Facepalming social justice!

One of the great but horrible things about the internet is the way you can hyperlink from one thing to another in a cascading river of entertainment and or life sapping doom, depending on the content and or time sucked away. (Don’t deny it!) I linked my way to tumblr, which itself is a cyclical den of iniquity of sorts, to a particular tumblr called yourfaveisproblematic which has the goal of deconstructing celeb role models for the purpose of social justice to show flaws: “…this blog serves, not to condemn them for making mistakes, but to point out that they are human, and that they aren’t beacons of human perfection that should be unquestioningly emulated.” 

Not a bad start, and the pages for celebs seem to range. You can make up your mind whether their interpretations are legit or heavy handed, but it’s a good point. Then there was this letter put in the question box. Not being on tumbler, I can’t back quote all the commentary, but I can leave some good quotes from others. The letter began polite:

Hi, I just want to say beforehand that in no way am I trying to oppose your blog, I’m asking questions because I myself want to educate myself on these things, and this is purely me trying to understand. I apologize if I say anything offensive in this ask.

The questions concerned clarifying some celebs use of language or symbols might be considered offensive to other cultures (rather than, say, just enjoying the language). Without knowledge or context of the history of the terms, or the way they might offend, or et cetera, you get my drift I hope, it’s a good question and could leave someone who is a novice to thinking critically about how it might affect someone seriously puzzled.

The mod’s response was the most passive-aggressive response ever:

Hey! Well, in answer to your first question I’d recommend you look at this source here. If that doesn’t answer your question, you can try this one.

The second question is a little tricky, because the term is so common that many don’t even realize it’s a slur. However, this website sums it up nicely.

Your third question can be answered if you look at this. It will only take about thirty seconds of your time.

Hope you find the answers you are looking for!

Each one of their links led to a different search engine. (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Dogpile.)

One tumblr blogger, dianamyte, summed up the anger/outrage responses tidily:

Ok. This makes me fucking livid, and is the biggest problem I have with this blog and blogs like it.

This, in my opinion, is worse than the supposed offenses the blog gets so upset about: someone was trying to learn and understand by asking questions and was met with sarcasm and ridicule. How do you think that asker is going to feel about those issues now? What do you think the chances are that, in the face of that ridicule, they went ahead and actually followed through with looking up the information for themselves? I’m guessing pretty slim. I’m guessing the next time that person – or anyone who was considering doing so but read this post – considers asking for clarification to better understand a pretty fucking complex issue, they’re going to remember this and reconsider. They’re going to stop seeking understanding and choose to stay ignorant. How in the fuck does that accomplish anything that so-called “social justice warriors” claim to want?

It doesn’t – it just satisfies their feeling of superiority over the unwashed masses and re-confirms why so many people roll their eyes and don’t bother.

(It also makes me wonder if they even know the fucking answer, or if they just see something, think “well shit that must be racist” and brand it as such without even bothering to understand why.)

tl;dr being a ginormous toolbag about social justice makes most people completely disengage from learning about it, which hurts everyone… except I suppose the ginormous toolbags who get off on feeling superior, because this ensures that they may continue doing so. In which case please understand that you are an asshat and deserve to have something dropped on your toes when they’re really cold.

But I also want to shed light on another response made by blogger laughingdaredevil:

I gotta come in and say, that there’s a difference between being a minority on the street getting these questions from every Tom, Dick, and Harry who finds out and running a blog like this one.  It is a blog meant to educate and inform.

When you put yourself in the role of an educator (which, again you do by running a blog “calling” these things out or informing others of them) you establish yourself as an authority on the matter and people WILL ask you questions.

If someone comes onto my blog and asks about not being straight, I don’t have to answer them.  If I ran a blog about that lifestyle and the struggles I faced and posted rants about the use of certain words, I would.  Because I have set myself up as an educator.

If you run a blog like this and respond in this pseudo-clever (they think they’re being funny, instead they’re just being a rude jackass.) way, you’re an asshole and you ruin it for the people who actually want to educate the world and themselves.  And you can’t say people need to educate themselves as a response that’s what they’re doing when they ASK QUESTIONS.


