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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why I Bailed on Activism

Hello hello!

As those who follow my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr antics may have noticed, I've really pulled back on content about human rights issues.

What the hell?


The problem is, I started to buy into a fallacy that plagues both conservative and left-leaning activists - being right is more important than making people happy. I definitely did this when I was younger, and hadn't yet learned argument mediation skills; as I've aged through the last ten years or so, I've learned that being right only feels good for so long.

Of course, that doesn't mean that bending over backwards to make people happy, the strategy I lived by in my early teens, is particularly wise, either. But for me, personally, as a person who was supporting activists and trying to spread word about certain ideas, it was too easy to lean on the comfort of moral superiority. I saw a lot of people I looked up to doing that, for one thing. As well, there's a really uncomfortable habit that people in radical left circles share with radical right circles - withholding affection and attention until the person interacting with them abides by certain behavioral patterns. If one is a teacher's pet, i.e. a person vulnerable to authority figures, it's very easy to become obedient or toe a party line, even when personal ideas may start to conflict with that.

Even the 'good people' aren't always...good. 


I've seen a surprising number of people - most white, but some people of colour as well - engage in really interesting rhetorical backflips in order to stay in line with others. For instance, being an activist but refusing to educate well-intentioned people under any circumstances. Education can be exhausting, but it's also the point of raising awareness. And yes, sometimes demands for education are used passive-aggressively, but leaning on facts and basic information can still result in productive conversations.

Another thing I've noticed is a tendency to focus on either guilt performance theatre or deliberately ignoring areas of non-disadvantage. So, a person who is genderqueer and asexual and from a middle-class background might underline their sexuality and gender identity, but avoid talking about finances or their own white privilege. Alternately, they might bemoan their own lack of "wokeness" and limitations imposed by said background.

Power structures and dynamics in such conversations can be complex at the best of times, and there are countless articles on how to navigate them. I do think communication issues and awareness of personal circumstances and limitations are important, but the hostility, defeatism, and pessimism of social activism really started to get to me.

It's funny, but sometimes it seems as though people are happy to slap down trigger and content warnings for things that affect them, but not willing to abide by the same requests when brought forward by others. I have a large number of now former friends who claim to be sensitive, motivated by change, and proactive in mental health issues, but who were all too happy to weaponize triggers when it served their purpose in an argument. Can't deal with an article on a given day? Clearly you're not that committed to The Cause, or endorsing prejudice against a certain group. Can't make a commitment because of a mental health issue? Citing your own depression is ableist!

You can probably see how that takes a toll on someone, or at least, on me.


Source


Bad social dynamics, the breakdown 


A comment can be a misstep in one case and highly offensive in another. When it comes to interacting with other people, situational cues are better than hard and fast rules. Since I've returned to giving people the benefit of the doubt, I've been able to make more inroads with discussions, and I certainly don't lose nights of sleep or cry over something that led to an argument.

One of the things I like about environmental activism is that there are clearer goals. Things can be measured. With social activism, sometimes people would look at a win and go, "this isn't enough". For a person with my background and mental issues, that turned out to be really toxic. I started focusing on negativity and terribleness too often, found myself stuck in endless argument loops that didn't seem to have a clear answer or solution, and sometimes, ended up on the sharp end of attacks when my own mental health issues meant I couldn't be perfectly objective about something.

 Beating oneself up accomplishes nothing, and being around people who encourage self-flagellation as an outlet for guilt is toxic. Constant pessimism is not realism, it's a bad habit of mental health. That's not to say that optimism is required at all times, or that people should sit down and shut up - but if all we do is punch sideways and downwards, what's the point of all this?


 


This blog post won't be good enough for some people, and may be a huge disappointment. And that's okay. But for the rest, know that I'm still on your side, on what I'm pretty sure is the right side of history as well. But I've been wrong a few times, and learned to move on, and I hope that other people who find themselves exhausted by the world will take comfort in this.

The thing is, I haven't changed any of my perspectives. In the world of writing, I will still be pursuing representation and fairness. I will write protagonists of colour, of queerness, and with mental health issues, and they will be protagonists rather than sassy supporting characters or tragic tokens. I believe in a better, fairer world. But I have also realised that, as my friend and mentor Katie de Long put it, I can't light myself on fire to keep others warm.

In any case, I have Black romance novels to edit, Afropunk beauty articles to share, and novels to write. I have fellow writers to support, friends to encourage, and other stuff to do. I've been trying to save the world too long, and now I've got to save myself.

***

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As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.

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