19 July 2017

Unpopular Social Justice Opinions, or Why I’m Going On Hiatus

A lot of frustration has been building up inside me lately. I recently deleted my Facebook account, mostly because I decided that I distrusted Facebook more than I enjoyed keeping up with people, but also because my timeline constantly made me upset. I’m starting to feel similarly about Twitter, but instead of deleting my account, I’m going to take a hiatus from the main source of my problems: online social justice.

If you are interested in why I’m so upset, then read on.

1. It’s become too negative and visceral.

Virtually every time I open up Twitter, I am immediately greeted with a ton of negativity. I see sarcasm, personal attacks, and angry rants about a particular word that a random person used. I admit that I’ve contributed to this negativity in the past, but I’m making an effort to stop. I don’t think that any of it helps.

1a. Saying, “Don’t @ me” does nothing to advance any struggle.

I’m starting to see this a lot more lately. If you express an opinion, you should be ready to get challenged by people on the internet. You don’t have to engage with them, especially if they are saying something nonsensical. However, immediately expressing your unwillingness to have a conversation with anybody — even someone who barely disagrees with you — is not how we make progress.

Feel free to tell me why everything I’m writing here is wrong. That’s the beauty of the internet and freedom of speech.

2. Being a person of color doesn’t automatically make you an expert. Neither does being a woman, being gay, etc.

This should be obvious to anybody who has met another human being. We’ve seen black and Latino Trump supporters, sexist women, and even a gay man who hates gay people.

Too many times have I seen someone attacked for challenging someone else, solely because of a difference in race, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status, or whatever else. If someone lacks context, then absolutely point that out, but you are unlikely to change any minds or win any arguments by telling someone that they have no right to engage in a conversation with you because they aren’t directly affected by an issue.

2a. People who grew up in isolated communities often don’t understand diversity. That includes people of color.

This one is going to sting for some people, but it needs to be said. Many white Americans grow up in mostly-white, mostly-affluent suburbs. On the flip side, many people of color also grow up in communities that reflect their own culture and socioeconomic status. That isn’t to say that a poor Latino from East Los Angeles has the same experience as a middle-class white person from Springfield, NJ, but a lack of diversity is a lack of diversity, no matter the community.

A common example of this is when people say, “you shouldn’t say The N Word™ if you’re not black.” I’d hate to offend the suburban child of African immigrants or the black kid who grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, but in my experience, you’d get laughed out of a place like the South Bronx for saying that. You simply cannot reasonably expect someone to stop using a word they grew up with, said alongside their black friends, and say without even thinking about it, simply because they aren’t black. I grew up with Latinos, Arabs, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and even white people who used the word, and none of our black friends cared. It rolled off their tongues far more naturally than it does for black people I’ve met from the suburbs. If that bothers you, it’s very likely because you didn’t grow up somewhere both urban and diverse. I also assume you’ve never listened to any music by Fat Joe, Big Pun, Immortal Technique, Joell Ortiz, Tonedeff, or countless other non-black rappers who use the word.

2b. People “specialize” in social justice too much, and they are worse off for it.

The way I see it, there are two types of social justice specialization:

1. The people who only care about the “social” in social justice.

For all the talk about “intersectionality” I see, I hardly ever see social justice intersected with anything other than politics, and even that doesn’t happen enough (more on that later). For instance, it’s very rare for me to find someone who can hold a conversation on the role of urban planning in oppression of people of color.

For example, don’t you think it’s important to know that planning a city around cars forces poor people to spend a crap ton of money buying, maintaining, and insuring their cars? Or that new freeways are often built through poor neighborhoods, which demolishes homes, destroys communities, and makes poor people less healthy? Or that minimum parking requirements make everything more expensive, and often eliminates the possibility of building affordable housing?

I think stuff like that is important, but from what I can tell, almost nobody else does. People would rather dissect someone else’s tweet and talk about why it’s problematic.

2. The people who only care about their own issues.

For example, the black man who reads books about blackness written by black authors. He follows lots of black people on Twitter and tweets about things like the everlasting effects of slavery and the colonization of black countries. He banks black too, of course. These are all wonderful things, but the more you specialize in one thing, the less informed you are about others. This can be made even worse by the lack of a diverse upbringing, as mentioned earlier, which leads to a ton of ignorance, misinformation, and sometimes outright bias against other people.

Those who specialize in their own issues don’t benefit from the lessons learned from the struggles of others. The hypothetical man above has no interest in poor Cambodian Americans. No tweets are written about Puerto Rico’s troubles. No time is spent learning about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment after elementary school. He doesn’t watch Master of None and certainly doesn’t have the time for Homecoming King. He hasn’t even heard of Offshore. But when it comes to Atlanta and Get Out? Get the popcorn ready.