Social justice can start at a place of outrage, but it shouldn’t go to a place of revenge, and it shouldn’t shun those who are asking questions, but embrace those questions. Ignorance is what breeds the problems, it should be dispelled, or at least that’s what I’ve been taught. We should learn to see the interconnectedness and layers of how the issues intersect, and not brush people off. To steal a phrase for the tiny point here, women’s studies courses aren’t classes for women. Heck, the issues shouldn’t be relegated to a single line of coursework at all, but you get the picture. If someone’s out to learn, you don’t say no, this isn’t for you, mock them, bash them, and send them elsewhere because of their own ignorance. Not when you are set up as the educator. There, I think laughingdaredevil and dianamyte hit it on the nose: even though not as a professional, someone, or someones, set themselves up as doing a service, as an educator in the blogging community. Laughingdaredevil put it in terms of education, but even if not as a formal service, dianamyte hits it colloquially. Would you do that to another person, to someone – any someone? The answer should be no. Instead, they said their wisdom as an educator is worthless and sent them away.

On the front end, the social justice and the layers, I was reminded of my master’s courses, but this ugly back end reminded me of an incident as an undergrad. I was in a course titled, intimidatingly, “Life, Death, and the Human,” which was taught by a grad student out of the History of Consciousness department. The course itself was interesting if totally topically difficult at times, but the TAs were a bit absurd. I was taking it with a couple of my Classics buddies, and HisCon was a generally good, off the wall department. The class was strong on the social justice. We thought it should have been out of College 19 (our joke name for 9 and shiny new College 10 at the time).

It was on the other side of campus, and right during lunch. Our break time during class was notoriously too short to go to the dining hall. This set up is important. I, and many others, packed a lunch, and we tried to eat during the break or scrounge, or run to the all day dining hall immediately after class. One of my buddies with a strong surfer vibe found a solution one day, and brought popcorn, and popped it during break. 

Is eating during class polite? Depends on your professor. Is not having a brain during class because your blood-sugar is too low equally bad? Well yes, a horrid trade off. Most professors I’ve had were okay with food so long as it wasn’t messy, so it must’ve seemed okay to do, but I feel like this popcorn was sort of an act of rebellion at this point. But they didn’t kick him out so it must have been legal. I just recall starving all quarter. You need food (and caffeine sometimes) to be alert and learn.

The first half of the class was about spectatorship, and I suppose being a bystander to events (Schadenfreude? Not being an upstander? Something like that.) Little did we know that the second half of the class we would be watching a film, and now the entire front row – because surfer boy brought enough to share, was eating popcorn. I don’t recall the film. It could’ve been the one on black market organs. It could’ve been water wars in India or women and suicides, it really doesn’t matter anymore. We on the sidelines overheard one of the hardcore TA’s remark: “How’s that for spectatorship!” to another TA. That’s the part that mattered.

For the majority of the quarter, the TAs could not see that the students were hungry, and they assumed the callous worst of humanity within us, their little posse against the masses of people-hating popcorn-eating Classics-reading Santa Cruz hippie surfers in the front row. The assumption and virulence and subsequent cold shoulders was appalling and does nothing to break down the barriers present (if they ever existed). The popcorn partakers feared for their grades and had to go to the teacher over it.

Personal indignation and righteousness, however well justified, don’t solve problems unless channeled into positive actions. That’s the piece that was missing until my master’s course. I hope those TAs learned it eventually. You never know what barriers are in someone’s way. If you’re ready to go on a passive aggressive war path that could affect someone’s future or their psychological state, you better make damn sure they aren’t just ignorant and starving.

So here it is playing out, yet again. Someone, trying to learn gets trolled by the educator who can’t step off their soapbox. That’s another one I learned from a dear colleague: get off your box.

Every now and again, you need to step down and listen instead of preach. As educators, we too must learn. Perhaps the first thing to learn is humility, being able to step down and listen to our students. The questions they ask can tell us so much, and they can discover more in ways than just giving simple answers (though that still might be best for Q&A like the website that started this whole post). If the TAs got off their box, they’d see the affect of the students was being changed by other needs. If the tumblr bloggers behind yourfaveisproblematic got off their box, they could find new ways to approach and educate others rather than use passive aggression to divide themselves further from others.

This is just a lesson in how not to respond if someone sees you as an expert on a box.


~ by glasslajora on December 30, 2013.

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