There’s no doubt that being ‘woke’ or socially conscious is at an all time high. And while activism started nowhere close to 2017, the media is stronger than ever in showing everything that’s happening. Between marches for social justice, silent protests, more movements than we can count and an abundance of internet activism, it’s no secret that people are more willing than ever to speak their minds and advocate for oppressed groups including minorities, women and LGBTQ people. While most activism is rooted in uplifting the group being represented and a powerful and unifying experience, there’s also a growing number of activists losing sight of what they’re advocating for and before you know it there’s a bunch of ‘woke’ people going at each other’s throats and at the throats of others for not being ‘woke’ enough.
As a black woman, I see a lot of people who are part of my community that are passionate, spreading awareness and fighting for the rights of black women (and black people in general); I also see an equal number of people who seem to be doing more harm than good and instead of spreading a good message, seem to be more malicious than anything else, especially when talking to members of our own community.
The idea of being socially conscious is different to everyone and expectations for the movements can vary from person to person. It’s important to start with the area of education. It has become all too common for people who deem themselves well-versed in social issues to look down on those who don’t. It has become a commonality to see those people being ‘dragged’ for not having the knowledge of every aspect of every social issue. To not be aware of all the jargon and sides of the movement gets you a condescending response at least. But more times than not, you have an innocent person being attacked for being genuinely unaware.
While I’m not saying that someone who’s been repeatedly educated and chose to ignore it should get a pass, I do believe it’s important to note that not everyone has been exposed to social justice in the same ways. Not everyone is aware on the same level. To assume that because you have been well-versed on every issue going on, that everyone who crosses your path will be on that same level is very close-minded. Not everyone grows up in the same environment, the same lifestyle or around the same people and while I completely agree that it’s not the job of activists or people who are well aware of these issues to educate the masses, I’ve learned that some people genuinely aren’t aware.
When educating others on social issues, tone makes all the difference. The amount of times I’ve seen posts on the internet laced with insults, condescending and ableist language and attacks is more than I can count. Frustration during these movements is understandable, but expecting people to listen when you’re attacking them for no clear reason other than the fact that you feel above them because they aren’t knowledgeable on an issue doesn’t encourage education. It goes from educating someone to using the internet to be the bully you could never be offline. It goes from empowering to insulting real quick. Think about this: When your parents or family are yelling at you, does that make you want to listen or leave the situation faster? Does it make you want to hear them out or are you more fixated on the fact that they’re speaking to you in a disrespectful tone? Tone has a huge influence on how people receive your message.
When speaking about oppression, the experiences of others may be different than those of yours. That doesn’t make their experiences invalid. Listening people speaking about social justice is key to understanding all sides of the movement. To invalidate the feelings of another person speaking on their experiences because you may not have experienced it in the same way or you don’t see it from their point of view makes social justice one sided. It takes away the empowering part of advocating for yourself and being unified with other people who are also part of the same group.
Oppressed groups are allowed to focus and enjoy other entertainment that isn’t related to advocating for the groups they’re a part of. Oppressed people don’t constantly have to be at the forefront of every social justice discussion. As a black woman, I don’t have to constantly be talking about race relations. It’s absolutely heinous to assume that oppressed people can’t enjoy a funny video or tweet on social media, can’t enjoy their lives or otherwise disconnect from constantly speaking on the injustices that they face. It can be taxing on the mental health of such groups to constantly see the mistreatment of our people. These topics are heavy and can weigh on the emotions of us and we are allowed to have outlets. We are allowed to take a break. We are not martyrs for our groups or race. It doesn’t mean we don’t care, it just means we have to care for ourselves.
I don’t think there’s a definite line between being an advocate and just being pretentious, but it’s important to think of many different points, and in the end, the final question you should be asking yourself is: am I getting my point across and fighting for what I believe in or am I attacking people daily and losing sight of what I was even fighting for in the first place?