If It Were Easy...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much it fucking sucks to be an activist.

No, seriously. It totally sucks, and it does so on two completely independent axes: personal desire and social pressure.


So there was this whole big racism thing with the movie The Last Airbender, right? The thing is, I really wanted to see that movie. My daughter really wanted to see that movie. I'd long decided not to go, but as the release date grew closer, the quiet inclination to give myself a pass and not walk the talk grew in my heart. I rationalized: Well, maybe I should at least support the franchise of something I loved so much... plus how could I disappoint my little girl? And anyway, who would ever know if I didn't tell them, amirite?

I was relieved from this particular round of soul-searching and second-guessing when the movie came out and all reports were that it was pretty awful. But I'm sure it's going to come up again. Will I live up to my completely self-imposed principles? ...I dunno. 

These inconvenient choices come up nearly every day. Buy the expensive fair-trade item, or save your hard-earned clams and get the cheap one that's just as good, or better? Suffer the heat and save the environment, or pump up the air conditioning? 

Sometimes, doing the right thing is going to mean denying yourself things you want. Bucking the status quo is always, always going to take time, energy, and money. The status quo is, if nothing else, comfortable. That's why it's the status quo. 

But hey, if it were easy, it wouldn't need doing, right?

Social Pressure

Comfort is a funny beast. It keeps us in patterns of behavior, even painful, self-destructive ones, because the agony we know is so very much easier than change, even to something better. 

This scales across the vast spectrum of human experience. It's easier to keep smoking than quit, even if you know it's killing you. Easier to cope with an abusive relationship than DTMFA. Easier to let an offensive comment slip by than piss off a friend or relative or colleague; easier to let injustices stand because fighting it is so much work.

But there are other reasons, too. Fighting the good fight opens up a lot of trouble that life is, frankly, a lot easier without. One person's trying to do the right thing is another's humorless or preachy or boring or too sensitive. You can't say "I think X is racist/sexist/homophobic" without encountering some measure of "Wait, did you just say I'm racist/sexist/homophobic?" 

Too often, that leaves you with another no-win choice: Abandon something you really believe in, or hurt a friend. 

And while Jay Smooth's advice is overall excellent in theory, my experience is that once a conversation gets to that point, telling somebody that you're addressing a behavior and not them as an individual is a losing strategy. They're going to think you're annoying at best, and a pompous pedant at worst. 

But if I may paraphrase Yatima, I'm a chimp like everyone else. I want people to like me. I don't want people thinking I'm pompous or humorless or whatever today's undesirable adjective for activists might be. That's why I call myself a strident feminist -- that's me dismissing my own feminism so nobody else can beat me to the punch. If I say it first, it hurts less when somebody else repeats it, right?


I come into the fight for justice and equality from a position of tremendous privilege. Sure, I'm a woman, and there is still sexism in the world. But I'm also white, well-educated, fairly affluent, heterosexual, cis, conventionally attractive, nondisabled... I'm something not too far from the privilege jackpot, frankly. So it's relatively easy for me to talk about issues that don't really impact my life. Because they don't really impact my life! 

But that's what makes it especially important for me to fight the good fight, to the best of my ability. If it's hard for me to say "I think that's kinda racist," how much harder must it be for someone who's actually in the throes of an encounter with racism? And for whom the stakes are likely to be very much higher.

My conscience tells me that I have to do whatever I can to make the world better for everyone -- even if it won't benefit me, even if it might hurt me, because I'm defending the basic humanity of others, and they're in more pain than myself. Gandhi and the King of Pop made the same point -- be the change you want to see in the world.

The good news is... look, I don't have to be totally perfect, and neither does anybody else. The times I quietly let something slip past don't erase the times I speak up. All you can do is your best. Some days your best won't be very good; but something is always, always better than nothing.

Every little bit, drip by tiny drip, helps to change the status quo, and remaps our social comfort zones just a little bit more. It's a slow game -- generational -- but every moment in the game instead of on the bench counts. All we can ever do is try to be a little better than we were before. 

In the meanwhile, it fucking sucks sometimes. Sure, it's easier not to fight. But I don't want to be that person, and I don't want to make that world. So I guess I've got to cope, huh?

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