How Exactly Do You Think This Works?

Justice: everyone says they want it. For themselves, for their neighbors, for the world at large. Yet when those who need it most demand it, on their terms, the response is inevitably the same.

Disdain: “You’re just so critical.”
Dismissive: “You’re just looking to be offended.”
Damning: “You’re an abusive bully.”
Demanding: “You should be asking for unity!”

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen these responses played out in exactly the same patterns in two communities that are, while there’s certainly overlap, are often sometimes at odds with each other: feminism and people of faith. Lately it seems that the one cause that unites them both isn’t the pursuit of justice but rather the silencing of those who fight for it.

Be more polite. Ask nicely for your rights and maybe, just maybe, if we feel like we’ll let you have a turn with the mike. Don’t make a stir. Don’t criticize–you don’t want to look bitter, do you?

But maybe I’d rather look bitter than sit on my hands and wait for somebody else to serve liberation to me on a shiny silver platter. I’ll die of old age waiting for that. I’d rather fight for my rights, and actively work in solidarity for others resisting forms of oppression to which I am not subject, because change is not a passive thing. You have to force the subject and if you want to be heard then you’re going to have to shout. Liberation was never achieved by popular vote.

All of you demanding we refocus on unity: that helps you and no one else. Look at who’s joining you in this demand, do they look like you, think like you? Do they attend the same meetings and the same churches? Then you’re operating from an echo chamber and I don’t know why you expect anyone to take you seriously. You’re not offering anyone change. You’re incapable of helping anyone achieve justice until you step out of that echo chamber and weld the door shut.

If you’re made uncomfortable by people who speak of liberation in public, you are part of the problem. If you spend more time protecting abusers than you do looking out for their victims, you are part of the problem. If your response to criticism is to mock the critic, to ask your friends to mock the critic, and otherwise pretend the critic has nothing valid whatsoever to contribute you are part of the problem.

I will defend anger and those who are angry, I will indulge my own anger, because that anger is valid. It is deserved. It is the catalyst for change and I will not be told that my anger makes me a lesser human being. And I will listen to the anger of those whose lives were not like mine, those who are oppressed in ways that I am not, because their anger is valid too. Oppression makes people angry. 

And if all you’ve got to say to that is that we sound mean: you are not worth the time it takes me to read your tweet, blog, or article.

All of your heroes–the suffragettes, the martyrs, the Nelson Mandelas and the Martin Luther King Jrs–acted on and vocalized strong conviction. And they were called divisive for it. They were called bitter. Their anger was invalidated by a ruling class with a vested interest in keeping them silent. And even now, the ruling class recycles these stories as spectacle, entertainment spun as profundity, cut down into consumable bite-sized bits and disseminated so that they can reassure themselves they’re really progressive.

But the truth is that the struggle for liberation, real liberation, is painful and dirty and raw. It is emotional. It is demanding and loud and it doesn’t fit on a bank note or in a TV special. It makes people uncomfortable by design. Shifting people out of their privileged positions to make space for those who have been denied it is supposed to be an uncomfortable process.

And pointing out that you have privilege isn’t abusing you. It’s a statement of fact. It doesn’t dehumanize you or belittle you. It’s merely the recognition of a reality to which you stubbornly remain oblivious.

So yes, I’m angry. And I’d rather be around other angry people because they’re the ones that get how this really works.


4 thoughts on “How Exactly Do You Think This Works?

  1. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called bitter. I’m really, really tired of it. Thanks for making me feel a little bit better about it.

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