Once Upon a Time, I was a Social Justice Warrior

I think I’ve made it relatively clear that I am on the left side of things in regards to politics. For those new to this, back in the olden days of Disorderly Politics, with my very first post about why I wasn’t a feminist, I mentioned rather offhandedly that I used to be far more entrenched in social-justice brand leftist politics than I am now. I decided to use this blog post to explain the reasoning behind why I was a part of that crowd and the reasoning behind why I left it. I think it’s important to have this kind of narrative out in the ether to combat the notion that anti-SJWs are inherently hateful borderline bigots, born and raised on conservative Reddit forums.

This’ll be a long one, and a lot of it’s background. So skip on down to the half-way point if you don’t want to deal with that. It’s about time that I ranted for 3,000 words again.

* * *

For some background, I am from the rural South. Southern Baptist church on every corner, sweet tea drinking, Confederate flag flying from the back of every other pickup truck-brand, Bible Belt South. I have many younger brothers, and my single mother and grandmother raised me in a trailer park. Most people around me were politically conservative, as is typical of the area. And the ones who weren’t politically conservative tended to be Southern Baptist Democrats–mostly African-American extended family who liked Billy Clinton and social safety nets and thought the gays were going to go to Hell.

My mother and grandmother are life-long Democrats out of habit. For the most part, like most poor working people, they are apolitical in the practical sense. We never talked about politics, and what they know about the political scene typically doesn’t go past what is gone over in mainstream ABC Channel news segments. There are things of more immediate concern in their lives.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been more socially liberal than most of my peers, something that can be significantly attributed to me realizing that I was an atheist at a very young age. Once you start thinking church is stupid and God doesn’t exist, it’s kind of hard to think that homosexuality or drugs or premarital sex or abortions or any number of other things are sinful. And being in some way “sinful” is the main argument you hear against most of those above topics when you live in the Bible Belt. There are other arguments, of course, but I didn’t hear those until much later.

So me and my small group of more liberal friends grew up with a bit of a chip on our collective shoulder regarding small-town conservatism. It’s to be expected. I’m of the opinion that small towns exist as a test to see if you leave when you get the chance to. I was desperate to pass that test, like many other small town kids are and forever will be. I’m sure that if my town was full of moralizing liberal hippies, I would have a knee-jerk negative reaction to that. But as it stands, my town was full of people who thought Obama was an evil Muslim socialist who wanted to take our guns, and by the time I was eighteen years old, I wanted to get as far away from that as humanly possible.

While I was looking for colleges, a liberal atmosphere was one of the main things I was after. Granted, I wasn’t gay save for a solitary girl-crush my senior year. My friends and I didn’t do any drugs, and we weren’t fans of drinking. I wasn’t promiscuous. But I already identified as a humanist at that point and was very concerned with not automatically judging anyone who indulged in any of those things as long as they weren’t harming themselves or others. I was tired of the hypocritical small town conservatism where they hated marijuana but didn’t seem to care about their neighbor being addicted to meth, and where God loved all His creations but still didn’t care much for the homosexuals. I wanted to be in a place that accepted gay people. I wanted to be in a place where I could talk about being okay with legalizing marijuana without getting yelled at about the inherent moral depravity of drugs. I wanted to be in a place where I wasn’t afraid to admit that I didn’t believe in God.

I wanted to be at a liberal arts college. So that’s where I went.

I took the ACT and a few subject tests, aced my advanced placement courses, got a full-ride to an impressive liberal arts college a 2-hour plane ride away, and I was ecstatic. Going to college was the first time I’d ever flown on a plane or taken a taxi. I was out of my element, to say the very least.

* * *

The title is a bit intentionally click-baity, as I don’t think that I was ever a full-blown SJW. I say that because the atmosphere of my new college was really great . . . for a week. Yes, this is truly one of those “the grass is always greener on the other side” stories, as cliched as that moral is.

I knew full-well about how hyper-liberal my chosen college was. This was not an example of my family being afraid of an evil Northern college rotting my brain and turning me into a Communist. My family highly values education in a very blanket sense. They don’t know what the Ivy League is, but they know college is important, and I showed them my school’s spot on the Forbe’s college list, and they were impressed. So as soon as they figured out that I got a full-ride, they had no qualms with it. They didn’t worry about the politics of the place at all.

No, all my warnings came from the internet. Like any nerdy high school senior with a home computer, I did ravenous amounts of research on the colleges I wanted to go to. I visited the official website and student blogs and web forums and Reddit pages all in an attempt to get the most accurate picture possible of my choices. The general consensus was this: Academics are A+, but its liberal politics are seriously out of hand. Like any nerdy high school senior with a serious case of Desperate-to-Leave-Her-Small-Town Syndrome, I ignored those warnings. I wrote them off as people with right-leaning politics who just didn’t do enough research before choosing their school. Of course it was a super-liberal place, why were they so bitter and surprised about it? They should’ve went to Georgetown or Notre Dame if they wanted a more conservative atmosphere.

I get it now.

* * *

As I said, my fabulous Liberal Wonderland that was everything I had hoped and dreamed of in a college lasted all of a week before I started to get tired with it all. That’s not to say that I missed the politics of my hometown, but I clued in very quickly to what I had previously thought was impossible. I associated conservatism with religiosity and repressive social practices, and I associated liberalism with live-and-let-live acceptance, and I didn’t think you could have too much acceptance. Turns out, I was wrong.

I was much more dedicated to social justice ideas upon entering college. This was mainly because of my fervent support of gay rights. I actually planned on being more of an activist for minority groups in college even though I hadn’t had much experience. Because of that interest, I was accepted into a week-long program that happened before official orientation that was all about social justice and activism and all that cool stuff.

The experience wasn’t awful, by any means. Some of my happiest memories of college–and in general–take place during this program. Despite my fervent support of gay rights, I was very ill-informed about transgender people and had a negative opinion of them that wasn’t all that warranted, and I genuinely do appreciate the program informing me more about what being trans actually meant. With that being said, it was during that seven-day program that I learned social justice wasn’t for me.

I was fine with telling people my preferred pronouns every time I introduced myself. I was fine with talking about gender identity. I was fine with acknowledging white privilege and male privilege, and I ascribed to feminism wholeheartedly. I find it important to note those things, because, on paper, it seems like I should have been all for stereotypical social justice warriorism. But I could never fully buy into it because, from day one, it came across as extremely cynical to me, and it wasn’t an atmosphere that I took kindly to even if I agreed with plenty of its points.

I distinctly remember doing a Privilege Walk on the second day of the program. For those of you who don’t know what that is: You stand in a line, and you close your eyes, and someone reads off a list, and every time a point pertains to you, you take a step forward. The idea is, the people who take the most steps have the most privilege, and vice versa. So there were questions like “My family owns our house,” “I’ve never been followed in a store,” “I’m a man,” etc. etc. I didn’t mind the walk itself as much as I minded the discussion afterwards, where we were all told to open our eyes and gaze upon our disparate amounts of privilege. It was all very somber and sad and self-pitying, and I eventually just had to make a comment about how I was actually very encouraged by what I saw because, no matter how far behind or ahead people were at the end of the Privilege Walk, we still all wound up in the same place: at a good college, with people who support us, and good prospects ahead of us. My optimism was apparently a surprising thing to hear.

The rest of the week was like that. It was lots and lots of encouraging people to navel-gaze about how bad they had it in the most cynical way possible. I remember going to a small caucus group for black students that could essentially be summed up as: “Tell us about all the even slightly racist things that have ever happened to you, and tell us about how awful they made you feel, and if you can’t think of anything or it didn’t make you feel bad, we’ll convince you otherwise.” At one point another girl, who has gone full SJW four years later, questioned the need for racial affinity groups on-campus, and she was essentially told never to question how necessary they were again because they obviously were, end of story.

I wasn’t a fan of the cynicism. I wasn’t a fan of the automatic disregarding of ideas that didn’t fit within our little liberal bubble. I wasn’t a fan of the superfluous social niceties that had you feeling like you were walking on eggshells whenever you were talking to a new person. I wasn’t a fan of the “intent vs. impact” idea they enforced that treated people’s intentions as irrelevant. So I couldn’t buy into it entirely, even back then.

* * *

 It still took me some time to become totally disillusioned, but I had already decided that the social justice activism scene just wasn’t for me. It came across as incredibly histrionic and exclusionary from the get-go. There was lots of internal drama, and lots of molehills being made into mountains for our brave campus activists to surpass, and it seemed like a very toxic environment that I didn’t want to be around. So I had to find some other way to be a good liberal.

