By now much of the advocacy community has heard of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen, and #FuckCisPeople, started by @karnythia, @JamilahLemieux, and @Stuxnetsource, respectively. Intersectionality (the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities) has run rampant on Twitter, and I’ve been having a blast voicing my grievances, listening to other’s grievances, and fighting trolls with every bit of strength embedded in my keyboard. But not everyone has been having a great time with these hashtags, and I am here to help with a few tips:
One: Check your privilege at the door.
I don’t know what kind of privilege you’re packing, but it’s weighing you down. Set it down for a minute and consider the fact that you are not the only person out there being oppressed. In fact, you may indeed be unconsciously benefiting from an unjust system. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person—it just means that you live in a society that prizes certain groups over others and you were unlucky enough to be born into one. If you think you have it bad, just think of the people who weren’t born into the privileged group.
Two: Keep in mind that your movement can be flawed…
…without you being an evil master-overlord. Calling out the flaws in our movements is the only way we are going to get better. Movements are constantly demanding that society stop silencing the voices of their oppressed people. It is fair to say, then, that silencing people who are oppressed within those movements is the worst kind of hypocritical.
Three: Remember that unity does not equal silence.
The hashtags are only divisive if you don’t plan on addressing the grievances stated within them. If the movement intends to continue as it is and ignore the pleas stated for all of the Twitterverse to see, then yes it is divisive. But the only way we are ever going to be truly unified is if we listen to each other’s complaints and work to fix them.
Four: Be aware that anger is an emotion…
…and that oppressed peoples, as human beings, are entitled to emotions. You have no way and no right to monitor and/or control these emotions. These emotions are not irrational. These emotions are not silly. The best way to deal with these emotions is not to pretend they don’t exist and/or brush them off as unwarranted whining.
Five: Know that there is one condition to being an ally…
…and it isn’t that the oppressed groups appease you at every turn. It isn’t that they be wary of your feelings. It isn’t that they don’t air the movements’ dirty laundry. It isn’t that they do what is best for the movement even if the movement isn’t doing what’s best for them. The only true condition for someone to become an ally is for the ally to support the oppressed group because it is the right thing to do. You help them the best you can, not the way you think is best.
And if you are really having a problem with the hashtags, I present you this hypothetical situation:
Every day my friend and I walk down the street together. We are very close, but every once in a while my friend falls to the ground and scrapes her knee.
This friend and I have braved bullies together. We have faced down mean girls and jocks alike. We are more than friends, we are best friends. We love each other.
And every day she falls. Sometimes she trips. Most times someone pushes her to the ground as I watch. And sometimes I even push her myself.
I may apologize for this fact, I may not, but I never help her up. I never stop her from falling. Every day she falls to the ground, collecting more scars on her knee, and I do nothing.
Until one day she gets angry. Here she is walking down the street, falling down every day, and her best friend can’t even help her up. She yells at me about all the ways she has scraped her knee over the years. She yells at me about all the ways I haven’t helped her.
She rants. She vents. She cries.
Now, I could get mad back. I could be defensive. For the most part, I don’t push her down, and when the bullies pick on us at school, I am the one who is at her side.
I could tell her, “Well if that’s the way you feel we don’t have to be friends.”
Or I could pretend that day never happened. I could walk without her for a while until she finally breaks down, resentful, but needing some kind of ally to face the bigger bullies at school.
Or I could listen to her rant, to her vent, to her cry. I could take it all in, and when it’s over, I could begin to help her off the ground. I could become a better friend.
Our movements have all three of these choices: We could refuse to work with the oppressed people who voiced their grievances, we could ignore their grievances, or we could work to address them. While we make this decision, I would point out that no one joins a movement wanting to fight forever. We all are hoping that one day most of the bullies will see the wrong of their ways and treat us like human beings. We are all hoping that we can bring about real change in our society.
But if we can’t even change the prejudices within ourselves, how can we ever hope to change the inequalities around us?
Photo by Ross Breadmore released under a Creative Commons license.