Whether you are managing a team in your company, a committee in a non-profit organization, a classroom, or an online space, we have all heard about how important it is to have safe spaces. There is, however, a common misconception that spaces are safe, just because we say that they are. While it is crucial that the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in any given space are announced, it is not enough to state the safety of a space alone to warrant it as such.

Safe spaces are, in fact, carefully and ruthlessly curated.

It might surprise some folks to hear this but I learned this fairly recently from a community member in a space I had built as part of an interfaith circle I co-facilitate. I think it is important for us to mark these turning points because too much of community organizing rhetoric is immersed in people just “needing to know” rather than reflecting the actual (often challenging) process of learning as we go.

At the beginning of the event, I proclaimed that this was a safe space for everyone to feel free to share their experiences, speak their minds, and be vulnerable – and I meant that. What I naively hadn’t taken into consideration was the other people in the space (it was a public event) and that they might not share my acceptance of others or the parameters of what I feel constitutes safety.

In fact, the community member who pointed this out to me made it very clear that her non-binary child would be unlikely to feel safe in a space dominated by members of conservative and orthodox religious communities who were fairly likely to shun them or worse. And she was right. Her kid would not have been safe there, because as soon as she said that, I looked around the room and I did note people who I remembered to be openly discriminatory and hateful towards such folks.

I was in a compassion bubble.

And it was, mercifully, popped. I suspect it has something to do with me never really having good boundaries as a kid and a tendency I have had my whole life to project myself and my worldview onto people around me. I thought I had gotten better at dealing with that but I was wrong.

Since that time, I have paid more attention to spaces I know are also considered “safe” and have taken note of how such a label came to be placed there. Several feminist groups on Facebook, in particular, have a long list of rules to follow and hurtful terms that are prohibited – and every new member of the group is supposed to read through this pinned post and then comment on it as acknowledgment of their having read and understood its terms. It is a social contract that is put front and center. When respected, the rules allow for authentic and vulnerable interactions to take place in a way that might otherwise be challenging or impossible.

It made me realize that not only was I assuming that everyone is as willing to accept other ways of being in the world as I do,  but I also had no safety plan in the event that something went wrong.

A safety plan is essentially a series of actions based on hazardous “what ifs” in any given scenario. This, of course, is based on what we deem to be unacceptable words or behaviours in a space, whether that be in person or online. And ultimately, the plan is in place in order to prescribe our reactions and, I would think, in order to overcome any fear paralysis or inability to act in the event that something very disturbing occurs.

I remember at the first Black Lives Matter – Edmonton town hall meeting, a young Black woman was voicing her opinion about the topic at hand and an old white man from the back of the room started yelling in a degrading manner that she ought to raise her voice and speak up when she’s talking to us. Everyone froze. You could feel how uncomfortable the room was. And without skipping a beat or a moment’s hesitation, one of the co-founders of what would become Black Women United YEG stood up and told that man to keep quiet or get out. She interrupted his very abusive tone and manner with such a fierceness, my mouth literally hung open. She then called out the folks who began apologizing for him, even as he showed zero remorse.

She knew what to do when the contract of the room was violated.

Why?

She had seen it countless times before. She could guess where this might be going and she knew that if she didn’t interrupt it, it might escalate. She knew that the first trespass is a violation of the sacred safety of a space. And she had zero tolerance for that.

I was in awe because I had grown up in a state of bewilderment that had gotten me into some pretty scary scenarios. I, like many others, had been socialized to diminish my intuitive voice, to ignore blatant red flags, and other such concerning self-permeability in the name of not making things awkward. The result was consent and boundary violations to my personhood, again and again. And I was never taught why this was happening or how to defend myself against it. I was confused and let down every time it happened.

Later, I was fortunate enough to take violence de-escalation training with the same amazing woman and one exercise in particular jumped out at me as memorable for the same reasons. We were instructed to put our hand on the leg of the person next to us and they were supposed to tell us to take it off in an assertive and vocal tone. As we went around the circle, all of us were laughing awkwardly and weren’t exactly as assertive as we should have been.

It was our social conditioning showing – the kind of conditioning that doesn’t keep people safe.

Rather than just doing the exercise as we were taught that it can be effective in stopping unwanted behaviour, we shrugged things off, unable to assert autonomy over our own bodies. That is, until it came to her turn. I put my hand on her knee and, again, without skipping a beat, she put the fear of God in me, growling for me to take my damn hand off her knee.

I wanted to applaud. I was in awe again.