Early in my college career, I decided to look into Democratic Socialism as a potential political label. I wound up taking a train to a four-day long Democratic Socialists of America conference in New York. I still have the pin they gave me, I still get DSA emails, and the conference convinced me that the DSA wasn’t for me either. It’s largely for the same reasons. I feel like I was privy to one genuinely productive discussion for the entirety of those four days (It was about helping the working class.), and the rest was once again a whole lot of overly-negative naval gazing about how bad we all had it for various reasons. I even mentioned to one of the friends I made there that I thought the conference’s habit of breaking up people into demographic groups to talk to them separately seemed really unhelpful, and I didn’t and still don’t think his justification for it was all that satisfactory.

In addition to that, though, there was a healthy dose of the casual straight white male hatred that is so common in SJW circles nowadays. Sitting in a room full of people having a hearty laugh about how disappointing it was that a good book was written by a straight white guy made me extremely uncomfortable, to say the very least. These were not bad people. And they weren’t stupid people. What I learned from that conference was that Democratic Socialists throw awesome house parties, and have very rousing conversations over dinner, and are willing to leave their house at 1am during a blizzard to find you after you accidentally get lost on the subway and wind up in Harlem. And their social politics are extremely off-putting when you put them all together in a room to talk about them.

* * *

My final disillusionment ultimately came during the two times when I genuinely tried to give social-justice-style community work and social activism its chance. I was already mainly against it. I thought it wasn’t nuanced. I thought it divided people more than it united them. But I was still willing to give it a chance if I thought it could do some good.

Since I care about education, I joined a tutoring program that tutored low-income, mainly minority students in their after-school programs. We helped with their homework, and went over their quizzes, did cool science experiments, all that jazz. I enjoyed doing it. I found one nerdy black elementary schooler and took him under my wing, and it was all going great. Then my location changed, and I no longer had my little mentee, and I had a new site coordinator–one of my classmates.

While going to my new location with her and the new batch of tutors I was working with, I witnessed the most ridiculously racist conversation on the face of the planet that made me drop the tutoring program entirely because there was no way I was going to work with a bunch of raging racists even if I did like helping kids study. Essentially, my Latina site coordinator thought that she’d go off on an unsolicited rant against two strangers who worked at the community center we were tutoring at. It was a rant about how she hates white people, and about how she’s so glad that all of us were people of color, and about how those horrible white boys need to get out of our way because they ruin everything and don’t care about minorities, and about how she wished white people just weren’t around. This is not paraphrased, by the way.

Those “horrible white boys” turned out to be locals in that low-income community who volunteered as coaches for a program that taught kids various sports in an attempt to keep them away from drugs and other illegal things. When she found out that they cared about minorities after all and weren’t just two white boys hogging the gym to shoot some hoops, she begrudgingly acknowledged that maybe they were okay but she still hates white people in general. That disgusted me. My fellow tutors’ reaction to it–to nod and agree–disgusted me. The fact that that racist cunt prided herself on how she was able to teach children disgusted me. And the fact that she felt perfectly comfortable telling me that she hated a race of people and wanted them gone all because my skin tone apparently dictates that I agree with that sentiment disgusted me.

Needless to say, I never talked to any of them again.

The final nail in the coffin was something very similar: me, trying to give a group with a good premise a chance and quickly becoming disillusioned with the entire thing because everyone around me was an asshole. I decided to join the new club that helped and advocated for low-income students. I’ve been very open about how I don’t think elite institutions care about class or the hardships being low-income places on students in those academic environments. I thought the club was a great idea. I signed up for it. I became a Big Sibling to an underclassmen. I participated in panels and talked to the administration about things they could do to help people who don’t have any money to spare.

Then, one night, I met the girls in charge of the group. We were sitting around a table putting candy in plastic bags and talking about the group dynamics of the club. It was at that point that the two girls who formed the group decided to–you guessed it–go on an unsolicited rant against a random person who had done nothing wrong. In this case, they overtly laughed at a white guy who didn’t appreciate people on campus constantly telling him that he had privilege because he was a straight white guy–and, as a side effect, providing him with less help and support than the “oppressed” people. This was a boy who was forced to go “home” every winter break to the backseat of a car, to live off of McDonald’s coupons for a month, whose parents abused him, who didn’t have a penny to his name. And apparently the very notion that he didn’t want to be treated like he was privileged when he so obviously wasn’t was laughable. His concerns were stupid and could be dismissed without a second thought.

And those were the people who apparently cared about low-income students. Those were the people who wanted to help, who wanted to make a group that wasn’t about racial demographics, who wanted to focus on class for fucking once. But apparently white men can still go fuck themselves. They don’t deserve any sympathy. They’re given enough of it from everyone else.

* * *

That was the point that I gave up on “social justice” and its very conditional sympathy for the downtrodden, rivaled only by the small town conservatism that cared about all of God’s creatures unless they were fags. That was when I gave up on the political ideology that kept trying to censor art and media, like it was the 1980s again and they were the pearl-clutching Christian mothers afraid that D&D and Frank Zappa would turn their children to Satan.

And maybe you could say that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater when I reject social justice as a concept. But I don’t think so. They had good ideas that were difficult to object to–acceptance and diversity and social support. I’m not denying that. And I’m not denying that there are many people who ascribe to social justice who are still holding onto that vague set of genuinely good ideas as principles to uphold. But social justice as a copyrighted, trademarked political institution with leaders and interest groups that lobby the government and speak on television and make course syllabi for college students . . . that social justice is ruined, in my opinion.

That bathwater is boiling, and that baby is dead.

An Anti-SJW’s Response to Tori’s “Anti-SJW Rant”

Hey, guys! Look at me, I’m shaking it up. We have video links now! The budget for this blog is off the charts.

This is Tori. I usually like her channel. I find her an intelligent and well spoken person for the most part, though we disagree on many things. This is one of the things we disagree on apparently, and it baffles me because she delves into total irrationality that is not very characteristic of her in this video. I don’t want to act like this video is representative of her as a person, because I don’t think it is (she herself calls it a rant after all), but how someone whose usually so open-minded about things can just slam down a brick wall immediately like this is odd to me. So here’s my response to her lambasting me and my anti-sjw peeps for pretty much being sociopaths. ‘Cause you know that’s the case, right?


I want to talk about a criticism that people involved with social justice get a lot: That we care too much about people’s feelings. . . . This is an interesting criticism to me because it pretty blatantly reveals the priorities of our detractors. On the whole these people aren’t focused on making the world or people’s lives any better, they’re focused on themselves.

And right out of the gate, you totally missed the point! Yay! Now, I will be the first to say that social justice warriors care too much about people’s feelings because I think that that is the truth of the matter. When you have “safe spaces” set up with bubbles and stuffed animals and puppies for grown ass adults who don’t want to hear an opinion that they don’t agree with and go so far as to label it as harassment solely because they don’t agree with it, you care too much about people’s feelings. (I’m talking about an incident a while ago talked about in the New York Times where a college wanted to cancel a speech on gender in America that would be critical of the idea of rape culture because they saw it as harassment towards survivors of rape, and when that didn’t happen, they set up the aforementioned bubble party instead to help people who were traumatized by the horror of having to endure someone questioning their ideology.)

And I also would say that it blatantly reveals the priorities of your detractors, but I don’t see how “You care about feelings too much” blatantly points to “I’m a selfish dick who doesn’t care about you or your feelings!” I don’t see how that is the connection you made. If anything, the only blatant thing it says about the anti-sjw mentality is that it doesn’t see feelings as a valid means of criticism or a valid thing to found a movement on. As Chris Hitchens once was egregiously paraphrased: “When someone tells me ‘I’m offended!’ I say ‘I’m still waiting to hear what your point is.’ Being offended is not an argument.”

That’s what I think. It’s not that I don’t care about feelings, it’s just that I don’t think feelings should be what we base ideas around. A good example is all of the hullabaloo about rape cases in America where feminists started coming out of the woodwork to say that we should always believe a rape accusation no matter what and treat the accused person like a rapist before any proof comes out or even if proof comes out pointing to their innocence because, if we don’t do that, rape victims will feel bad. Well, I’m sorry if you feel bad, but that shouldn’t have some huge affect on how we make laws or how we societally perceive “justice.”

Another thing that I’m sure an sjw would actually agree with me on: I’m against the death penalty. I’m against the death penalty for the same reason that I’m against many an sjw antic: It’s all about feelings. It doesn’t deter violent crimes at all (just ask Texas), it hurts innocent people sometimes, and it costs a lot to maintain despite not being in any way effective at doing what it’s supposed to do. But fuck it! We feel bad because bad things happened, and someone’s gonna pay for it now! It’s all about people feeling bad.

