Michelle Obama said that when they go low, we go high. But what does going high look like, and how can someone who hasn’t viewed themselves as particularly politically motivated get involved in activism for social justice issues?
- Direct your anger at the right people – If you’re a member of a Women’s March group on Facebook right now, you might be experiencing first hand the upswing in heated conversation between white women and black women, or other women of color. A lot of white women were angrily leaving the group I’m a part of because they felt like they weren’t welcome anymore, as the conversation was beginning to shift to highlight inclusion. I read the phrase “this is about all women” so many times. If you find yourself getting flustered by other women, so much so that you feel like you need to articulate why you’re leaving a Facebook Group, stop to think about who or what you’re really angry at. You’re probably not angry at women who are trying to protest for their freedom to feel safe. You may be angry because you don’t understand or cannot fully appreciate the intersections of race, gender, class, and so on. You may be angry because you want it to feel simple. Women. All women. But the conversation is more complex than this and it always has been. If you are finding yourself angry because people are trying to do the hard emotional work of figuring out their place in this March, listen, watch, and direct your anger at the people who have made these conversations unavoidable.
- Remember the cost of emotional labor – If you don’t understand something (example: the difference between all lives matter and black lives matter) don’t feel slighted if your nearest black friend won’t explain it to you. It isn’t her job to explain anything to you, especially justification for why her life matters specifically in this context. If you’re unable to understand the difference between all and black, do a quick google search. Take on the effort required to educate yourself. There are a lot of black women (and people of all gender and race) out there who have taken on the work of explaining these issues without being asked. Finally, please don’t express how disgruntled you are if someone doesn’t want to take the time to explain something to you. “How am I supposed to understand this if you won’t explain it to me?” puts the responsibility of your education and your acceptance on someone who is dealing with enough. Sidebar: I’m happy to do my best to help. My blog is a labor of love in itself, meaning that I do it for free. Utilize it by asking me questions. If I don’t feel like I can properly answer the question I will connect you to people who can, or I’ll tell you that I simply can’t answer the question.
- Consume as much news as you can – Now more than ever it’s critical to read more than one news source. Not only to help differentiate between what is or isn’t real news, but to help work out a clear perspective of what is really going on. A simple news headline can be deceiving. The way a reporter phrases a story can be deceiving. Reading the report in more than one instance helps pick apart what the story is really about. Avoid the comments, reading them or participating in them, because they are a waste of your time. Share articles that challenged you and explain why. If someone wants to discuss it with you, do so with an open heart.
- Don’t engage with bullies – Simply existing right now can feel exhausting. You might encounter dozens of people, or more, every day who get a kick out of making you feel shitty. Getting into disagreements with these people only opens up the opportunity for you to (go low) when you could (go high). Calling a bully names, telling them to shut up or go away, or engaging in pretty much any way is often going to result in their desired effect: upsetting and derailing you from more important work. Think about the things people are saying around you and use that as fuel to protest, make signs, find new organizations to follow & support. Give money if you are capable of doing so. The pace of change you’ll get from an internet flame war isn’t going to make you feel productive.
- Find what you can do and do it the best you can – No one can do everything. There is no perfect feminist. Pick a cause you support, and make that your cause. Maybe it’s healthcare, maybe it’s voting rights, maybe it’s immigration, abortion, birth control, prison abolition, whatever. Give this subject your heart. This doesn’t mean stop paying attention to everything else. It just means that you should acknowledge that you can’t do everything and you can’t be everywhere all at once. What gives you the most joy? What would mean the most of you, if you could make a difference there?
At the most basic, most obvious, go high means to rise above. Don’t lower yourself to bullying, to harassment. Don’t use “they’re a shitty person” as an excuse to be shitty back to them.
Think positively. Give kindness and compassion. And look forward because there’s a long battle ahead.
Do you have questions about sex, love, gender, sexuality, life, feminism, or generally just how to do better? Submit it to http://www.suggestivetongue.com/ask and I’ll answer it on my blog.