Today, I’m watching the world burn.
By which I mean watching a whole lot of white feminists scream and flounce out of brand new baby social justice Facebook groups because they’re not being catered to or coddled or centered. (For those of you sticking it out and learning, thank you.)
I know a lot of folks are dipping their toes in the waters of activism for the first time. It’s a rough river, and people are bound to bump elbows and knees as we paddle toward a better place. That said: If this is your first time in the kiddie pool, you probably need these rules of engagement.
- If you’re trying to help a marginalized community, are there members of that community at the table and speaking? Look, the all-male panel on women’s issues isn’t just a joke, and the same thing can happen to any marginalized community. If you’re trying to help POC and there are only white people in the conversation, you’re probably not even doing a good job identifying the problems that need to be solved. Listen to people in the community you want to help and prioritize their voices, even when you think you have a better idea. They live in their bodies and communities every day and they are the experts on what they face and what they need.
- If members of a marginalized community are speaking, are you amplifying their voices or just shouting over them? Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do as a nonmember of a marginalized community is to just keep repeating “as Allie just said…” and then either pasting or rephrasing the thing that happened. Sometimes you’ll be the only person in a room that has real friends in the marginalized community at issue. At that point your job is to say “What I’m hearing from [WOC/disabled vets/my trans friends] is…” Encourage the nondiverse rooms to become diverse, but not at the expense of the communities they’re meant to serve.
- No community is monolithic. You can always cherrypick opinions and essays from members of a marginalized community to support any position. Look for community trends, not confirmation bias. And make sure members of the community are at your table; they’re more aware of how the community feels than you will ever be.
- No member of a community oppressed by a community you belong to owes you nice. No matter whether you’re oppressed by other people, whether you belong to marginalized communities in other ways (shoutout to intersectionality!), if your community – whether that’s by race, gender, nationality, whatever, and whether you chose inclusion in that community or not – is oppressing another community, nobody there owes you nice. You owe them nice. Nice means working from within to dismantle the ways your community oppresses theirs. Nice does not mean telling them how they should be phrasing their appeals to your community. It’s your job to do that, because you’re not worn out by the ways your community is oppressing theirs. If you want to be one of the not all XXX, start proving it.
- If it’s not about you, drive thru. It’s amazing how people will look at a post or comment about “Certain People do XXX” and think “I’m not one of those people, so I better talk about that.” No. It’s not about you. And if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. Don’t take up that space.
- It will never be the time to say “Not all…” Never. Talking about people who aren’t the problem doesn’t solve the problem. Stay focused on the problem and the people who made it, even if some of them look like you and you want to make sure you’re not associated with the bad guys. If you’re in that room, if you’re doing that work, you’re not one of the bad guys. Don’t make marginalized communities reassure you that you’re a good guy. Honestly, unless you’re doing the work and staying focused on the problem, you’re being a bad guy by taking up space and effort that should be devoted to solving the problem, so they shouldn’t be reassuring you anyway.
- The whole world is watching. Well, maybe not the whole world. But always remember that there are people reading essays, comments and threads that may never chime in. They’re taking the time to form opinions and assess facts. Sometimes it’s good for you to be one of those observers (for example, when it’s not about you). You can learn a lot by watching other people make damn fools of themselves. Including how to be #notall one of them.
- Be ready to apologize. If you fuck up, and you will fuck up, here’s the magic formula to avoid one of those long miserable threads that leads to half the group flouncing: “Shit. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” You can go on from there, but only if you follow a few subrules: a) don’t mention intent. You just hurt somebody, and they don’t care if you meant to do it or not. Think of it as stepping on someone’s foot. Not “You shouldn’t have been in my way.” Just “Crap, that was clumsy of me, sorry.” b) Try to do better. c) And then shut up. No, really. Shut up. Take a break. You fucked up and it hurt other people and you don’t want people to think you’re a bad guy. So go for a walk. Use the time to think about what you’ll do if you see someone else making the mistake you just made, and how you can help them not make it in the first place.
- If someone tells you you’re wrong, it’s because they believe in your potential for growth. They trust you to be able to learn from the experience and do better. Be worthy of that trust.
The world kind of needs all of the good people it can get right now. I believe you’re one of them. Prove me right.