I don’t go out of my way to hurt people’s feelings. It’s not like I’m anti-sjw because I just love getting under people’s skin and making them feel bad. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and I’m not wholly apathetic to how people feel. Feelings are what distinguish us from lesser animals; I like them a lot. I’m anti-sjw not because I don’t care or am actively malicious but because I think that basing arguments around something as subjective as feelings doesn’t help objective reality. Feelings can be an element of your argument, of course, we’re not emotionless robots that should only be appealed to through reason and nothing else. But when they start dominating the majority of your rhetoric, that’s going too far. It’s like the whole “Women are afraid to walk by themselves at night.” thing that apparently proves we have a rape culture even though that fear in no way matches the reality of the situation that men are the ones more likely to be hurt walking by themselves at night than women. But since women feel like they’re less safe, it must be a problem. It’s like that faulty “1 in 6” college girls will be raped statistic that hits you right in the feels because it sounds bad, so they keep using it, even though it’s ridiculously overinflated and proven to be ridiculously overinflated. Feelings often do not coincide with the reality of the situation, and when you focus on them, you’re not focusing on the reality of the situation anymore.

And what’s with the whole “You don’t care about making the world a better place, you just care about you” talk? Where in the hell did that even come from? I genuinely do not understand how she made this leap in logic. If anything, our ideas of what helps society don’t line up. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about making the world a better place. That just means that we don’t agree on what things specifically will make the world better. I personally do not think that the social justice mentality will make the world a better place. I think it would make the world a worse place and turn us into a nanny-state that infantilizes its populace, and that’s why I don’t like it. If I thought it would make the world better, I wouldn’t be against it. What, do you think I’m actively against stuff that I know will make things better because I’m just that much of a dick? No. Of course not. I do not think that what social justice warriors are doing is a good thing. That’s not to say that I’m against social justice. That’s one of the problems with this argument. It equates the general idea with people, so if you’re against the people, well, you must be against the idea too. I’m all for social justice. I’m just against how the typical social justice warrior (which is a very particular breed of social justice activist–there are lots of activists who I like because they avoid the sjw pit fall) goes about trying to achieve social justice.

  But obviously we can’t always make sure that people aren’t offended by anything we say. And, in my opinion, sometimes people are offended by stupid things. So in my opinion, deciding what things are problematic based off of what offends people isn’t very helpful.

Yay, reasonableness!

But for me, being politically correct. And, let me just say, that I hate that term because it was invented by the right wing media as a means of trivializing people calling out bad behavior.

Doesn’t mean it’s not a useful term. Douchebags make helpful terminology all the time, and “politically correctness” may reek of right wing bigotry to you, but that in no way invalidates it as a term in of itself.

For me, being politically correct or non-problematic isn’t about not offending people, but it’s about not perpetuating bad ideas.

And . . . this is where you lose me. Well, you lost me way before this, but this is a very objectionable statement. “Political correctness” and “not perpetuating bad ideas” have the same relationship as “the law” and “what’s morally right.” They coincide sometimes, but definitely not all the time. It’s the Javert problem: To be lawful or to be right? It’s the social justice warrior problem: To be politically correct or to be right? “Political correctness,” definitionally would just mean “engaging in things with tact.” I’m all for tact. But, in practice, that’s not what political correctness entails. Political correctness often entails just not talking about stuff that should probably be talked about because talking about them “perpetuates bad ideas.” Political correctness makes it pretty much impossible for someone to say “Hey, I think you’re wrong about this.” or “I think you’re being hyperbolic.” or “I think you’re over-reacting.” because political correctness isn’t about intellectual integrity, it’s about making people feel good.

You’re not allowed to tell the black Harvard student who thinks that racism is rampant on her campus because people look at her weird sometimes, which must be because she’s black, that she’s over-reacting and seeing racism where maybe that isn’t the first conclusion she should be coming to. You’re not allowed to question whether or not rape culture is a valid idea. You’re not allowed to talk about the gray area of alcohol and sexual interaction. You’re not allowed to espouse pro-life sentiments. You’re not allowed to say that maybe black people have a few things that they can improve on as a cultural group too, and that it’s not just white people doing bad things. You’re not allowed to say, “Being gender queer and transexual at the same time is confusing because if gender is fluid why is gender also so important to you that you’re trans?” You’re not allowed to ask what transitioning is like for a trans person. You’re not allowed to do any of those things because those are all “problematic” and probably some kind of ____ist. And we’re not required to be educators, but sit down and stfu while we talk at you about our problems that you can’t question or comment on at all because it’s our turn to speak now.

That ^ is political correctness. How does wanting to actually talk about what constitutes rape perpetuate bad ideas again? Because I was told to my face by a teacher freshman year that asking questions about sexual consent when alcohol was involved was problematic and victim-blamey. (For the record, my question was: “It confuses me how you can say that after a girl has had X number of drinks than she’s incapable of giving consent, because lots of girls can hold their alcohol perfectly well, and lots of girls still give genuine sexual consent even when drunk. So saying that a drunk girl is incapable of giving consent is odd, especially in situations where the guy is also drunk.”) That was an unacceptable point to make, apparently.

Bad ideas are things like stereotypes that disproportionally increase the incarceration rates for certain groups of people. . . . Bad ideas are things like slurs that can perpetuate the marginalization of certain groups of people.

My response would be “Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason.” And while, yes, it’s important to acknowledge that they are indeed generalizations that don’t apply to entire groups of people (which is where many people fail and become “problematic”), the stereotype in of itself can be helpful. The human ability to generalize has it’s downsides, but it’s ultimately there because it’s conductive to survival. Stereotyping is what tells you to not tell people that you’re gay when you go down to rural Appalachia and run out of gas on a back road. Stereotyping is what tells minorities to avoid people who look like skin heads. I also feel inclined to point out the social justice hypocrisy of preaching against stereotypes of minority groups even though social justice warriors seem to love to perpetuate the “violent male” and “helpless woman” stereotype or the “evil white person” and “ignorant minority who just don’t know no better” stereotype. Generalizations are awesome when they’re not about you/help you out, right?

Also, I don’t see how political correctness really helps with actual _____isms. You say it’s about not perpetuating bad ideas, but how is just not allowing certain things helping, really? If someone is racist, well they’re not going to say a slur around you because they know better, but that doesn’t stop them from being racist. If someone disagrees with an opinion that you hold but doesn’t give voice to what they think, they don’t stop disagreeing with you, you just aren’t given the chance to hear what they have to say. And if you’re going to say “Ah, but political correctness helps people to listen and learn, so they don’t have to speak.” As it turns out, it’s really hard to outright change someone’s mind when they’re not allowed to actually talk about stuff. If an idea can’t be debated, it’s hard to be swayed from it one way or the other. Also, as I pointed out before, I don’t understand how many “problematic” things are even problematic.

No one is going to single-handedly change the world, but by taking your single slice of the world seriously, you’re doing something pretty decent for it.

What makes you think that people who aren’t social justice warriors don’t take the world seriously? What, they don’t take it seriously because they don’t go out of their way to make sure that what they’re doing isn’t problematic? What makes you think that they don’t try to be good, nice people to those around them. What makes you think that they don’t try to contribute to something that they think is bad? I know that try to be one of the “lead by example” types by not doing what I spout on the internet about being bad. I stay away from “black events” on my campus because, if I’m going to hang out with you, it will be as a person, not as a black person. I refuse race and gender based scholarships even though many are offered to me and many would help me because I don’t think that they’re fair. I think scholarships should be based on merit and income.

More women go to college and teach at college, so it’s not like being a woman in academia is hard, and affirmative action officially disadvantages white people at this point. I at least think that, if we’re going to have them, we should have more arbitrary scholarships like “Green Eyes” and “Curly Hair.” I’ll happily take a scholarship for poor people though. I do take my world seriously and care very much about maintaining my personal integrity on the matters that I think are important. And the assumption that I don’t just because I don’t follow the same guidelines as you is ridiculous. It’s along the same lines as a fundamentalist Christian looking down their nose at Buddhist as someone who doesn’t take life seriously. Ivory tower much?

Here’s another criticism: the whole “why is this important when people are starving in [insert country here] argument.

