To me, social justice is not a competition. It is not about being the ultimate ‘woke’ beacon of truth. It is not about trying to find the flaws in someone else, ‘exposing’ them and leaving them out to dry. It is not about ‘cancelling’ someone instantly after finding out they have done something problematic. It is about progress, society moving forwards and fighting for love and tolerance. So why am I met with stigma when I describe myself as a social justice advocate?
There is a certain stereotype of the ‘social justice warrior’, one many of us who care about social justice are keen to distance ourselves from. The growing label of a ‘snowflake tumblr keyboard warrior’ haunts us and aims to take away the legitimacy of the causes we fight for, belittling our beliefs and casting them as petty or attention seeking. Claims we are ‘PC obsessed’ and ‘can’t take a joke’ dismiss the seriousness of our causes entirely. Their labels are silencing us and casting aside our arguments before they have even been heard.
So what can we do? How can we ensure we are not playing towards this derogatory label?
- LISTEN TO OTHERS. If we want our voices to be heard, we must allow others to be heard too. We cannot complain about being dismissed if we are dismissive. Genuinely listen to what someone has to say, even if you disagree. If they are not engaging in mature discussion, feel free not to continue, but give everyone at least somewhat of a chance to explain themselves.
- UNDERSTAND YOU MIGHT BE WRONG. Acknowledge that you can by no means be certain that you are free from problematic behavior, patterns and speech. It is unlikely to be logistically possible to be 100% perfectly socially aware for there are cultures you may have never heard of and practices you may never encountered. Take your mistakes as lessons, not insults and try to learn from them.
- KEEP MATURELY CALLING PEOPLE OUT. By all means, express your views and fight for what you believe in, but be careful of dismissing someone or declaring someone ‘cancelled’ without letting them know how you disagree with them. For all you know, they might end up agreeing.
- LIVE YOUR BATTLE. Enact what you preach on social media in real life. Make conversation with your family. write to local politicians. Engage in direct action. Do what you can to make your beliefs a reality. Show that you mean it.
- BE PROUD. Openly call yourself a social justice advocate; say it loud, clear and unashamedly. Rid “social justice warrior” of its power. Claim it for yourself and start to see it as a positive. Believing in progression is not a dirty thing.
Hopefully, with some resistance, we will slowly be able to show that those of us who care about social acceptance and equality are not a dismissive group of people. We are passionate and tolerant, powerful and enthusiastic, understanding and accepting. We may well be ‘warriors’, but that’s for us to decide.
Anna is a 19 year old undergraduate politics student at the University of Birmingham, UK. She takes particular interest in sport, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and, of course, politics itself. You can find Anna on social media with the user: @tyrannacaurus. [Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org].