Truth - Sometimes have to break apart to come together, and other times things may not come together at all. Divided - a word that has been used time and time again to describe the United States as a society. Is it an accurate adjective ... perhaps, at times, but then again the appropriateness of it depends on your perspective. What does it mean to be American? Who gets to claim the moniker? Are we a nation divided or has nothing actual changed? The saying goes divided we fall, united we stand but what if division just might be the thing that saves us from ourselves?

"Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained." Helen Keller

Division is objectively not a bad thing. It in and of itself have no value attached to it. It's our viewpoints and our emotions that assign those values to it. Division let us separate out our issues and also gives space for us to make meaning of what we experience. Time and space may be what we need at times. When we're caught up in the moment and driven by our emotions logic often is not part of the conversation. Time apart and room to figure out what's going on in the larger context, and for us personally is never a bad thing. Too much time apart though and the separation may not be reparable. In other ways though this notion of the great American divide is not new at all. In fact for some communities their historic understanding of the ways that they have existed has always been in separate and nowhere equal ways. For them, there is no novelty in the gap because that would mean they would have at some point been part of the whole to be removed from. From that perspective, that fabled American pie never has been offered to them. Division may appear brand new for some and for others literally nothing has changed.

Emotions make people vehemently uncomfortable, ironically. We are a society proclaim to value our free declarations of our beliefs, thoughts, and opinions but simultaneously expect them to be devoid of any human emotion. It's an oxymoron. There is societal lack of emotional intelligence. People display any other emotion beyond happiness and we shut down completely. We are at a loss for words for how to engage them or how to respond ourselves. In a time when people are putting on display the full gamut of human emotion, it's more important now than ever before that we challenge ourselves to be present. Those close to us and total strangers alike are expressing their emotions. Embrace the discomfort and just be there. Listen to understand and be there. You don't have to give yourself if you're not there or just plain aren't feeling the same way. Minimizing people's feelings does nothing more than amplify their suppression and reflects an emotional immaturity in ourselves. Being able to communicate our feelings effectively, vulnerably, and appropriately is a skill we work on for a lifetime. Being mad at people for feeling different than you does nothing more than add more emotion to already emotional situation.

When did name-calling come back into play as a suitable clapback? It's not a good look and honestly it's unacceptable. If we're unable to communicate without resorting to unimaginative, juvenile, and just plain sad tactics then we might have larger developmental issues. Reverting to prepubescent burns in disagreements is subpar at best. If it comes to trading insults, we've taken a wrong turn down dialogue drive into defunct junction. That is to say that reducing people to malicious labels again is not just inaccurate for also a representation of our own insecurities. This right here has duality to it. I'm not just talking about the bigoted nonsense that has been spewing out all around like caustic geyser of vitriolic malignancy. I'm also calling in to question the liberal elitism that is both complicit and non-exempt in this divided red and blue world.

Stop calling people bigots, racists, sexists, etc. it does nothing to further your conversation and alienates someone you could potentially connect with. Separate the deeds from the doer. We can't talk if you have branded me a homophobe or xenophobe. We can talk about things I have said or done that are misogynistic, heterosexist, or Islamophobic. The words or actions are the issue, not the person in general. Those words we use may not have the same triggering impact oppressive slurs and slights do but their effect is similar. People shut down and no growth can occur. We have to stop calling people out. We leave them out and never invite them back in. We go about our business, getting a sick sense of pleasure from handing some person with ignorant ideas their ass, and give ourselves praise. We have not helped. We have not done our part. We have rather done what we abhor most - denied someone's humanity. Call in to conversation instead of calling out. Create space for questions to be asked, statements or actions to be clarified, and for all involved to gain new perspectives. Telling someone they can't say that does not work. Challenging them to be more precise in their language or to explain what they mean does. Let people either realize what has occurred or bundle up their own bindle. Ask what do you mean by that, can you say more, or where did you learn that. Now, this rebuke of call-out culture does have it's caveats. If a person continually uses dehumanizing language or acts in oppressive ways consistently, then we get to call them what they are. Gaslight them, read them to filth, and drag them all the way to hell. We are what we do all the time, but remember one time an ignoramus does not a bigot make. Checking does not have to be another point of vision.

There are ways in which we as those "in the know" use our knowledge of social justice to embarrass others. Oh you don't know this obscure fact or a decontextualized statistic - look at how foolish you are. How could you not know the basic tenets of Islam, queer critiques, or feminist agency? The incredulous air of pretentiousness we sometimes carry with us makes us inaccessible which undermines our cause. We cannot expect everyone to be on our level of  "wokeness" - in fact, if you tote how "woke" you are I can almost guarantee you in fact are not. Socially just consciousness is not a destination or a state of being but rather a way of thought that once you been "awakened" to you are obligated to actively challenge yourself, and others around you to be more inclusive, interrupt problematic behaviors, and promote the advancement of all peoples. If we ever think we have "arrived" at social justice we have made a dangerous detour. We are always growing, and when we stop or think there is nothing more for us to learn, we have stalled in our journey. We cannot expect others to have the same understanding we do unless we take the time to teach them and in turn learn from them. If we get stuck in the former, again we have become an oppressor, one that wields knowledge not as liberation but as a weapon. Social justice should bring people together lest their opposition is static, in which case they can/should remain apart & left behind as we march forth towards a world that is better for all.