I would agree. I hate this argument. I think it’s stupid and unhelpful. People can only care about so many things at one time, and it generally suits you better to care about things that are immediately relevant to you. The plights of people in a completely different country typically are not. If you do choose to care about those places, more power to you. It’s a difficult thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of anti-sjw’s out there who use this argument like an ace in the hole, and I don’t think they’re helping. I don’t think many of them really care about the plight of other countries, just like most people don’t care about it. Even sjw’s don’t really care about it half the time. (Can you really tell me that you were deeply invested in Africa’s health care system before Ebola became relevant news in America, people who were shaming everyone for only caring about Africa when it was relevant?)

That being said, when bring up the plight of people in other countries, it’s not to ask “Why do you care about Z, when X is happening in India right now?” I bring up plights of other countries in order to shed light on something resembling relativity. I bring up the genuinely misogynistic ideals of many men in, say, Saudi Arabia, when talking about feminism in order to point out how they probably shouldn’t be throwing the word “misogyny” around to describe a homeless man calling a passing woman “Beautiful” when she walks down the street. I bring up the genuinely fascists government mandates of Egypt when talking about race riots in America to point out that maybe you shouldn’t be acting like you’re in a race war where you have no power at all even when your city is practically run by people of your race, voted in by you and supporting your actions (looking at you, Baltimore). I bring up the situation in Ukraine where people are actively disgusted by handicapped people to the point of not helping someone in a wheelchair onto a bus because “fuck that no-walking freak” in order to point out how maybe using the word “retarded” to mean “stupid” because word meanings change and depend upon context isn’t a slur the same way calling someone who is actually handicapped “retarded” is a slur.

I bring these foreign situations up not to ask you why you don’t do something about those things instead. I know you can’t do anything about something happening across the ocean. I bring them up as a means of pointing out how hyperbolic to the point of counter-productiveness your rhetoric has become. How hyperbolic to the point of insult your rhetoric has become. It diminishes your entire cause. It makes the larger problems seem less important. I’m not even saying the problems social justice warriors bring up aren’t bad. Maybe they are. Maybe they could stand to be fixed. Everything can be improved somehow. But to take a magazine ad that shows too much of a woman’s breasts and call that misogyny; to totally ignore that homeless people are the demographic most abused by police in America, not blacks, just so you can spout rhetoric about how we’re in a race war. Doing stuff like that diminishes your entire point because it makes those harsh, sounding scary words mean nothing after a while. If everything is racist. And if everything is misogynist. And everything is ableist. And everything is homophobic. And there’s no distinction made in how you talk about it, soon those words grow to mean nothing. They turn into simple buzz words that you can no longer use to gage the seriousness of a situation because they’re used o describe everything. It’s an insult to people who have experienced actual misogyny to take magazine ads you don’t like and treat them with your rhetoric like they’re commensurate to women not being able to go outside without a man. When you use hyperbolic rhetoric, that’s what you do. I’m not trying to “derail” the issue. I’m trying to get you to acknowledge that every issue falls on a gradient, and maybe if your issue is dark gray, you shouldn’t talk about it like it’s the deepest of blacks. Dark gray is still bad. But it’s not the same thing.

That’s not to say what you’re talking about isn’t an issue. That’s not to say that no improvement can be made. But you have to look at it with perspective. If the issue is not a mountain, don’t treat it like a fucking mountain. Regard the problems with the level of severity that they actually are. When you make it seem like a bigger problem than it is by using buzz words that don’t really fit but “get people talking,” you’re once again not dealing with the actual issue. You’re dealing with the shadowy ghost of the issue that you made yourself because the shadow is so often scarier than the real thing. You are not living in a misogynist totalitarian regime a-la The Handmaiden’s Tale, and acting like you are doesn’t do much to address the real problems that still exist. You are not living in 1930s Arkansas, and acting like you are doesn’t solve police brutality. As it turns out, when you make something into some huge Boogeyman of a problem, people expect a huge Boogeyman of a problem, and when that’s not what they find, they’re kind of at a loss of how to deal with it. And even worse, it makes the actual problems harder to solve because “Well, we didn’t find that huge Racist/Sexist Boogeyman that you said was looming over everyone all the time, so that must mean that there are no problems!”

I do think that there are issues that are non-issues. And it annoys me when people focus on things that are of no consequence.

Good.

That really is the bottom line here. These people who are so ardently opposed to social justice don’t care about making the world any better. They don’t care about issues that they use to derail conversations. These people don’t give a damn about other people. They don’t care about issues that matter, really. And that’s why you don’t see me giving them the benefit of the doubt. Because they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. And it would be a waste of my time. A complete and utter lack of empathy is not to be respected, and I don’t respect it.

Well, that’s sad, because I respect you. I respect what you’re trying to do, even if I think the social justice warrior mindset in counter-productive and dogmatic at times. I listen to your points. I even agree with some of them. But my disagreeing with how to go about things apparently makes me an utter sociopath unworthy of even being heard out this one time.

I don’t ascribe to social justice warrior tenants because I think they’re harmful. I don’t think that they help those who need help. I think they perpetuate problems. I think the identity politics of social justice warrior-ism is utterly counter productive because it further divides people along race lines and gender lines and sexuality lines and what have you. It’s separatist, tells one group of people to sit down and shut up and not to question anything because they’re tainted by the original sin of having the same skin tone or genitalia as wrong-doers in the past. It makes it seem like arbitrary differences are insurmountable. It attaches identities to labels and ideologies so whenever that ideology is questioned people feel like it’s an attack on them. It infantalizes people. It has impossible, ever-changing standards that no one can live up to, and then turns around and says that those standards should only apply to certain groups. I don’t think it helps. I don’t.

And I do care about making the world better. You know how I try to make the world better? I try to treat people how they deserve to be treated. Hell, when I graduate, do you know what I want to do? I want to help develop low income communities by providing them with more opportunities for social growth and self-improvement. You know, college pamphlets next to the cash register in liquor stores, better job and school resources, bright murals to dissuade gang violence, educational resources to help people with mental illnesses so often ignored or stigmatized in low-income settings, helping people take classes in prison to discourage toxic prison cultures. Those kinds of things. But I don’t care about other people. I don’t want to make the world better. I’m just selfish and have no empathy for the plights of other human beings.

And if you think this whole not caring thing is cool, if you are into romanticizing apathy to be cool and edgy . . . I’m done with that. I am not wasting my time.

I guess I won’t waste my time either.

See you later, guys.

Kindly,

B

Privilege: Sometimes It’s Not the Devil You’re Advocating For

I’m not a fan of the word “privilege.” In some ideal world where arguments don’t happen, and confrontation doesn’t exist, and people only ever have the best, most benevolent intentions in mind, “privilege” would be a perfectly acceptable word. The term “check your privilege” would actually be helpful and informative. But in the real world, bringing up privilege is the intellectual’s way of shutting something down by telling someone else to STFU. “Privilege,” like “patriarchy” and “microagression” is just a buzzword. It’s a vacuous argument-ender less concerned with human empathy and constructive discussion and more concerned with making sure someone else feels bad for some unintentional, inherent transgression against some group of people you’re expected to pity on principle. You can say that that’s not what “privilege” is supposed to do, but you know that’s what it does–just like how a parent telling their socially awkward kid that they’re “special and unique” isn’t supposed to make them feel bad. But it does.

One of my main problems with liberal rhetoric is that it’s paradoxically separatist despite its insistence that humanity is one people and we should love each other and listen and blah blah blah, you’ve heard the spiel before. We’re all one people! Except when we’re talking about any social problem whatsoever, in which case, it’s totally an Us vs. Them scenario, with us not having to do anything because they need to learn. Because they are the ones who don’t get it. Even when they are on our side, they still need to be learned up good about how much they suck. And they should be proud if they do learn that, if they’re a good enough person to be willing to check their privilege and listen to the other voices for once. That’s why Cornel West (who I actually really like in certain other situations) can go in front of a lecture hall full of mainly white people and talk about how white people are still terrible and get a standing ovation.

Why am I talking about privilege? Why, because I’m going to respond to this article from feministing.com, of course, an article by the name of “An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate.” Consider this an open letter to the open letter, then.

And remember, I’m a black woman, and the writer of this article looks white. So what I have to say is automatically fucking important.


 

Let’s begin!

You know who you are. You are that white guy in an Ethnic Studies class who’s exploring the idea that poor people might have babies to stay on welfare. Or some person arguing over drinks that maybe a lot of women do fake rape for attention. Or, recently, someone insisting that I consider the idea that Elliot Rodger could have been a madman and an anomaly, not at all a product of a white supremacist and misogynistic society.