But honestly, it just made me realize how let down we all are by what we have been taught and what has been deemed more important for the public school curriculum or for our households. Why isn’t it mandatory to teach folks about behavioural patterns of narcissistic predators and how they groom vulnerable people? Why aren’t we taught the typical behaviours of people with implicit bias or who are overtly racist? Why isn’t economic or labour exploitation taught in school so we can recognize it when it happens? Why aren’t we taught that our safety and that of our children and our colleagues and our community members is more important than anything else? More important than the customer always being right or the benefit of the doubt being awarded to one who just rubs us the wrong way. More important than the reputation of an organization in the event that it needs to cancel a meeting to keep its personnel safe. More important than the feelings of a sorry abuser whose behaviour never changes.

Why have we been taught to put our safety last? Everything comes before it: money, love, the feelings of the ones who harm us – even if they lack basic human empathy.

The answer to these questions is simple: systems that exploit are designed to be exploitative and they are upheld by those who benefit from them.

I have noticed, since drawing up rules and safety plans for the business I run and the committees I chair, that people tend to breathe a sigh of collective relief when the plans are brought out. They know how important these things are preemptively.

And the ones who huff and puff about them? I have my eye on you.

Next time, we will discuss practical steps to creating social safety plans, particularly in community organizing settings.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

Intersectionality is a critical concept that has grown out of individuals’ lived experiences of how complex privilege and discrimination can be and how different strains of discrimination and oppression interact and compound each other. Intersectionality is often cited as a necessary tool to combat racism (overt and implicit) in feminism, or transphobia/exclusion in LGBTQ activism, for example. But it is not just about improving and bringing justice (or ideological purity) within activist and progressive circles, it’s more importantly about gaining a clearer understanding of how power operates in real life – which is at the intersections of misogyny, white supremacy, heteronormativity, ableism etc –  in order to more effectively dismantle oppression and inequality. No person’s identity is just their gender, or just their race – so it makes sense that social activism cannot be so single-minded either.

freestyling-feminism

Black Muslim women in North America and Europe provide an example of how intersected, plural identities are impacted by intersected, compounded discrimination. Black Muslim women report experiencing anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and misogyny both in society at large and within their own communities, whether Black or Muslim. Although one third of American Muslims are Black, anti-Black racism and erasure of Black Muslims exists within Muslim communities. Similarly, Islamophobia and failure to recognize Islam as a presence in African American history, culture, and communities occurs among Black folks.

Within White and mainstream discourse about Islam and Muslims in the West (including progressive conversations), Muslims are often imagined mainly as Middle Eastern, and often as relatively recent immigrants – not as African American, or as African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants. Mainstream discourse on Black issues and anti-racism similarly gets grouped under the umbrella of #BlackLivesMatter or anti-racism. This isn’t to criticize activism which focuses on Islamophobia or on racism so much as it is to point out that Black Muslims make up a large population who are simultaneously affected by both anti-Black and Islamophobic violence and discrimination. It makes sense to look at how the two forces interact and how resistance to one can and should be united with resistance to the other. It is in fact, a powerful opportunity for unity against multiple oppressions.

Misogynoir is the term coined by Moya Bailey to describe the specific strain of racist-sexism/sexist-racism experienced by Black women as the result of various racist constructions of Black womanhood, such as hypersexualization, exoticism, and the “Angry Black Woman” trope. It is also no surprise that misogyny and Islamophobia have a complex relationship. Spontaneous Islamophobic attacks in the West frequently seem to victimize hijabi women, probably because of their visibility as Muslims. Sikh men have been victim to similar attacks by Islamophobes who equate “bearded man with turban” with “Muslim.” Muslim women who veil are thus vulnerable as women and as Muslims, and the two vulnerabilities are brought together by their outward expression of these joined identities with the hijab. While Muslim women bear the brunt of Islamophobic harassment, of course, they are also the subject of liberal-Islamophobic trolling about how Muslims treat “their women”…. No wonder Muslim women are growing as voices against both Islamophobia and patriarchy!


liz

Liz Hill came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Liz received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Liz works at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

I was originally scheduled to start a new column, Freestyling Feminism, on topics related to intersectional feminism this week. My second blog for this column was going to be a light, introductory primer on “what is intersectional feminism?” However, it would be inappropriate to bypass for a later time as the outcomes of last night’s American election, and exit poll results suggest that the topic of intersectionality is more urgently relevant now.


58% of female voters voted for a candidate other than Trump. 47% of male voters voted for Clinton or a third party candidate. Only 37% of white voters voted for Clinton, plus 5% who voted third party.

53% of white women voters voted for Trump. 49% of college educated white voters voted for Trump, compared to 45% who vote for Clinton. White feminism did not bring about a female president and education did not stop white voters from electing Trump.