Ally is not a self-bestowed title but rather one you earn from someone in a marginalized community. There is this na├»ve and frankly toxic notion that if you are an ally to one person in a community or in a singular incident that you are this mythic warrior dismantling oppressive systems in a single sword swing. Allyship is an ongoing process and one that you reprove with every interaction you have with underrepresented peoples and others with dominant identities alike. We're not meant or expected to be perfect, in fact we should mess up but owning up to our bullcrap and taking responsibility for our impact is what makes the difference. We can show up for someone in one incident and be a perpretrator in the next. We all have our own biases and communities we feel more connected to that others - it's fine, but we can all, always strive to be doing more. Along that same vein, allyship is more than just supporting people with other-ed identities but it using your privilege and accompanying power to take tangible actions against rooted bigotry, institutional oppression, and interpersonal micro/macroaggressions. Do your work and don't expect praise for doing what you're supposed to be doing. With that being said we should accept what people are willing to offer, but that does not mean half-assed efforts will not be critiqued. What we don't get to do is offer criticism from the comfort our own privileges. People with marginalized identities do that same work, whether they want to or not. You get to choose if, when, and how you do it. If anything, your task is also to amplify the voices on the unheard, to promote the stories of the silences, and to make room not take up space, co-opt movements, or be at the forefront. March with us not ahead or behind us.

Awareness and activism are two very different things, but important in their own ways and necessary together. Oftentimes we seek to raise awareness about issues and leave them there. People knowing that something is a problem for some people does it make a priority problem for they themselves. Other times we wan to act but think it must be in these grandiose, time-consuming, and expensive ways. There are literally professional protesters. Great if you can do that but that's not what sustainable action has to be like. Activism without a deep understanding of what you're advocating for is detrimental to the cause and exposes an ignorance. Do your research, learn the ins and outs of what you're passionate about, know its history, be well-versed in contemporary issues, learn the terminology, and most of all know the rhetoric of the opposition + how to combat it. Raise awareness and then act upon it. What should you do? Here's the breakdown in order of priority:

Active Awareness for Socially Just Change
  • Check yourself
    • Know your biases; use precise & inclusive language (know the meaning of the words you use); ask yourself why you believe certain things and where you learned them; unlearn your biases
  • Engage your sphere of influence
    • Spark conversations with friends, family, and co-workers; normalize talking about diversity and difference; share your experiences and thoughts while giving space for others to do the same
  • Intervene and be an active participant (vs. a bystander) *as you are able
    • Directly confront a perpetrator using offensive language or discriminating OR draw attention to an incident by bringing others in OR call out what happened and how you are feeling about it & check-in with those most impacted
      • *Note - knowing something is wrong should not depend on our relationship to persons; some things are just inherently wrong (i.e. sexual assault, verbal abuse, etc.) and that is the approach we should strive to take with it
  • *Bonus - commit and participate in long-term change
    • Volunteer with an organization that benefits a cause you are passionate about, contact your representatives, give financially to support those are the forefront of movements

If someone calls you privileged it is not an invitation to go on a diatribe to prove your oppression it is a reminder to recognize that people with identities you don't hold are treated differently for those identities. What is trying to be conveyed is that your life can be hard, but it's not hard because you're white (male, masculine, heterosexual, cisgender, temporarily able-bodied, Christian, American, middle/upper class, etc.). That is to say that we are all intersections of so many identities and we have to be mindful of our not always being so quick to speak from our places of oppression, especially in response to someone else's hardship. It is a connection mechanism but often one that takes away from someone's story or refocuses the attention on us. Derailing conversations for the oppression Olympics is completely useless. We can talk about race as a standalone issue even though we know it is impacted by other identities. We can talk about residency status distinctly from socioeconomic status. We can talk about sexism separate from sexuality even though they overlap greatly. We are not just one identity but division can help us hash out those issues that target certain ones. We have to speak from our places of privilege just like we discuss our salient identities. Privileged is not a one and done deal. It's a hey, you have cisgender or neurotypical privilege which means you're not facing transphobia or discrimination against persons with autism, not a your life is perfect. You being low-income does not exclude you from benefitting from white privilege - the two can be mutually exclusive. They are both important, and you get to own both though. Privilege is a quick, "woah buddy take a step back and listen with empathy."

While these kindness campaigns are well-intentioned they also diminish the severity of what is going on and what has always gone on in our country. Why don't we all just get along? Why don't we move forward together? Why don't we just get over it? Because it's one thing to dislike a chocolate candy bar but not a person because of their body parts, skin color, spiritual beliefs, attractions, etc. America, its institutions, and its general public have not been kind to massive groups of people, we cannot forget that because it is part of our history. We can however vow and take realistic steps to be better. Hugs and kisses are wonderful but don't heal the physical and psychological wounds people are hit by daily. Words of encouragement are awesome but what about rewriting the words that justify discrimination legally in our communities, states, and country. A smile is warm sign of appreciation but why don't we appreciate cultures instead of appropriating them for our own bastardized commodification. Social activism is not about feelings, sucking it up, or not letting words get to you it's about the very real impacts those things have on people's lives. It's not being able to access education, limitations on marriage, bathrooms to use, having your name be recognized, controlling your own reproductive health, job considerations, denial of loans and facing mortal danger. This can be life and death, and even moves to justify the deaths of people with marginalized identities. This division matters. Us being divided matters. We are at a crossroads in which we have to decide whether all lives truly do matter and we must give them the respect they deserve or continue on with our tiers of oppressions and social stratification that is holding our country, our people, and our economy back. X


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