 

Right out of the gate. Okay. I commend her for being upfront about it, at least. “Fuck white people with male genitalia. Fuck ’em!” I find it irritating that I have to say this and continue saying this in almost every social justice conversation I have: White men are human beings too, guys. I’m not going to sit here and whine about how people just won’t leave white guys alone. It’s like a Christian from Mississippi complaining about how he’s a victim of religious discrimination because a secular group got a billboard on the interstate. You’re not. You’re fine. Your got off easy as far as life is concerned. But at least the Mississippi Christian is complaining about a specific thing. The typical white man has it pretty okay, but that’s no reason to treat the group as whipping boys for everything just by default. That’s just not fair. Should I be the go-to whipping gal for race issues because I’m high yellow instead of dark-skinned and high yellow people back in the day were dicks? It’s funny how people who play the devil’s advocate are apparently never anything other than white men–because I never talk about unpopular opinions, amiright?

Not to mention the fact that those are indeed things that happen. Some poor people do have babies to stay on welfare (or have babies because they’re already on welfare), so women do cry wolf about sexual assault, and I’m not even going to talk about Elliot Roger (But seriously, he’s not even an anomaly according to you? Do people go on killing sprees all the time where you live?). So is just mentioning that humanity isn’t perfect–that not all poor people are trodden-upon angels and that not all women are victims–bad? Are we just supposed to act like X Group has never done anything wrong ever because Y Group was mean to them at one point in time and may or may not still be mean to them now? That’s dumb. What kind of constructive conversation are you having where bringing up actual issues is looked down upon? I have less than $3000 in my bank account and have the most money out of everyone in my entire immediate family; I’m in school on scholarship. I can acknowledge that some poor people are dicks. Why can’t she?

How is anything you say going to be in any way helpful if you aren’t even willing to address the full picture? How are we supposed to help the poor when people like you aren’t willing to acknowledge that some poor people take advantage of our faulty welfare system? The existence of opportunistic bastards is something that would need to be taken into account while trying to come up with an actual constructive way to deal with the problem. But I guess I’ve already talked about how you don’t actual want to deal with problems, you just want to complain about them.

Most of the time, it’s clear that you actually believe the arguments you claim to have just for the heck of it. However, you know that these beliefs are unpopular, largely because they make you sound selfish and privileged, so you blame them on the “devil.” Here’s the thing: the devil doesn’t need any more advocates. He’s got plenty of power without you helping him.

So all the people who try to provide a contrary voice aren’t just doing it to facilitate conversation but because they actually are just jackasses on the inside? Okay, no bias there. It’s not like contrarian jerk-offs don’t exist. There are argumentative pricks in the world who just want to make other people mad by talking about an obviously terrible idea like it has some level of credence. But I highly doubt that that’s a description that can be applied to all devil’s advocates. I’m sure some of them actually do want to facilitate conversation and don’t actually believe or support the points they’re arguing. But if the points like the ones you brought up are what you label as “bad,” I don’t even see anything wrong with believing them. Those are legitimate things that should be brought up when talking about those topics. Believing that reality is the way it is apparently makes you a devil’s advocate by default and also an asshole. Pointing out that the world isn’t a black-and-white 1940’s propaganda cartoon with obvious good guys who can do no wrong and obvious bad guys who do nothing but wrong makes you the devil’s advocate now.

How is blaming anything on “the devil” any different than blaming something on “culture?” Both of them are vague and unhelpful and only serve to be ominous and pessimistic. Does she even understand what “playing the devil’s advocate” means? It’s about trying to empathize with a point you don’t agree with, which means the assholes she talks about who secretly hate poor people wouldn’t even technically be devils’s advocates. “The Devil” isn’t even always something inherently bad. It can be, but not always. I once wrote an entire op-ed article (that I won’t link to simply because my college shall remain anonymous) defending a couple who didn’t want to take pictures at a gay wedding and trying to explicate their reasoning not because I agreed with them but just because I’m against the idea of utterly demonizing people who you disagree with, even if the disagreement is something huge.

I’m still just really hung up on what she thinks being the devil’s advocate entails. If she would have just not listed examples of “unacceptably privileged behavior,” I would have liked this article way more. But she listed them, so I’m harping on them. “He’s got plenty of power without you helping him.” What does that mean? There are assholes who really do not get it and shouldn’t be talking–Glenn Beck talking about how poor people are just lazy bums who don’t want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or Fox News watchers claiming that Elliot Roger wasn’t misogynistic just gay. But that doesn’t mean that the general sentiment that they’re failing to get across with anything resembling intelligence is wrong and has no merit. Idiotic people like that existing actually calls for the existence of a devil’s advocate, because idiots who just hate poor people contribute about as much to the conversation as people like this girl who want to treat poor people like faultless angels. Devil’s advocates bring nuance to a goddamn conversation. Is nuance the enemy now? Is trying to be realistic just playing into the Bad Man’s hands?

Once again, I know there are people who claim to be a devil’s advocate just to justify being a dick, but how does that apply to all instances of it? Does this girl write off all people who try to look at it from another perspective that she doesn’t like, or just privileged white guys?

 

These discussions may feel like “playing” to you, but to many people in the room, it’s their lives you are “playing” with. The reason it feels like a game to you is because these are issues that probably do not directly affect you. It doesn’t matter whether most mass shootings are targeted at women who rejected the gunman if you are a man – though it should, since misogyny kills men too. If you are white, it doesn’t matter whether people of color are being racially profiled or not. You can attach puppet strings to dialogues about real issues because at the end of the day, you can walk away from the tangled mess you’ve exacerbated.

 

This girl gives no fucks about “real issues.” She cares all about the pathos and not at all about the logos. She’s trying to be empathetic. She’s trying to be nice and understanding. I get it. I can even appreciate how her heart bleeds for those less fortunate than her. She’s probably a very nice girl, and she clearly cares. But she’s not being helpful. This kind of extreme empathy does as much good as the extreme apathy that she’s trying to fight against. I’m all for feelings–I’m a writer for heaven’s sake, feelings are my bread and butter. But you can’t just run into social issues gun ho’ with nothing but feelings. Overcompensating for past hurts done to a group of people by holding their hands and insisting that no one should be allowed to hurt their feelings anymore doesn’t help them. It just makes them feel good. And holding their hands makes her feel good. But that’s all it does. You have to have reason and logic and constructive ideas, not just vague calls to action for ending whatever -ism you don’t like. If the devil’s advocates are just “playing with” an idea, so is she. How many of these issues directly affect her, I wonder. And just because some people don’t look at it from such an emotional place, that doesn’t mean they’re helping out the Devil.

What would she have them do? If they’re just attaching puppet strings to a conversation about something that doesn’t affect them, what can they do to fix that? What can they do to prove that they aren’t bad people who don’t care because they’re not capable of human empathy apparently? Maybe she’ll get to that later.

To be fair, there are many privileged devil’s advocates out there who are truly trying to figure things out. I know people who think best out loud, throwing ideas at me to see which sticks to their “friendly neighborhood feminist.” Your kind like to come at a concept from every angle before deciding what you think. You ask those of us who are knowledgeable on the subject to explain it to you again and again because in this world it is harder for you to believe that maybe the deck is stacked in your favor than to think of us as lazy, whining, or liars.

Alrighty, at least she acknowledged that not all devil’s advocates are secret hell spawns just looking for opportunities to flout their privilege in people’s faces. But this isn’t much better. How condescending can you be? She’s treating these people like small curious children whose lust for life and asking questions is cute but still bad because it’s not sensitive enough, like a three-year-old asking a fat woman if she’s having a baby. And I’ll get to the “knowledgeable” thing and the idea of life as a game of cards once I summarize my thoughts on this. The idea of people having a difficult time making attributions about life is tied into the just world hypothesis (thinking that the world is fair and that people have the life that they deserve) and fundamental mis-attribution (blaming someone’s actions totally on their personal disposition instead of the circumstances that they’re in). And it’s something that everyone naturally indulges in, not just “privileged” people.

It is physically and emotionally draining to be called upon to prove that these systems of power exist. For many of us, just struggling against them is enough — now you want us to break them down for you? Imagine having weights tied to your feet and a gag around your mouth, and then being asked to explain why you think you are at an unfair disadvantage. Imagine watching a video where a young man promises to kill women who chose not to sleep with him and then being forced to engage with the idea that maybe you are just a hysterical feminist seeing misogyny where there is none. It is incredibly painful to feel that in order for you to care about my safety, I have to win this verbal contest you have constructed “for fun.”

