Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Patience and Social Justice Sally

My parents and my religion both raised me to be patient and forgiving.  If something got me angry, I learned to breathe and get through it so I could function and not turn into a Giant Squid of Anger.  I'm always grateful for this particular aspect of my upbringing* because I find it helps in my activism and education work.  It's not easy (insert big DUH here) but I think it's worth it.

WHICH IS WHY I get tired of other social justice activists who seem incapable of forgiveness, or love to seek out reasons to be offended then blow up in people's faces when someone sets them off.  These are the people who say they're open-minded about everyone except for straight cis white Christian men.  These are the people who have long lists of things which make a person worthy of the title "feminist" or "ally" and they must satisfy all of those specific criteria to be considered.  These are the people, ostensibly, who abused Laci Green because three years ago she used the word "tr*nny" in a video and then spelled the word out in her apology, which was otherwise humble and brought attention to trans* issues.

These are the people who are featured in my new favorite meme, Social Justice Sally.

What I notice frequently in social justice circles is a lack of patience or willingness to forgive.  When a conservative politician (can't remember his name right now) who had previously supported anti-gay legislation came out of the closet, the reaction among some was supportive but many more said "I REFUSE TO CONSIDER HIM A PART OF THE COMMUNITY".  When anti-marriage equality activists have found their views changing, but haven't taken the time to learn all the Correct Terms and Sensitive Wordchoice before making their apologies to the queer community, the response has been "YOU SCREWED UP WITH A, B, AND C AND I'LL NEVER THINK OF YOU AS AN ALLY UNTIL YOU APOLOGIZE FOR F***ING UP YOUR APOLOGY."

My approach has always been, frankly, cheerleader-esque.  If someone does something right like, say, Bill O'Reilly defending Jenna Talackova's right to compete in a beauty pageant and demonstrating an understanding of the trans* experience ("To her, she's always been a woman"), then my response is to privately sigh at how much farther they may have to go, and publicly say "Yay you got this right thank yooouuu!" I believe encouragement and kindness is key in winning new allies.  Someone dipping their toe into unfamiliar waters is a lot more likely to want to get in more when the water is warm than when it's ice cold or boiling hot.

I'm not saying we should overlook the serious issues a newly-minted ally may have (confusing pronouns for trans* people, for example), but that we should approach these folks as teachers, not drill sergeants.  We shouldn't tear people apart, we should give them a chance to learn (and help them learn) so that they can be confident allies for whichever social justice cause they pursue.

Anger and hatred is not going to encourage anyone.  Laci Green screwed up; considering how much good she's done for humanity in general, I think we can let a less-than-stellar-in-our**-eyes apology slide (otherwise, you'd better apologize publicly and "correctly" for every offensive comment you've ever made when you were young and ignorant).  Those freshly-out conservative politicians were deeply, deeply afraid of people finding out their secret, and so were willing to do anything to avoid suspicion; the real problem is a culture which still says being gay is less-than, not the individual actions of these men sucked into a dark fear.

C'mon, friends, let's not become Social Justice Sallys.  Let's be aware of issues, but not shove them down everyone's throats.  Let's help people learn, but not stake the hearts of the uninformed.  And for God's sake, let's be forgiving when people screw up.  There's no need to burn allies at the stake for being wrong every once and a while.  If we're going to demand others be perfect and never screw up in their words or actions, then we'd better beat ourselves up just as much as we do to others when we mess up.  It's only fair.

I like the way Jesus put it- how do you take a speck of sawdust out of your brother's eye when all the while there's a great big plank in your own?  First you take the plank out of your own eye, so you can see clearly enough to take the speck of sawdust out of your brother's.

So let's be charitable and encouraging, okay?

*And many others, as well.  Hi, Mom!
**Obviously not mine, I liked her apology