A commenter on my Facebook once lamented that my feed was full of “soapbox” topics, that it had become always “racism this, sexism that.” At the time I was so gobsmacked that I’m unsure of the quality of my response. The basic thrust was that I wasn’t about to stop talking about these things, so folks should get used to it.
It occurred to me recently (the incident was a while ago) that I could better articulate why the flood of ‘ism posts in a blog entry than a Facebook comment, anyway. Let this then be an answer to the question that nobody’s asked recently, but might be thinking: what good does it do to keep up such a stream of shares, comments, blog posts, etc., about these topics?
I do these things to change myself:
I come from privilege. White, middle class, Catholic, educated, cisgender, etc. etc. These things come with deep, unconscious, largely inadvertent but still poisonous assumptions and habits. I can count on one hand the occasions I was ever face-to-face with a person of color as a child. Blackness was associated with crime, gang violence, “the bad part of town.” I believed that homosexual activity was sinful all the way through college; queer was an epithet. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I grasped what transgender even meant, much less recognize the prejudice and vulnerability that accompanies it.
Human beings are trainable animals. “We are what we repeatedly do;” perhaps moreso what we repeatedly think. Even now that I consciously and intellectually reject my youthful attitudes and ignorance, old, hard-to-dislodge reflexive patterns of thought persevere. The automatic tension that springs up when in proximity with a dark-skinned person I don’t know on the street. A twitch of skepticism when someone I’d come to know as one gender transitions to another. I recognize and rebuke myself for these things, but they still happen. Some piece of me still holds on to them.
Constant engagement with these topics helps me, however slowly, undo those ancient ingrained Othering habits. When I get a supportive comment on a feminist article, a Like, a reshare, those reinforcement mechanisms tickle my lizard brain. They tell that deep distant me, “this is rewarding. This is the right way to think.” And if I end up discussing the topic, arguing and defending the point at hand, that hones and practices a mindfulness toward equality as well.
I will never be perfect in these respects. But I keep up the reading and sharing and discussion in hopes of drawing ever closer to an ideal.
I do these things to change the world:
If I find it difficult to undo my own ignorance and prejudice, being a willing participant in the process, how much harder it must be to effect that change in a whole society! There are millions more like me whose privilege blinds them to true things and whose upbringing has entrenched false ones. There are unknowable numbers who actively fight back against changing these attitudes. Multiply the inertia of one person times how many people there are alive, then add still more for active bigotry… suffice to say my little-read feed is a teaspoon to the ocean at best.
But the only way we can hope to see change is by flooding the airwaves. We need to call out bigotry and expose it, mock it, demonstrate how foolish and outdated and uncool it is. We need to recognize positive forces and trends and praise them, celebrate them, recognize them as the way of the future for humanity. Why? To create such a pervasive atmosphere of truth and good that the next generation gets a different, better set of ingrained habits than I did. If every Twitter feed, every billboard, every odd conversation on the street, celebrates respect for the whole human person, then bigots will feel alone, out-of-touch, ashamed. People are social creatures who desire the validation of their fellow beings. The more isolated and kooky a hateful attitude appears, the fewer people will find it appealing, and the better the world becomes for all of us.
I can’t bring that about on my own, of course. But I can bring up the average, do my part to build that sussurus of positive voices. Seeing frequent posts affirming what’s right can help others like me, seeking to burn out old prejudices, make progress on that task. And maybe, every once in a while, someone actually resistant to or uncaring about ideals of equality might see a signal I boosted and think, “huh, that never occurred to me before.” Without realizing it, they get a little closer to leaving their problematic attitudes behind. My own audience is small (and probably doesn’t include any active bigots, hah), but in the wild world of Internet social media where things go viral and reach unexpected audiences, I never know what good a shared post might do.
That’s why the soapbox, that’s why racism this sexism that. It’s something I can do, here and now, every day, to make myself and the world around me better. And if that isn’t the purpose of living a life, I don’t know what is.