 

Okay, either you want people to listen to you, or you don’t. If no one asked about the the disadvantaged person’s perspective in Ethnic Studies class, I’m quite sure she’d be complaining about how “the underprivileged voice is marginalized in spaces where it should be safe to give voice to their grievances” or something like that. This is something that really irritates me. Social justice warriors are constantly talking about how straight white people need to let the minorities speak up: they set up progressive stacks that make it impossible for “privileged” people to talk until all the minorities have had their turn, they constantly talk about how people need to STFU and listen to them if we ever want this terrible -ism to go away. But then they go around and bite the heads off of people who do what they asked because they’re “forcing people to represent and be the voice of the group of people they belong to.” Either their individual opinion provides insight into the minority voice and should be heard and regarded that way, or it doesn’t and it should just be treated like another opinion. If it’s just another personal, individual opinion that represents no one but the person who holds it, what makes that any different than the privileged kids’ opinions? What, the minority kids don’t represent their entire group with their opinions, but the privileged kids’ opinions are indicative of their entire culture? How does that work?

I personally think it’s unrealistic to describe the “underprivileged” experience as having “weights tied to your feet and a gag in your mouth.” You just have a different hand of cards. Once again, this is coming at the conversation from nothing but an emotional standpoint. How are the people who “just don’t get it” ever supposed to live up to your standards if not asking is marginalizing and asking is insensitive? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. People aren’t just going to magically understand your plight if you don’t put forth effort into helping them. It’s a two way street. It takes two to tango. All the other metaphors. It’s not just their job to understand while you sit at the sidelines adding nothing. if you chose the life of a social justice educator, you have to be a social justice educator.

 

So dearest devil’s advocates: speak for yourself, not for the “devil.” Teach yourself. Consider that people have been advocating for your cause for centuries, so take a seat. It’s our time to be heard.Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth. But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time.

I’m sure plenty of them are speaking for themselves. Once again, bringing up legitimate problems doesn’t make you an insensitive bastard. Then there’s more of this Us vs. Them. “It’s our time to be heard.” I’m all for letting people speak their minds and have their opinion be heard, especially if they have had an experience that let’s them bring something else to the table. But giving voice to other people shouldn’t come at the expense of taking it away from someone else. Opinions aren’t a limited resource. And yes, you are shutting yourself off because you are arbitrarily deciding who has something of worth to say. You’re arbitrarily telling some people to STFU, just because people who looked a bit like them have hogged the mic in the past.

Who are you to say that nothing they have to say is worth hearing? Daniel Dennet and Bill Gates and Chris Hitchens and Neil Gaiman? They’re all white guys, they don’t have anything useful to bring to the conversation. Nothing they’ve said is new or interesting or insightful. But that random black chick off the street who lives with her parents and refuses to get a job has all the relevant stuff to say, because she’s black and a woman. The merit of opinion is individual. It depends on background, but also on introspection and disposition that you have no way of assessing from the outside. You can’t just make assumptions about a person based upon fill-in-the-blank demographic information. And that’s what all this talk of “privilege” does. It makes assumptions, ironically reflecting the mentality that it’s trying to fight against.

If that was an accurate way of viewing the world, Bill Gates would suck as a person and Wiz Kalifah would be the utmost voice of wisdom. Obviously, that’s not the case.


 

I’m going to repeat something from that last paragraph:

They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories.

Is this girl a behaviorist? She’s acting like cognition isn’t a thing, like a person’s actions and thoughts are dependent entirely upon the environment they were raised in and absolutely nothing else. How the hell does she know where and how people got the opinions that they have? Once again, pointing out that minority groups can *gasp* do wrong sometimes doesn’t mean that their opinion is based in white male privilege. And I doubt any of them are making the claim that they came up with a new theory on social relations, but nothing this girl is saying is new or original either, so that’s obviously not an indication of the quality or validity of an idea.

I’d like to ask a question: What makes an underprivileged person more knowledgeable? This entire idea runs on that one questionable premise. They have experiences that another person might not have, but what about that indicates that they’d have anything intelligent to say? Old people have more experience, but I’ve met plenty of sixty-year-olds who were utter morons. Having an experience is not commensurate with having something to say. For all their talk about how the Magic Negro trope is racist, a lot of liberals seem to ascribe to the idea that all black people just inherently have insightful ideas about life.

Some black people are idiots. Some gay people are idiots. Some disabled people are idiots. Some women are idiots. Some transgender pansexual bi-racial depressed people in wheelchairs are idiots. And yes, some white men are idiots too. Let’s say there’s a Latino woman who has spent her entire life living in her parents’ basement, failing online community college, mooching off of her parents’ goodwill, and getting knocked up by her deadbeat boyfriend just to convince her mom not to kick her out because working in fast food is lame and she doesn’t want to do it. Let’s say there’s white guy who specializes in America’s relationship with Mexico and has written multiple books on the subject. When it comes to asking about race relations between Mexican immigrants and Texan business owners, I’m going to trust the opinion of the white guy. If you switch the character profiles around, I’d trust the opinion of the Latina. It’s not reasonable to say that one of them should hold precedence over the other solely because white guys were dicks in the past yada yada yada. If you truly value equality, you’d stop focusing so much on what background information makes a person’s opinion less valid and start focusing on their actual opinion.

Sometimes a privileged person has a lot of useful things to say. Telling someone to shut the fuck up because they’re wrong, and you’re right, and they should listen to you, because their opinion is dumb by default, because you know so much better than them, because you went to college and/or you’re {insert minority group here} does nothing to help. It doesn’t build understanding. It doesn’t fix any problems. It just makes you feel good because you got to tell someone who you arbitrarily decided was the Them in the Us vs. Them situation to STFU. Making someone a representative of the group of people who you don’t like and then making that person feel bad is cathartic, but don’t act like it’s useful.


It’s not like privilege doesn’t exist, but why is that a bad thing? It kind of just seems to me like something neutral. The way the world works. Some people are born into good situations and some people are born into not so good ones. Lamenting that fact does nothing. Making the people who just so happened to have an okay life feel bad about it does nothing. Trying to “fix” the people with privilege isn’t going to help. You’ve got to focus on the ones who could use a leg-up.

How about the life as a game of cards metaphor? Everyone has a different hand, and it’s random. No one chose what hand they got. There are good hands and bad hands and ones in between. There’s really no point in complaining about it–the game has started and there’s no going back. The person with the bad hand doesn’t have everyone lay down their cards so they can see who has the best then insist that the people with good cards go easy on everyone else or else get kicked out of the game. Keeping that rule up just slows the game down for everyone. In the end of the day, you have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt. A bad hand doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to lose, and a good hand doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to win. It all just depends on how well you’re able to play the game. Some make the best out of the cards they’ve been dealt, and some don’t. Some can’t because they were never taught how to. The best we can do is teach everyone how to play poker and make sure no one cheats.

The Case FOR Cultural Appropriation

I wanted a witty title for this, but I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t ridiculously mean spirited. I try to be nice, guys. I try to be reasonable and give people the benefit of the doubt and not bite people’s heads off for no reason. But, dear god, is cultural appropriation such an overblown concept. Remember when I said feeling victimized by cat-callers was a first world problem? That example palls in comparison to the utter “I-have-nothing-else-to-complain-about-but-like-feeling-indignant-because-it-gets-me-attention-so-I-guess-I’ll-be-mad-about-this . . . ness” of cultural appropriation. This is the kind of arbitrary annoyance you complain about when the rest of your life is going perfectly fine–this is the social justice equivalent of a pretty blonde girl with no financial woes and plenty of friends feeling bad because she heard someone she didn’t know make a dumb blonde joke. And people who still have actual problems talk about this like it’s on par with the rest of their woes, and I don’t get it.

I’m going to get this out of the way now–exploitation of other cultures does exist, and that is wrong. The businessman who moves to Arizona and thinks that the indigenous Native American art is cool enough to sell and who then outsources the creation of that “indigenous” art to China and then sells it back in Arizona lying and promoting it as the authentic thing to dumb tourists and taking revenue away from the actual indigenous artists is wrong. Complain about stuff like that because that is genuine extortion for bad people’s own personal gain. If a group of people is being directly walked all over as a means for someone else to lie and make some kind of profit, that is bad.

But that’s hardly ever the kind of thing people so against cultural appropriation talk about. They don’t talk about people utterly exploiting something for their own personal gain; they talk about people doing stuff that doesn’t really hurt anyone but makes some people feel bad. And, as we all know, feelings are the most rational basis for one to determine whether something is morally right or wrong. And that’s how they frame it: Appropriating culture makes you a bad person–if not bad, than ignorant in the condescending “we really mean you’re an idiot” sense. It’s not a matter concerning what makes someone subjectively uncomfortable like a dead baby joke that not everyone thinks is funny. It’s an objective fact.

