The Double Bind of Toxic Social Justice Culture

The Double Bind of Toxic Social Justice Culture

This was originally posted May 13, 2021

Toxic social justice culture is constantly condemning behaviors at the same time it encourages them.

It feeds essentialist narratives about who people are and tells them at once to not be that, but then chastises them in their attempts to do differently.

For instance, telling men they can’t joke about the “bad men” in an attempt to create distance between themselves and the “bad ones”. We are saying you are irredeemable, you are just as guilty, you are not allowed to distance yourself… Even though we just told you to.

We tell people that silence is complicitness, then harshly scrutinize actions and speech for any trace of performativity.

Even as we ask individuals to divest from systems of domination, we find a way to condemn them for doing just that.

It was my process of divesting from whiteness that brought me to a deeper, more embodied understanding of what it means to be in solidarity. It means accepting myself as a human being. It means entering into relationship with others from a place of dignity and respect over automatic deference and fawning. It means I am not motivated by trying to please others but by what is right.

Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant giving up the essentialist idea that I am white and what my whiteness means. Because I “did my homework” and I knew that whiteness is a construct. It is a lens through which to understand my experience in the world, it is not an inescapable essence of who I am that makes me irredeemably bad.

Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant looking at white supremacy and committing to uprooting it because it is the right thing to do, not because I am looking to impress anybody with the acronyms in my Instagram bio or write as many “listening and learning 🙏🏻” (with the white emoji hands of course) comments in the bios of every person of color I encounter online.Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant actually doing the things that the narratives say they want and yet will never produce because it is mired in a landscape of shame and essentialism. It’s meant seeing the ways my struggle is intimately bound with the struggles of others.

It’s meant mustering the courage to face my fears of difference, build resilience in the face of disagreement and conflict, and commit to solidarity in the face of all of the things that could possibly, and has, torn apart movements to build coalition along lines of gender, race, ability, etc.

The Double Bind of Toxic Social Justice Culture

Toxic social justice culture is constantly condemning behaviors at the same time it encourages them.

It feeds essentialist narratives about who people are and tells them at once to not be that, but then chastises them in their attempts to do differently.

For instance, telling men they can’t joke about the “bad men” in an attempt to create distance between themselves and the “bad ones”. We are saying you are irredeemable, you are just as guilty, you are not allowed to distance yourself… Even though we just told you to.

We tell people that silence is complicitness, then harshly scrutinize actions and speech for any trace of performativity.

Even as we ask individuals to divest from systems of domination, we find a way to condemn them for doing just that.

It was my process of divesting from whiteness that brought me to a deeper, more embodied understanding of what it means to be in solidarity. It means accepting myself as a human being. It means entering into relationship with others from a place of dignity and respect over automatic deference and fawning. It means I am not motivated by trying to please others but by what is right.

Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant giving up the essentialist idea that I am white and what my whiteness means. Because I “did my homework” and I knew that whiteness is a construct. It is a lens through which to understand my experience in the world, it is not an inescapable essence of who I am that makes me irredeemably bad.

Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant looking at white supremacy and committing to uprooting it because it is the right thing to do, not because I am looking to impress anybody with the acronyms in my Instagram bio or write as many “listening and learning 🙏🏻” (with the white emoji hands of course) comments in the bios of every person of color I encounter online.Unraveling popular social justice narratives has meant actually doing the things that the narratives say they want and yet will never produce because it is mired in a landscape of shame and essentialism. It’s meant seeing the ways my struggle is intimately bound with the struggles of others.

It’s meant mustering the courage to face my fears of difference, build resilience in the face of disagreement and conflict, and commit to solidarity in the face of all of the things that could possibly, and has, torn apart movements to build coalition along lines of gender, race, ability, etc.

Popular social justice narratives and those who espouse them need to do a serious reckoning with what it is the culture says about us vs what it is we say our aims are.

Popular social justice narratives and those who espouse them need to do a serious reckoning with what it is the culture says about us vs what it is we say our aims are.

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