This election is obviously complex and it is impossible to find a definitive reason why America elected Trump. It is pretty clear, though, that racism was a strong driving factor. I certainly suspect that misogyny played a role, but more passively – it probably biased and intensified the way some people saw Hillary Clinton, and it allowed many people, including women, to overlook Trump’s misogynistic statements and history of sexual assault – but I don’t think that on the whole people voted for Trump in order to vote against a woman president. They voted for Trump because they were voting for racism and white supremacy. Perhaps we can charitably agree that this may have been unconscious in some cases, but at some point unconsciously responding to dog-whistle racism turned into intentional denial and self-delusion. The man has been openly and enthusiastically supported by the KKK, after all.

Liberals and progressives, especially white liberals and progressives, who are looking at this verdict[1] in horror, wondering what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what can be done now, need to look at the magnitude and depth of the racism and xenophobia in their society and culture. Many of us still had faith that enough of America would be sensible that Trump’s seemingly insane rhetoric couldn’t win, and this has been an eye opener.

 [1] A weird slip into judicial language reflecting the feeling that America has been handed a sentence, not a government.

The next thing to do is to look at the movements already at work fighting these bigoted attitudes and systemic problems. Black Lives Matter, the land defenders at Standing Rock, the LGBTQ communities who fought for decades to win marriage equality, Planned Parenthood and activists who have been struggling to maintain basic reproductive rights. Groups like these are fighting for a better future every day, not just in the presidential race. There is turbulence but they are making change that matters and they know how.

It is time for white progressives to get in line and stand behind people of colour, queer people, Muslims, and other marginalized activists. White people don’t have the solutions for this, but we do have numbers and influence. Intersectionality now (always, but very critically right now) means white activists and allies putting POC’s voices, ideas, and solutions to the forefront. Listen and follow. Remember that your experiences of misogyny matter, but they don’t discount your white privilege and security; your experiences of homophobia matter, but don’t discount your white privilege; your class struggle and economic inequality matter but they do not discount white privilege.

Now is not the time for white people to search for new solutions or to lead movements. Now is the time for white people to throw their weight behind existing solutions and movements.

This is not just a Canadian scolding from across the border. Canadians should not be watching this election with smugness or relief. Canadian culture absorbs much of the influences and trends that American culture generates. More seriously, we need to recognize that white supremacy is equally as native to Canadian settler culture as it is to American settler culture built on slave ownership. The monster is under our bed too. The same xenophobic fears and attitudes that Trump exploited with his suggested ban on Muslim immigration, Harper grasped at when he introduced the idea of a niqab ban in the last election. Thankfully Canadians largely rejected that attempt – this time. The idea was there and it resonated, though. Similarly, the same rage and hostility we see in Trump’s core supporters is present in sections of Alberta politics. Most fundamentally though, the colonial white supremacy that the American nation was built on, is just a particular variety of the same colonial white supremacy that the Canadian nation was built on. We’re seeing the legacy of the former playing out dramatically in the United States right now, but we cannot ignore that there are similar things present in the foundation of our own society. We must not lapse into complacency in Canada just because the United Sates is more explosive in its dysfunction.

And finally, since I imagine many people woke up feeling shocked, helpless, and isolated after election day, wondering who their country really was – remember that Clinton won the popular vote. You are not alone.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.

Recently, I was present at the creation of the Edmonton Chapter of Black Lives Matter and, in my personal process of learning about racism and the daily grievances of POC from POC, I have consistently found two activist narratives at play. On the one hand, there are activists who argue that we need to educate people and offer programming and workshops for non-POC people to become allies. On the other hand, while not detracting from the efforts of those working in education, other activists fiercely defend their right to live in peace, to not be asked, to not have to educate the ignorant.

The latter group bases their reasoning on the existence of the internet (where learning can easily be done) and by how damn tired the whole issue of racism is. In other words, if you don’t know that discriminating against someone by the colour of their skin is a sin by now, then you are never going to know. You are a lost cause.

I can’t necessarily argue one way or another for the correct course of action. I do think there is a point to be made by the latter group, if only because there is no discriminatory equivalent to melanin in one’s skin. As a visible Muslim, I simply do not experience the same type of discrimination as POC do daily. I can remove my hijab and step into privilege once more. They can’t remove their skin. Nor should they have to. And for the POC sisters who wear hijab, their discrimination is intersectional and therefore, exponential.