And like all “TRUE FACTS OF _____ISM,” there are people who “just don’t understand.” And that means that the social justice warriors will always have someone to feel superior to, someone who they can shake their heads at in disappointment and wonder to themselves why everyone can’t be as enlightened to the social issues of today as they are. They are such good people, guys. You heard it from me, and I’m a black woman–which means I can’t be wrong because the world has been mean to me.


I’ll soon get into my more general thoughts about cultural appropriation. But first, I decided to talk about cultural appropriation by looking at some of the big issues that have been brought to light in the past. What are some of the things that had the social justice warriors clamoring for the keyboards in disgust at how offensive the world can be? What had people taking to Twitter and forcing celebrities to apologize for crimes against humanity? I made a handy dandy list to try to look at the big ones.

1.) Native American headdresses at Cochella

This topic made the internet explode for like a day, and the whole headdress issue is almost always one of the first things referenced when you ask “What is cultural appropriation?” I’ve never been to Cochella. I think it’s a music festival–I literally know nothing, but the inherent terribleness of wearing a feather hat was big enough to warrant an entire Buzzfeed article, so it must be a problem.

So this is people disrespecting Native Americans by wearing something important to the overall indigenous culture as just another accessory without being Native American and without respecting the significance behind it. Okay. I wonder how far this goes, though.

What if one of the white kids wearing it was perfectly aware of the symbolism of it and wore it anyway? That makes him a jerk but he’s not ignorant. Is the only thing wrong with it the people wearing it not being Native American? What if one of the ten Native American kids wore one of these to Cochella. Would that be okay? What if they wore another article of clothing that Native Americans wore but wasn’t as important? If the headdress being significant is all that matters, would wearing an “insignificant” item of clothing be acceptable? Is it even okay for Native Americans to wear them anymore at this point? I can’t really imagine modern Native Americans having the exact same beliefs as their ancestors, which means the ceremonies where the headdress was originally worn would only be performed as a nod to how the culture once was in order to celebrate cultural heritage and stuff. Which is all well and good to me, but wouldn’t that also be considered an objectively inappropriate context to wear it in since you’re essentially just nodding to the past without any currently established significance other than “heritage” and “keeping the culture alive”?

At that point is seems less like a disrespect of culture and more of a disrespect of history. If it’s disrespectful for a white kid to wear his dead grandfather’s cross necklace around because it’s not theirs even if its a part of their history, wouldn’t it be equally disrespectful for a Native American kid to wear traditional clothing because its not theirs even if its a part of their history? Would the Native American kid wearing the other kid’s grandfather’s necklace be crossing the line even if he deeply respected Christianity with every fiber of his being? If it is acceptable because he respected it enough, that would indicate that all you need for appropriation to be a-okay is to respect the culture of those you’re appropriating–you don’t even need the “right” environment at that point. But what does that mean? How much respect is “enough?” Obviously, thinking something is really cool doesn’t qualify as respect. So where is that line? How interested does a person have to be in Native American history for them to wear a headdress and it be okay?

This issue is turning into a muddled mess that actually is best explained by giving the blanket statement “Don’t do it.” because as soon as you think about the specifics of why you shouldn’t do it, it just gets really confusing and hinges on “well some people feel bad” and honestly doesn’t seem that bad if it’s so utterly dependent upon individual circumstance and un-quantifiable thought processes.

And this is coming from someone with no interest in wearing a headdress because, in all honesty, it does seem kind of mean. But I guess that explains why this confuses me so much: It’s “kind of mean.” Why is something “kind of mean” warranting of such a deeply felt, staunch reaction?

Dear god, that is the rantiest I have ever been, I’m pretty sure. I’m sorry. I didn’t even know I cared that much, but apparently I do. Answer those questions, someone. I legitimately want to know where that line is now.

2.) Twerking

Here’s another one about black people wanting to lay claim to stuff that no one in their right mind would want to own. Who, besides drunken teenage girls, wants to say, “Twerking is my thing.”?

Okay. Miley Cyrus liked twerking. People called her racist. We all know this. What is twerking? It’s gyrating like you’re having a seizure, but only in your ass. It’s not appealing, and I don’t know why people do it. Black girls are awesome at it because, as we all know, black girls have nice, luscious backsides very suited toward shaking. So Miley, being the stick figure white girl she is, got called out for cultural appropriation because “dancing” such as that was what black people do.

An argument I heard about this is that twerking takes after traditional African dancing. Okay, maybe it does. But I doubt Miley Cyrus knew that, and I doubt the black girl in Atlanta shaking her ass to a Flo Rida song knows that either. Is it cultural appropriation when the people who apparently “own” that culture don’t even know about it?

Then there’s the idea that twerking appropriates a more generalized, modern black culture. And people support that by pointing to how Miley Cyrus had black backup dancers, but if I were Miley Cyrus I’d have black backup dancers too. Someone on that stage had to actually be good at twerking, and it definitely wasn’t Miley. And, really? We’re calling people out for dancing now? The most harmless, culturally non-specific activity ever. Are we going to call up the Bangles and yell at them for making Walk Like an Egyptian? Do people really have to watch how they dance now, less it intrinsically oppress someone else? This is a point I’ll address later. I’ll leave it for now.

3.) Theme Parties

This ties into the dancing one in the sense that it takes something totally harmless and makes the claim that it’s morally wrong. They make it seem like the people who engage in these things or enjoy them in any way should be shamed; they should be tsked tsked at and told to take a class on how to be respectful toward other cultures because what they did was just terrible. Terrible and offensive and they should be ashamed and know better. How dare they?

What was the grievous offense? Having a fiesta. Or a Jamaican-Me Crazy themed party. Because someone wanting to wear a plastic sombrero and eat tex-mex and maybe even hit a pinata and get some free candy while vaguely Mexican music plays off of someone’s iPod is treading all over the culture of Mexico. Treading all over it. Because a bunch of frat boys who just wanted a flimsy excuse to listen to Bob Marley music and smoke pot with their friends are being terrible white oppressors. Yeah, I’m sure all of the Jamaicans living in their drug, crime, and poverty ridden country are really concerned with that. I’m sure every time that happens those poor Jamaicans suffer a blow to their soul. They can feel their culture dying every time it happens, and it makes them cry.

Or maybe they don’t fucking care because they have real problems and don’t have the luxury of whining about people who haven’t done and probably never will do anything to hurt them.


The idea of cultural appropriation is odd to me, because it always seems like the ones who make those claims don’t know how people work. That’s the best way I can explain my confusion. It’s like they live in some separate world where the human experience is very different than how it is in this current reality that I live in.

There’s an idea that the only way to indulge in a culture not your own is to either ask your ethnic friend if its appropriate for you to like something (because everyone has a friend of every race/ethnicity to act as the voice for their entire culture whenever someone is unsure) or to essentially learn everything about that culture so that you can respect it in its entirety and know the deeper cultural meaning behind all the things. I would hate to ask these people for a reading list: “1984 is a great book, but before you can read it and like it on its own merits you have to know the entire history of European politics and deeply understand the theoretical concepts behind and real world applications of political dictatorships and the creation of fascist regimes in order to get the full background necessary to really appreciate such a classic. If you don’t do that, you’re disrespecting Orwell, you communist pig.”

How much time do they think people have? What kind of relationships do they think people have? How do they think globalization works? How do they think liking things works? Something tells me that if everyone actually did what they said was necessary in order to be “respectful,” they’d all complain about how everyone is trying to be a part of a culture that they don’t belong in like Dances with Wolves.

Yelling cultural appropriation makes even less since in America, where it seems to happen the most, just because America’s culture is literally nothing but a combination of every other culture that’s showed up here. Now that the internet exists, that line has become even more blurred because people can learn about or participate in whatever they want, which is a good thing.

“Cultural appropriation” implies that culture is some solid, concrete, physical thing. It implies that culture doesn’t change, that instead of being the constantly evolving, fluid thing that it is, it’s just stagnant and immune to being affected by other cultures around it. It implies that culture is limited, that it can be taken from someone and they just don’t have it anymore because it was stolen from them. It implies that culture is untouchable, that it should be treated in the highest regard by everyone and respected by default. It implies that any change that does happen is bad because tradition should be upheld above all else.

