my basic knowlege to assert firstly that:
Yes, if you manipulate the ownership statistics, you can find a 1.4% statistic, but this ignores joint ownership and profits by families, the wider effects of people who did not directly enslave others, the fact this is only one point in time, and most importantly, the fact that slavery was already illegal in the Northern states by the time of this census!
Yes, Anthony Johnson was the first man legally declared a slave-owner, with the word “slave” used to describe the lifetime servitude that worker John Casor was legally bound to following a dispute over ownership of his contract. However, this ignores the fact that there had already been men enslaved for life, as punishments, and that first usage in a court document does not reflect the first practise of slavery.
But there is so much more, most interestingly in how sex and capitalism intersect with the already obvious racial dynamic at play, and also how religion played a far stronger role than one might expect.
I’m looking forward to finding more resources from author’s other than “Wikipedia”, and magnifying their insights and words too in my research.