2c. Latinos are ignored.

There are tons of issues where we could use the phrase “black and Latino,” but people often just say, “black.” I don’t disagree that blacks often have it worse than Latinos, especially us white Latinos, but I feel like we don’t have enough mindshare. I also don’t disagree that this is mostly our fault, though. I’d say that I’d write about that some other time, but then I wouldn’t be on a hiatus anymore.

One example that really bugs me, however, is when hip hop is called “black music.” This usually comes up in conversations about cultural appropriation. Every time someone says that, I immediately know that they don’t know the history of hip hop. As the son of a woman who was literally raised in the birthplace of hip hop — the South Bronx — during the exact period of time that it started, I want to set the record straight: Puerto Ricans had a huge role in bringing hip hop to life. Aside from the fact that many early rappers were Puerto Rican, here’s a quote from the beginning of Wikipedia’s article on hip hop:

The South Bronx hip hop scene emerged in the 1960s and 1970s from neighborhood block parties thrown by the Ghetto Brothers, a Puerto Rican group that has been described as being a gang, a club, and a music group.

Netflix’s The Get Down didn’t ignore us, and that made me happy. That being said, neither of their two main characters was portrayed by Puerto Ricans, which made me sad.

2d. Asians are lumped together, ignored, and shuffled around depending on the topic at hand.

People need to make more of an effort to learn about different Asian cultures (see above, re: specialization). People also need to start being more specific when discussing Asians and Asian Americans. On top of that, people need to realize that even within a specific Asian culture, it’s very difficult to make generalizations. I’ve met poor Arabs from the ghetto, and I’ve met middle-class Arabs from suburbs. The same goes for South Asians. The same goes for East Asians. Southeast Asians? I’ve got you covered as well.

A poor Cambodian from Long Beach, CA has a vastly different experience from a middle-class Indian from South Brunswick, NJ. They both have a different experience from a working-class Lebanese person in Dearborn, MI. It’s as simple as that. Asians come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and socioeconomic statuses. Stop grouping them together.

Also, this grouping of “Asian” and white that people like to do? Don’t do that. For example, the tech industry has a lot of Asians, mostly South Asian and East Asian, and mostly raised in the middle-class. We’re allowed to say that, and we’re allowed to call them people of color (because they are). Don’t ignore them, and don’t whitewash their experiences. They aren’t the same as white people just because they experience financial success, and they don’t represent all of Asian America.

2e. Too few people acknowledge nuances.

You may remember the two white women from Portland who went to Mexico, stole a tortilla-making technique from women in Puerto Nuevo, and started selling burritos made with these tortillas upon returning to Portland.

Everyone started talking about cultural appropriation, and for the most part, they were right. But then a group of people decided to compile a list of white-owned restaurants in Portland that served non-European food. About 60 restaurants and their owners were on the list, so I have to imagine that not a lot of investigative journalism was done. Given that, I am almost certain that if I lived in Portland and owned a Puerto Rican restaurant, I’d be on that list; my mother is Puerto Rican, but I have my Irish father’s last name. My background and experience is nuanced, so there is no room for me in modern social justice.

There is also no room for the poor white person who grew up among mostly black people in Detroit. That guy on episode 10 of the Offshore podcast, who is black and Puerto Rican from the East Coast, but was raised by Koreans in Hawaii and speaks fluent Korean and Japanese? We don’t care about him, because his experience doesn’t fit a generalized narrative that’s easy to talk about. I wonder how many of those Portland restaurant owners were mixed, raised alongside or by people of color, or spent a significant amount of time in another country, falling in love with the cuisine and wanting to share their love for it with others. Not everyone is a cultural appropriating thief.

Humans like to generalize and make blanket statements, so even the possibility of something being out of the ordinary is often not considered.

3. Social justice’s entry into mainstream culture has watered it down, spawning clickbait and mob mentality.

Now that being a social justice advocate is cool, everyone wants in. In theory, that should be a good thing, but I think that virtually anything that’s extremely popular will also be the “lowest common denominator” version of itself. When you add in the negativity, we end up with mobs.

3a. Double standards and hypocrisy are everywhere

If you have internet access, or access to any form of information at all, you have probably heard of the upcoming boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. They recently went on a trash talking tour that was labeled a “press conference.” During one of their trash talk sessions, McGregor said to Mayweather, “Dance for me, boy.”

This created a huge uproar on Twitter. McGregor is now a racist because he called a black man a “boy.” I didn’t even know this was considered a racist insult, but an editor at The Root originally said something along the lines of, “I hope Mayweather kicks his racist ass.” This sentence seems to have been removed from the article after Mayweather shouted a homophobic slur at McGregor.