But culture changes all the time. Having a fiesta-themed party is bad, but no one talks about how Mexican culture itself is a mishmash of Spanish and tribal and South American influence. Native American tribes that had contact with each other, peaceful or violent, essentially stole each other’s best ideas. But apparently that’s bad. Apparently they should have kept to themselves except for the handful of people who were truly willing to make the commitment. Cultural exchange is bad–the Mexicans shouldn’t have incorporated the symbolism of the Spaniards into their culture. But it’s a part of Mexican culture now, you say? What makes that any different than current people with internet access incorporating the Ying/Yang symbol into their psyche? Is appropriation only okay when it happened in the past?

While I’m at it, is cultural appropriation only bad when that culture still exists? We appropriate Ancient Greek and Roman culture all the time. People know about the gods, we’ve seen the Disney movie Hercules, and Greco-Roman symbolism is still used very heavily. Frat boys have toga parties, people mindlessly quote Ancient Greek and Latin just to sound cool, for mottos to put on rings and the like. No one but the intellectuals really cares about fully learning those languages, and we tend to have a very shallow understanding of the myths, generally only going as far as “Zeus exists and sometimes he’s called Jupiter, and the Percy Jackson series is about them.” So is that wrong? If all of the Native Americans died out from some genocidally racist disease created by Andrew Jackson’s mad scientist great great great great grandchild, would it be okay to wear hats with feathers on them at Cochella after that (after it was no longer too soon, of course)? How about the Ancient Egyptians? We straight-up stole mummies from them, and people don’t give a damn about knowing a lot about their culture as long as they can recognize whenever people make a Cleopatra reference and dance to Walk Like an Egyptian at 80’s parties. Where’s the line there? Isn’t that disrespectful?

People can’t “own” cultures. It’s difficult to own any abstract concept used to refer to a multitude of actions and beliefs that occur together. That would be like me owning “oral story telling” or “healthy living.” If you can’t own something, you can’t steal it either. It continues to exist even if someone else knows about it and doesn’t utilize that information quite how you’d like them to. Selena Gomez wearing a bindi without doing research about it first in no way invalidates the bindi’s importance to other people. The people who see the bindi as important are still perfectly able to see the bindi as important. Native Americans who value the headdress can still see it that way and pass that belief down to their kids if they so please. Nothing is stopping them. It’s not like the culture dies just because not everyone knows everything about it. Culture is an abstract concept that continues to exist as long as some people somewhere care to uphold it.

And people not caring to uphold it isn’t even an inherently bad thing–sad maybe, but not bad. It ties back into the whole idea that change is both going to happen whether you want it to or not and not something wholly terrible. To keep with the headdress idea, let’s say that the children of the last generation of Native Americans get together and decide that they don’t care about headdresses anymore because they think liking dubstep is more important than upholding tradition. It’s probably not going to happen that way, but let’s say it did. What would happen? What horrible thing would surpass? Yeah, their parents’ culture would be on it’s way to dying, and it’s a sad concept–we don’t want things to die, after all. But the reality of the situation is that cultures die out all of the time, and the world keeps on spinning and people keep on trucking. Small cultures get eaten up by bigger ones, and the bigger culture may see something in that small culture that it likes and incorporate it into itself, but the small one is still a thing of the past. That doesn’t make the prevalent culture the bad guy. It doesn’t mean the prevalent culture is any less “culture-full” than the small one. It just means it’s bigger. And, the thing is, we now live in a world where even if a culture is totally dead, it can still be remembered. It can still be appreciated.

So I’m not going to sit here and say that a culture going away isn’t a sad thing. There are plenty of genuinely depressed elderly people who have watched the young people in their village forgo the village’s tradition and pass on learning their family’s language in favor of learning the most popular one that everyone in the city next-door speaks, and they have all of my sympathy, because that cannot be a fun thing to experience. But there’s no bad guy in that situation. The prevalent culture isn’t the villain stealing young people away. It’s just the world evolving as it always has.

* * *

People seem obsessed with making someone the bad guy. The world is full of evil things and bad people. We have enough of them without making more. A lot of the comments I see on appropriation say things like, “Can’t white people just keep their hands off of one thing? We can’t have anything without them trying to take it from us because they feel like they need to have everything we have. Screw them!” or “why does everyone have to take stuff from us? This is ours and they don’t get it.”

No wonder you guys are so mad. If I had such a negative outlook, I’d be full of righteous indignation all the time too. People aren’t trying to steal anything from you or your culture. People think your culture is cool! They like things about it enough to want to incorporate it into their own life somehow. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. It’s not people putting their grubby little hands all over everything because they feel entitled to, it’s people finding things that they enjoy in a world where multiculturalism is possible. And you can too! It’s not like you’re blocked from experiencing anything other than your direct ethnic culture. And it’s not like your direct ethnic culture stops being complex and important because someone else thought your artwork was cool. They’re not pushing you down or stepping on you–they’re appreciating what your culture has brought to the exchange.

What’s with the stigma against just liking stuff? You’re essentially calling people out for not being hateful bigots who see nothing of worth in you. Can’t people appreciate things in their own way? We say that about most other abstract concepts, why is culture so different? Why is culture something that can only be indulged in in one very particular way, or else you’re racist or what have you? Why is one harmless view of arbitrary symbolism more legitimate than another harmless view of arbitrary symbolism? Why is thinking something is important better than just thinking something is cool? Who cares if someone’s appreciation of something is shallow? That doesn’t invalidate any deeper opinions. The meaning it has for individuals is still there, whether they see it as an important reflection of life or they simply see it as an aesthetically appealing symbol that they like the look of. Just thinking that something is cool and not feeling the need to know all about it isn’t a bad thing.

What if I applied that reasoning to anything else. What about TV shows? I know what you’re going to say: cultural heritage and entertainment media are nowhere near the same thing. If you say that, you haven’t hung out with any nerds lately. Nerd culture–hey, it even has the word “culture” in its terminology–is fucking intense. There are religions based on Dr. Who. Multiple religions. That show has been on since TV was still black and white. People care. That’s the world we live in now. What if a Whovian who knows literally every single thing about the series–in universe and behind the scenes and everything in between–sees a casual Dr. Who viewer who likes the show when its on and really likes the idea of wearing bow ties more often because they are cool, and then decries that casual viewer as a bad person whose very existence is an affront to the name of Dr. Who because “How dare you only be a little interested in the thing I really like and dedicate my time to?! How dare you wear bow ties like you’re a Whovian?! Don’t you know that’s our thing!” Is that person being reasonable?

Honestly? Because if you can honestly say, “Yes, that Whovian is being reasonable in their anger.” then you can continue saying that cultural appropriation is the worst thing ever. At least you are consistent in your beliefs, and I may not agree with you but I can understand why you say that and can appreciate the steadfast adherence to an ideal.

But for the ones who say that the Whovian isn’t being reasonable? Why? They too feel personally offended. Their feelings are legitimately hurt. They have chosen to attach a significant part of their identity to this one thing–they relate to it, they see themselves in it, it makes them feel good when times are hard. It’s really, really important to them. And they see someone not appreciating it as much as they do. They see someone not understanding what makes it so amazing, someone who doesn’t get why it’s so truly important and why it has affected so many people to their core. They see someone disrespecting something that they have taken upon themselves to love. Why is their hurt not legitimate? Why are their feelings something that can be written off? Why is only shallowly indulging in something they’ve attached their identity to okay?


It’s good to remember that, in the end of the day, culture is just a bunch of stuff that people a long time ago made up. There’s nothing inherently important about any of the “cultural” things that people do. Headdresses and crucifixes and skulls are arbitrary. Ceremonial dances and holidays mean nothing unless we decide they do. It just so happens that “culture” is arbitrary meaning that lots of people decided to adopt into their mentality at the same time. And it’s cool! It makes things more interesting. It makes life less sad. Seeing a dove and thinking about peace is more interesting than seeing a dove and dismissing it as just some bird. Having iconography is an awesome way to get across complex ideas in a single image. Giving meaning to otherwise arbitrary things gives life itself meaning.

I don’t particularly prescribe to any ethnic culture, but I don’t begrudge people who do. You find happiness in whatever you want. As long as you’re not hurting other people, good for you. I will never begrudge someone something harmless that makes them happy. And that’s what cultural “appropriation” gives us: lots of harmless things that make us happy. So go dance like Miley Cyrus, and get that cliche Japanese letter tattoo, and enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and Octoberfest, and go to theme parties with your friends. You don’t have to go looking for problems to see how much the world sucks most of the time. But it’s also a fun place when you let it be.