Monday, September 24, 2018

Has Call-out Culture On The Left Become An Obstacle?

Has call-out culture on the left become abusive? What about other aspects of leftist activist discourse? Stay in your lane. Emotional labor. Educate yourself. Are we, as activists, creating a culture where we expect people to transform into good people without being able to ask questions or mess up? Where we expect people to have the ability to learn just from reading articles on the internet or lengthy books filled with unfamiliar words?

The first thing I want to point out is that people learn differently. My son needs one on one interaction or videos. He can learn through reading, but the information takes longer to absorb and, as a kid with autism, he sometimes has a lot of trouble with abstract ideas that aren't spelled out in real world situations. I learn best in a classroom setting with a combination of academic and lay speak, reading, and one on one interactions and questions. Some people can read a library in a week and understand it all perfectly. Some people can't really read at all. Some people are auditory learners, some people learn best using their hands and using activities to get a lesson across.

So, why then, do we on the left expect all people to be able to google a topic, pick the right articles without actually knowing about the subject matter (because we all know there are plenty of blogs, news outlets, youtube channels, and more that are going to be arguing the opposite point that we are), read article after article, and then be able to come to the same conclusion we've come to- on their own with no guidance? It would be kinda great if we could do that. It truly would make our jobs as activists easier. We could call people out, tell them they're wrong, not tell them why, and they'd go learn about it and then realize they were indeed wrong. That's not how people work though.

Calling out, on the internet, has become about having someone to take out our pent up anger on. And that's relatable and understandable, because goodness knows, we have some pent up anger and, generally speaking, nowhere to release it except in twitter rants and youtube videos that have 112 hits by mostly trolls.

But what happens when we start dog-piling on someone who is genuinely trying to learn and wanting to understand but, for whatever reason, hitting a blockade in their minds? Neuroscience has told us that the human brain, when it has a strongly held belief and encounters information that goes against it, will actually throw out the new information and the original belief will become stronger. This is not a conscious thing that people are doing. It's how our brains evolved and it's how they navigate the world daily. Which means that it is incredibly difficult to change information that we grew up with, information that's a part of our core beliefs about how the world works.

This seems especially true with fat liberation. Because, while I grew up in the 90's getting "girl power!" messages that, at least challenged the patriarchal ways of the world a little, there was never a single shred of any information that told me being fat was acceptable in any manner.

But, beyond how difficult it is to evolve our ideas and information, when someone feels attacked and defensive, it makes the issue that much worse. And I'm not saying that we have to be 100% nice all of the time because, yes, it's infuriating and triggering and anxiety inducing and we just can't be the patient educator all of the time. It's completely okay for some people to just block someone and move on.

But, that's why it's always been a good thing that we have different people in different degrees of helpfulness and willingness at different times. I've seen, and been in the position of a person who has screwed something up out of ignorance and misunderstanding, and had a dozen people calling me names. As someone who deals with severe anxiety as well as suicidal depression, this tactic might feel good, but it also tends to be ableist and doesn't help anyone learn. Maybe a word or concept was new to that person. Maybe they misunderstood something they'd read. Maybe they really were just being an asshole. You won't know unless someone has that conversation. It doesn't have to be you all of the time, but it does have to be someone. When people are trying to learn and grow, who does it help to make them feel like they're shit human beings no matter how hard they're trying or how far they've come?

On the left, we've started expecting people to be perfect. Which is that much harder when we all have a different definition for perfect.

And, many of us will say, "but you can't demand the emotional labor of marginalized people". To which I'll respond- no.. you can't. But why can't we request it? No one has to answer or use their spoons, or energy, or risk their mental health, in order to educate a person. But when we start refusing to have any one on one interactions, we're taking away the human aspect of social justice issues. Having someone reading about these things on your favorite social justice website can be good, but it's much easier to dismiss that information when you aren't connecting it to real human beings. In a one on one conversation where you can say "this is how you're making me feel and these are the consequences of your words and beliefs" is where people tend to have "aha!" moments.

It's pretty well known by now that having someone in your family who's LGBTQIA+  (which, by the way, I almost guarantee there is. There are a lot of us around, we just may not feel safe telling you) significantly increases the likelihood that you'll support legislation, policies, and beliefs that are pro LGBTQIA+. Because when you can relate your beliefs and actions to someone that you actually care about, suddenly it's not an abstract scary person, it's your son, it's your cousin, it's your parent.

And I completely get that people should be good people regardless. And I'm behind the idea, for example, that women are people because we're people, not because of how we relate to a man. But it's also true that humanizing feminism by relating it to a woman that man cares about is going to get through to people. It's a first step in getting the to the point of seeing us as people deserving of rights regardless of whether or not we're related or sleeping with that man.

I'm going to jump to one more topic. For those of you who don't know, the term "stay in your lane" refers to people in privileged positions staying away from having opinions of marginalized people or situations. For example, if a celebrity was fat and disabled, a fat able bodied person wouldn't be able to criticize them for perusing weight loss. But if that celebrity was superfat, then disabled fat person who was a small fat or a medium fat couldn't criticize them. The issue I see with this is how difficult it is to effectively create change if only a fraction of activists can even say anything.

Sometimes staying in your lane is appropriate... but sometimes I appreciate when a thin ally speaks up about yet another fat role model turning to intentional weight loss. And sure, they have to be careful how far they take it... personally yelling face to face at a fat person who's decided to lose weight? Not cool- definitely stay in your lane. But expressing any opinion at all? Venting their frustrations on their facebook page? We have to give even privileged people some leeway to process their emotions on things.

We're creating an unhealthy dynamic in which people aren't allowed to feel or process any feelings they have. And the infrastructure is imploding because of it.

In theory, a lot of leftist ideas are great and hugely necessary... but the way we implement them practically is becoming problematic itself and it's not helping our causes. There's no room for discourse and learning. It's an all or nothing game where loser gets his head on a pike.

I want to be clear, I am not calling for marginalized people to be "civil". A lot of us are living in desperate and terrifying times. In the US, many marginalized people have to be hypervigilent because risk or death or losing everything is even greater than it's been. Standing your ground and having clear boundaries and expectations for how people get to behave and treat you is necessary and healthy.

What I am saying, is that, for those who are able, when you can, let's do our best to take on some discussions so that we can take the pressure off of those who aren't able right now. Fat activists- let's do that within our own group. Some of our fat siblings are unable to educate right now. So let's do that when we can. And, when we can't, maybe they can pick up where we left off. You don't have to be friends with the people you're educating. You don't have to invite them into your life, because, intentionally or not, they often leave violence. However, we can't expect for them to find the light when we shove them into the dark with a "figure it out and don't come back until you do".  If we do that, all they'll find is more darkness, and we're the ones who suffer for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dreaming of Wheels

I finally dreamed of myself in a wheelchair . How we view ourselves is often hard. What we think of ourselves, even how we picture ourse...