It’s inevitable; if you allow any kind of inertia to impede your movement-building, the world will end up no better than when you started. I’ve come to call the “woke” version of abuse and nonsense “social justice bullshit”, but I haven’t really gone too much into why and how certain policies or foci actually end up doing more harm than good.
Why has so much of the recent set of movements become mired in confusion, abuse, and stasis? Why is there so much bickering amongst people who are supposed to be accomplices?
1. When You Focus on Language, You End Up Perpetuating Racism and Ableism
The irony, right? How is this remotely possible?
Language policing is another form of tone policing, which is an extension of respectability politics.
Rather than focusing on creating an actual safer world or better context for the people the language harms, language police end up fighting battles that can’t be won.
Language police don’t take into account the fact that language is living, that Black people especially invent language anew in order to survive and encode, and that where you are located within the nexus of intersectional oppression matters.
More often than not, the ones whose language is policed are the most vulnerable — and the ones whom the language is intended to be used against, anyway!
Most of the people doing the policing will be from (w)academia, will be relatively privileged, and don’t struggle with things like cognitive impairments, being perpetually traumatized, and executive dysfunction.
Note that I’m not saying that language can’t be harmful. I’m not advocating for or condoning being an asshole. But being an asshole isn’t a crime, and we have to make space for those who cannot or will not meet our standards. This is different from accepting abuse — which is a whole other matter. Abuse is always unacceptable, but if you can’t tell the difference between abuse and culture and survival and neurodivergence and/or disability, you’re already pretty useless.
The point of considering language isn’t to force people to talk a certain way. That’s actually a facet of the same fascism you claim to be fighting against. Unless someone’s giving the kill order, or unless — like racism and sexism — they have systemic or other power to back them up, it really does not matter what language they use.
The point of considering language is to foster respect, communication, and to influence through context. This is why words like nigga, queer, faggot, and others have been reclaimed in the first place. Only the people most affected by it get to determine the context for it going forward.
Language, like energy, cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed.
Yes, that means feelings and shit will be hurt. People will be triggered. It will suck.
But do you want systemic change or nah? Cuz policing marginalized individuals isn’t the way to save them.
If you’re really about that overarching, inclusive change then you have to be willing and able to do the hard work, not just get caught up in addressing surface issues.
Because for real, the reason language becomes harmful is because some abusive people made it that way. The power behind the words is the problem, and that is the root we must address.
I’ll go over that in a bit more detail later on, but for now, let’s talk about fucking trigger warnings.
2. When You Demand Trigger Warnings, You End Up Perpetuating Racism and Ableism
Yte fragile people love their fuckin trigger warnings. And social justice bros love using it as a “get out of discussing how to dismantle oppression free” card.
But the sad truth is, even when it is people with actual, genuine trauma who want them to be used, it’s not actually that simple. There are a few things wrong with these:
a. The term itself is pretty fuckin awful. You know how many Black people deal with real actual triggers on a daily basis? And just, honestly, what is the use of a trigger warning on a gun about to shoot you?
b. It’s actually very inaccessible to certain populations and some experiences. The whole idea of triggers is that we often don’t even know what will set us off, and, more importantly, it is way more likely to be something seemingly innocuous that serves as a trigger for trauma. So, some of you are clearly full of shit.
c. Black people never ever get any warning for all the bullshit, negligent, and insidious ass ways yte supremacy fucks us up and there’s no way we ever can. We just have had to deal with your shit. We just fucking die; we rarely ever actually get a chance to live long enough to be traumatized.
d. Which ties into this last point: the actual point of a trigger warning is simply to address and work through the trauma. Not to say “I can’t look at this”. That’s a clear sign you are not processing or working through your trauma.
Trigger warnings were initially about the context of how you worked through your trauma.
Simply stating that we get spoiler alerts or ratings on movies denies the racist and ableist-ass history of why those things exist in the first place!
An alternative that actually makes sense, covers more ground, and is accessible is simply classification. We can’t presume to know what will set someone off and sometimes the people themselves don’t even know. But we can absolutely always provide context.
We already tag the shit out of everything; we can use tags to classify topics and ideas that people can check to: find something in particular, avoid unnecessary or unplanned trauma, and anyone able to can pitch in to add them (taking the burden off of neurodivergent and disabled people).
Again, who is your “social justice” helping if it puts more labor on the people you claim you’re helping?
3. When You Claim Intent Doesn’t Matter, You Defy Logic…And Also End Up Perpetuating Racism and Ableism
Like it or not, logic exists. Cause and effect are things that matter. And this narrative of how intent doesn’t matter is just…illogical.
We can acknowledge that harm can still be done regardless of intent, but if we want to actually solve the problem, we kind of need to know what the fuck is happening on the other side.
A baby punching you in the face is fucking harmful, but are you really going to get on them for what was clearly not intentional?
One thing the justice system at least tries to address is the fact that the solution will change based on the perpetrators intent.
Because you don’t treat a serial killer like a baby. You don’t blame the oppressed for taking on shit that your oppressive ancestors forced on us. You don’t pretend like an abuser didn’t fucking mean it. You don’t act like a disabled person singled you out.
Intent matters as much as impact, because intent affects impact and solution. If you want to change the impact, you have to know what you’re dealing with.
Now, this isn’t to excuse things like benevolent racism or sexism. Ignorance of the oppressors is no excuse! No, what I’m referring to is what amounts to respectability politics surrounding the marginalized or traumatized.
Again, the only way to actually deal with the issue is to understand why what happened happened. You can address the harm while not pretending like the person who did the harm is some blank.
Because it matters who does what and why they do it. It matters if they are doing it out of negligence or malice or just really fucking bad luck. Because the solution is going to change based on their intent.
4. When You Fail to Consider Context, You Are Just Completely Useless
A lot of this just boils down to context and logic, but people like their shortcuts. It’s why time is wasted on ugly pink hats, impotent safety pins, and why after over 400 years, Black indigenous people are still fighting to exist.
True laziness exists:
It is social justice that denies or obfuscates history.
It is a movement which focuses on things like third party votes rather than the fact that the United States is an illegitimate nation.
It is shit like buzzwords and trinkets rather than transferring resources to those who actually know what the fuck they’re doing.
It is Becky, Chad, and Andy coming in like they’re some kind of experts and wasting time by pretending shit like trigger warnings and language have nothing to do with privilege.
It is abuse disguised as social justice; fuckers love forcing and policing people.
At the end of the day, examine actions and actual integrated effects:
Is your social justice or movement total bullshit?
Is it necessary?
Is it leaving abusive systems in place or actually challenging them?
Is it going after the people it claims to be helping?
Is it more obsessed with appearances rather than substance?
Is it sucking up everyone’s energy or otherwise distracting them from the root cause?
Is it centering the viewpoint, experience, and livelihood of the most vulnerable or does it just ignore them completely?
Is it actively and consistently funneling resources to the vulnerable — the dying, the experts, and the bottom of the bottom?
Is it substituting superficial individual change for restorative work or systemic dismantling?
Is it fucking trying to force people to do anything?
Is your social justice more like the student council on Utena than an actual effective team?