Monday, April 25, 2016

Former Social Justice Warriors

I'm starting to see stories about people who were once social justice activists but have been driven out by what they see as the intolerance and narrow-mindedness of the movement. Conor Friedersdorf hears from Mahad Olad, a Kenyan immigrant. When he was in high school in Minneapolis, he was an activist in feminist, LGBT, and anti-racism groups, what he called the "social justice scene."
Then he became disillusioned. . . .

“On Twitter,” he wrote, “I discussed how trigger warnings have almost been rendered useless now that they’re used to alert individuals when talking about normal everyday things, like food, cars and animals. And that their use could potentially have adverse effects on academic freedom. I was accused of being outrageously insensitive and apparently made three activist cohorts have traumatic breakdowns.”

“In another tweet,” he added, “I criticized the usual tactic of campus activists to disrupt and heckle controversial speakers and advised them to raise their strong objections during the question and answer session, which lectures usually reserve long hours precisely to debate opponents. This time, the attacks got a little more personal. I was accused of being a ‘respectable negro,’ ‘uncle tom,’ ‘local coon’ and defending university officials to continue to ‘systemically oppress minorities.’”

I asked if he thought his race and ethnicity made it easier or harder to dissent. “A little easier, I guess,” he replied, “But it really doesn't feel good being a called a ‘house nigger.’”

He says he was ultimately kicked out of student-led social justice groups.
Obviously I know nothing about this young man beyond what he has told reporters, and maybe there is much left out of his story. But as I said I am hearing more rumblings like this, from people who support the cause but can't abide the atmosphere in these activist groups. Can young activists find a way to expand their tent and keep people of different temperments working together, or are we headed for another ugly crack-up like the one that crippled so many activist groups from the 60s?

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

It turns out that organizing angry, outraged people is rather difficult. You're constantly fighting to control and direct the anger, and that means spending a lot of time and effort restraining your own people to prevent them giving in to their passions and doing something irrational and destructive.

The only historically effective means of working around such anger is to reject it outright - to adopt a stance of nonviolence and compassion, working to transform anger into forgiveness, to replace snap judgements with careful considerations, and to go from lashing out to reaching out.

And even then, you can't win over everyone. There will be always be angry, tired, irrational people who are so twisted up inside that they can't see reason, and they'll lash out even at the people who are helping them and their cause the most. Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X after his pilgrimage to Mecca... they all came to embrace non-violence and compassion over retaliation and anger, and in the end they all were laid low by their own ostensible followers, incensed over perceived betrayals of their respective causes.