On Tumblr, and seriously on Tumblr and nowhere else, a Black person or other person of colour or member of any group often marginalized, is called a “social justice warrior” for discussing our very own lives and sociopolitical issues which directly impacts us, people we care about or the human condition itself. I’ve…not experienced this on Facebook (when I had one), Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress etc.
And, let’s be very clear here; there IS a different cultural ethos amidst Tumblr where many people are sharing fascinating writing—essays, stories, rants and incredibly important images, graphs, art and more that often speaks to a greater passion and/or intellect than connected use on other platforms. Twitter somewhat captures this, but content size constraints means that certain depths aren’t always reached. For this reason, I avidly use Twitter AND Tumblr, as their purposes overlap but aren’t identical. This differing cultural ethos on Tumblr means that a different type of cyber bully is born.
How racist Whites (and people of colour with internalized White supremacist thought) on Tumblr use the phrases “social justice” and “social justice warrior” mimics how sexist men (and women with internalized sexist thought) on Tumblr use the word “feminist.” They are uncomfortable with any challenge to the status quo (living our lives and writing about them in the way we do IS challenging the status quo; we’re supposed to co-sign bigotry that destroys us and many Black people [and others] refuse to do so) and are attempting to use what power they think they have to re-brand very normal labels into slurs. (Remember, racist, capitalism-obsessed Whites turned the words “communist” and “socialist” into slurs.)
In such instances, I am reminded of the words of James Baldwin:You have not described me when you call me a nigger or when you call me a Negro leader. You have only described yourself.
When Whites and men go about the business of trying to negatively re-brand normal labels, they think they are reclaiming power from those who dared to…LIVE. (As if us daring to LIVE means that the White supremacist capitalist patriarchy that we live in has evaporated. They equate having hurt feelings over us rejecting bigotry as their “oppression.”) However, what they say about me is solely about themselves. It really is. It’s their issues…their problems with the realization of the full experiences that are outside of the status quo, and the pain they have at the reality that there’s no going back. (Notice how often Whites and men speak of “the good ol’ days,” which usually means fantasy over a time where fewer rights for people of colour and women were the norm.) And as for Tumblr, these types can’t stop people from writing and living; they can’t stop people from fighting for what’s important, by whatever means people feel is most prudent. They can’t even truly alter the climate of Tumblr. They’ve failed. So…what else to do but bully? What else to do but attempt to redefine terms so that people will run far away from them? That’s a “win” for some of them.
If a racist White person thinks calling me a “social justice warrior” is the friendly way of saying “nigger” or a man thinks calling me a “feminist” is the friendly way of saying “bitch,” again, that’s their problem. I’m not interested in dodging labels to make insecure people feel secure again. (Also, anyone who chooses not to use such labels for themselves have the right to said choice.) At the same time, I know that descriptors such as “passionate about social justice” (which is a bare bones inclusive term, and I clarifiy further when speaking of particular issues) and “Womanist” only scratch the surface of describing who I am, as they provide the ideological framework, but do not in detail describe who I am. They don’t know who I am because they don’t know who they are; at all. Many Whites and men cannot say who they are outside of what White privilege and male privilege has afforded them to believe. Who are they? They don’t know.
I know that speaking about racism, sexism and more that directly impacts my life, and writing essays about my life, the way White bloggers and male bloggers do all of the time—write about their lives—doesn’t make said story an abstract “social justice issue” and even me choosing to use such a tag to sort the post doesn’t invalidate the true, lived and real experiences of my life.
The ignorant, the inept, the reactionary, the status quo-loving, afraid to figure out just WHO they are types of people interested in using “social justice warrior” as a slur should find better hobbies. Their attempt to derail a train that’s been moving forward long before Tumblr existed, or before we young writers existed, is flawed and would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.
This. This. This. My fellow white people, read this shit. STOP reasserting your privilege by declaring anyone that is challenging it a social justice warrior.