Here are all the issues I take with all of this:

  1. McGregor actually probably doesn’t know that “boy” is derogatory to black men. He’s from an entirely different country, one with almost no black citizens or virtually any involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. He’s white, but let’s remember the nuances (see above).

  2. We already knew McGregor was racist. He has called a Latino opponent a “spic” and a “cholo gangster from the hood.” Why is it worse that a black man was called a boy? This is an example of Latinos being ignored (see above).

  3. Why did we only stop rooting for Mayweather after he used a homophobic slur? Was his record of domestic abuse not enough already?

3b. Lots of things go unchecked for fear of being attacked by the mob.

I’m afraid to publish this post because I fear being attacked. I’ve spoken to other people who feel the same way. In 2017, you either agree or shut up. There is no room for disagreement, otherwise the mob turns on you. A person of color said something about people of color? It must be 100% correct and true, so I have to retweet it!

3c. Small, mostly irrelevant, ad-hoc incidents get way too much attention, and that distracts us from the bigger picture.

Media companies don’t care about social justice, and people don’t want to spend time reading long articles discussing actual problems. What’s the solution? Viral clickbait, usually in the form of videos.

Entire days, if not weeks, are spent discussing random acts of injustice that are, for the most part, unimportant. A random white women in Canada is upset that she can’t see a white doctor and insults all the South Asians at the hospital. A random white man at a mall tells a family to stop speaking Spanish. Somewhere random, someone random said something racist.

These are anger-inducing stories, and it sucks that people have these experiences. But with all due respect to the victims of these acts of hatred, these incidents aren’t important or impactful enough for tens of thousands of people (if not more) to be spending time talking about. In my opinion, they only serve the purpose of generating revenue for the clickbait websites while simultaneously taking our time away from important, big picture issues.

4. It’s not political enough.

Virtually any political talk in social justice circles revolves around Donald Trump. He’s such an easy target that I barely even count it.

Where is the talk about local policy? Where’s the discussion about the role of municipal government in gentrification? Where were all the social justice advocates in Los Angeles when only 5% of the population showed up to vote on whether we should be more lenient when it comes to disciplining cops? The cops won, because people talk big on Twitter when it comes to police reform, but nobody shows up to vote.

4a. Not enough people vote with their dollars.

I am of the opinion that in a capitalist society, your wallet has more voting power than your actual votes do. In the United States, corporations fund political campaigns and get politicians to act in their best interests. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter who you vote into office. If you believe the “War on Terror” is an excuse to bomb the Middle East for the control of oil, then you should make an effort to drive less, or not at all. You can disagree with the war all you want, but as long as you fund the oil companies, they will keep funding our politicians who will grant their wishes.

The same goes for plenty of other things. You shouldn’t be giving Uber your money if you consider yourself a social justice advocate. You shouldn’t be eating at Chick-Fil-A, you shouldn’t be shopping at Walmart, and you shouldn’t be booking rentals on Airbnb. There are plenty of other businesses that we shouldn’t be supporting, but most people still do, including people who consider themselves activists.

4b. Some people receive far too much praise from people who consider themselves woke. Example? Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

I am also of the opinion that we should boycott individual people if they are in violation of our ideals. I see Beyoncé get tons of Twitter love from social justice advocates, and Jay-Z has a huge number of fans of his music. What nobody ever talks about is Jay-Z’s role in the development of Barclay’s Center, which used eminent domain in order to seize residential property and local businesses to tear them down, build something new on top, and spark heavy gentrification of the surrounding area. Not only did he own shares in both the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, but he performed for the arena’s first event!

What does Beyoncé have to do with this? Well, here’s another unpopular opinion: you have the right to judge someone based on who they are married to, who they do business with, and who they are friends with. If you choose to marry someone who would willingly help gentrify and destroy homes and businesses near the community they grew up in, then I would say you are most certainly not woke, and you don’t deserve the amount of praise you get from those claiming to be. Aside from that, it baffles me that people are so quick to ignore when she dyes her hair blond, how her hair is virtually always straightened, and that her attractiveness to non-blacks can largely be attributed to her relatively light skin.

There you have it. Those are all my reasons for going on a social justice hiatus. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, you are always welcome to let me know. That being said, I won’t discuss anything in public, since that would end my hiatus and subject me to the mob. Message me privately and we can have a respectful conversation.

During my hiatus, I will continue to live life as I normally do. I’m going to work, educate myself on a variety of topics I deem relevant, and do what I can to help the causes I care about. Maybe I’ll come back one day, but I make no promises.