We need to have some clarity about our goals. The goal of social justice is to work to end human suffering and ensure equity of opportunity. The goal is not to get a resume boost, or to fulfill some inane rite of passage in college or to get revenge on anyone. If those things are your motivation then you aren’t fighting for social justice. Our responsibility is to be aware of when and where people are going hungry, facing violence, denied opportunity or sick without care. It doesn’t matter what the person looks like, talks like, acts like, or who or what they identify with, if they are suffering our job is to investigate the reasons and try to alleviate it. The vast majority of people on this earth are suffering and sometimes they don’t look, talk, or think the way you expect. That’s because the vast majority of people at elite American universities (the kind that construct culture and knowledge) are not people who have suffered. And I don’t mean in the sense that they don’t look like people that have disproportionately suffered in this country, you have to have actually suffered or been denied access to count. There should be no more taking on experiences that you don’t actually have. If you haven’t suffered or been denied access then you are privileged in this world.
The role of government is to ensure that we can collectively take better care of each other in an organized fashion than we could living on our own. If the government isn’t doing that, it’s not doing it’s job and we should work to reform it. But that doesn’t make government inherently bad, I don’t want to live in a place where there is just chaos and neither do you. So maybe lay off the promotion of anarchy, it’s just stupid.
The most important thing I learned from history is that there are universal lessons that can be drawn to learn about human behavior but that it’s impossible to graph history onto to now. We are not living in the time of slavery or the antebellum south, this isn’t Jim Crow. Injustice now is happening now and we need to deal with the particulars of it, and also to acknowledge and celebrate our successes. To make the claim that nothing has changed is not only stupid, it is also insulting to those who came before you. You don’t need to take a history of injustice and graph it onto another to legitimize it, injustice is injustice and telling the real story of it is sufficient.
History and life experience have taught me how much I can’t know and how much what I read can be wrong. What we learn in classrooms often only reflects the known reality of teachers and those teachers are rarely truly representative of the world. You should be suspicious of all knowledge and quick to listen to others whose experience differs from yours. You have so much to learn and you will for the rest of your life, and if you cut yourself off to knowledge now, cut yourself off from anything that doesn’t reflect your worldview you are going to be blind to a wide portion of the world. We have to all stop rejecting anything that disagrees with us without investigating it but most importantly, we have to stop punishing those in the community who question or think differently than us. When we do that, when we control stories and speakers we don’t like but who come to us from a place of seeking justice, we are no better than the oppressors. I’m not asking you to listen to privileged douchbags who promote Ayn Rand, though you should listen to them so we can effectively counter their arguments, but I’ve seen people and I have personally, been ignored or demeaned in the social justice community because the party line was questioned.
We are exercising our intellectual privilege in a way that is destructive. We need to work to practice what we preach everyday. For me, free speech, maintaining the values of the Enlightenment is the best way to ensure justice. And I’m not Eurocentric about that, as you look through history the strongest societies are those that value reason and truth, if we misuse statistics or intentionally deceive, even when it furthers our cause, it is wrong. And it won’t serve us in the end because it will just give the people who don’t want us to succeed more fodder to challenge us. But also, it just creates an environment where we can’t see what is actually going on because people will be scared to contradict us. It also makes it such that we will miss out on the best ideas and creativity because that only happens in an open environment, and if we are not open minded the creative minds will go elsewhere. It is fundamentally conservative to demand that people stick to the party line.
- Now, the world is complex and we need experts, I happen to be most knowledgeable about class and particularly poor white people and living in multi-cultural suburban ghettos but that doesn’t mean that I believe that the people I am most knowledgeable about and closely tied to deserve anymore help than anyone else whose suffering and I’m not going to sacrifice the well being of others to serve my group. I have a responsibility to fight for injustice without regard for the identity of sufferer. I am not going to take food from one starving group to feed another and if you are making people starve for any reason you are in fact part of the problem. Making other people starve or suffer to benefit your group is not a revolution, it is just more of the same. Real solidarity means that we fight to end suffering and inequity for ALL people.
Ok, but how are we going to do that? We need to do it in an organized fashion because our goal is not to prove how clever we are or that we are super revolutionary but to get those nice people who are just trying to go about their day to care enough to make life difficult for those people who actually have the power to do anything. You don’t do that by burning things down in most cases. Which is also destructive and unhelpful for the children who live in that community. I know because I’ve been that child and I’ve been around those children my whole life. No child has ever been uplifted by violence and no community is built by violence. Violence is traumatizing and I find it ridiculous that a group of adults can say to children, “hey it’s ok, we were mad” as an explanation for mass violence.
You also don’t make things better by inconveniencing, nice, working class people if they or the thing you are disrupting isn’t the problem. If BART is racially segregated then you should protest BART. If you want to protest Caltrain because it’s crazy expressive and it only exists because people in Atherton are racist and classist, then be my guest. If the freeway is part of an apartheid regime and you want to hold it up then have at it. However, if these things have nothing to do with the problem at hand and you are just protesting on them because you are starting the revolution or whatever then you need to stop. In the case of police shootings, police and the communities they think they work for are the problem, so maybe protest outside police stations, or the capital where drug laws are made (and if you aren’t fighting in part to end the war on drugs, you need to stop until you understand why you need to be doing that) or outside Lulelemon or for the love of god, at least have the decency to shut down the 280. We’ve reached this point where we read a little bit about the Civil Right’s movement of the 50s and 60s and copy something and think we are done. But that movement was disciplined and organized and cared about being effective and their audience. When the problem was the buses they protested the buses. When the problem was interstate travel, where they were literally banned from traveling interracially, they protested interstate travel. Right now, the problem is the cops, so maybe we should be focused on getting that message out instead of worrying about what is going to be cool on TV and Twitter.
And let’s get clear about something else. You are not revolutionaries. You are not changing the world with your protest. At best, you are making things a little bit better in your corner of the universe. If you assume anymore than that not only will your precious heart be broken but you will be insulting the people who matter. You will be insulting the community you claim to be fighting for because they’ve been fighting this their whole lives without a choice. You will be insulting the people that quietly do the hard work day in and day out, the stuff you never hear about, that never shows up on Twitter. The people who heal the sick, feed the hungry and educate the children everyday who are never acknowledged and who don’t have time to show up to your protest because they are working. Real social change is hard and takes time and dedication, it means that you have to accept defeat every single day no matter how bad things get and still get up in the morning and try again. Protests can help, and some protests can be wildly effective but even the Montgomery bus boycott took a year of planning and a year of execution. They aren’t really going to change anything overnight and especially when they are aimless and poorly organized and just inconveniencing the people you are supposedly trying to help. Poor people, the kind who are most likely to face police violence ride the BART and drive the 101 and the I-80. They take those modes of transport after long days of feeding people, maybe even the kids at Berkeley and Stanford, and healing the sick, and teaching and keeping the city going while you tell people how cool you are on Twitter. Now all you’ve done is pissed them off, how likely do you think it is that they are going to take you seriously when you walk into their community and talk about revolution? The problem isn’t the people on the 101, the problem is people in rich areas like Atherton, Palo Alto, and the surrounding areas of the Berkeley campus, who day in and day out decide that they would rather have more than any human being could possibly use while other people around them go hungry. And if you learned that, the poor would trust you a lot more and then you could roll up your sleeves and do the hard work everyday to make things a little bit better and plant and tend seeds that will someday, if you are lucky, if they survive the winter and people trying to cut things down, help to really change something. Then, when you are focused solely on ending suffering and ensuring equal opportunity, and you do the hard work every day without hope of reward, and you’ve done it for a long time, then maybe you can call yourself revolutionary.