Dismantling the system that marginalizes a person based on the amount of or hue of the pigment in their skin is a must but should not have to rely on the actions of those who are marginalized. Those who benefit from and are privileged by the system should also be responsible for its dismantling. People of colour are traumatized and continue to be traumatized every time they see their kin gunned down by police in the street, every time a microaggression can’t be #madeawkward for fear of violent repercussions or stereotyping, every time white supremacists get the nation’s attention by being permitted to hold a media megaphone. They are exhausted from making and taking space they are owed.

Any efforts POC make are excellent and valid; however, non-POC allies need to step up to the plate, calling out racists in their midst, and developing their own education initiatives that, while centering POC voices and their cause, do not rely on them to be present for explanations in spaces that can quickly become unsafe. #makeitawkward is the responsibility of every ally.

That being said, what about cases of discrimination that are not centered on discourses around race or ethnicity? What about Islamo- and Judeophobia?  I am still working through my thoughts on this, but generally speaking, in my experience while working against Islamo and Judeophobia, I have found that education by individuals from those communities is one of the single most powerful instigators of change. Having conversations with diverse groups of people, lecturing to audiences that may, in fact, hate you, is exhausting and unending but it is also exhilarating. Every single time I have lectured, I have come away with stories of change, of growth, of increased understanding from people who simply lacked knowledge, from people who even feared me and thus hated me. By being available to answer questions (no matter how ignorant those questions might seem), I am providing the theatre for change to happen. I humanize myself to people and, in turn, they come to see me as a person. These conversations are challenging and difficult, but the outcomes are worth the effort. Change does not always come immediately. Sometimes it is months, even years after something has touched the life of someone before they come to me and let me know how a talk changed their perspective, how a list of resources shaped their learning, how a safe space to be ignorant led them to seek knowledge.

Ultimately, whichever area of activism you are working in, and whichever course of activism you choose to take, make sure you are taking care of yourself in the process. Sometimes, the most powerful revolution takes place by simply remaining present, owning your space and refusing to give in to hateful rhetoric around you. Loving yourself and staying healthy in the face of a deeply imperfect world is powerful too.

In solidarity,

Nakita


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

I have some people that I keep at bay on Facebook and other social media outlets. Most people who know me, know that I don’t take lightly to removing people from social media pages because I see it as a loss for potential education on critical issues. I have seen incredible growth and understanding about social justice issues in general and Islam in particular from people I know, and I am regularly thanked for offering this information freely and unceasingly. However, during the last Canadian federal election in 2015, there was such hateful rhetoric being spewed out of the timelines of people I have known my entire life that I had to take what I consider to be drastic action and put them under a privacy setting so that they don’t appear in my newsfeed. I’m torn about this because the flipside is that I no longer appear in theirs; however, I’m not too sad about it because they have continued to engage with certain posts of mine which means that they are, indeed, going out of their way to check up on me without me having to be subjected to the vile poison they put into the world daily.

These people are my dirty little secret because I know exactly how they think and how they will act. I know this because I study the Holocaust for a living. I know exactly what kind of illogical thought processes go through the minds of those who hate, even if they are totally unconscious of their hatred. I have a strange ritual I go through whenever a terrorist attack happens or a shooting or some other equally hideous event: after properly mourning, I go look at the pages of these people to see if my assumptions about their thought processes are correct, to see if they will continue to err on the side of reckless, prejudiced thinking and behaviour. And I’m always right. They have no idea how predictable they are and how much they lack a genuine original thought. Harsh, yeah, but I hardly think pandering to xenophobes and how they feel about anything makes much sense.

It doesn’t matter what has happened in the world, whether an attack against Muslims in a Muslim country somewhere, whether a coup in an increasingly authoritarian country (which they may be hard-pressed to actually find on a map) or whether it is another black person of countless black people gunned down in the streets of America…whatever it is, you will find them blaming all Muslims, saying that not all religions are the same, that some are worse than others, saying that all lives matter, saying that blue lives matter, saying that any life matters unless they are black and brown and Muslim lives. They even go so far as to regurgitate blatantly misogynistic bullshit while often being women themselves, not realizing the violence they are doing to themselves or not realizing the privilege they have if such misogyny doesn’t touch them. They remain silent when the victims are from the LGBTQ community or pretend that, because the shooter in Orlando had Muslim lineage, Christians would never do this to gay people because Christianity is “different”. For the love of God, open a history book. Just once.

Regardless of how they frame it: what I continually see is a lack of knowledge and empathy. Half the time, these things aren’t even spelled correctly which only adds to me feeling disheartened. These are the same people calling educated people like me “Libtards” (which is a profoundly offensive term, especially to those who care for and love individuals living with disabilities). These are the same people claiming that I’m not more educated than them because I spend thousands of hours of my life studying in University (sorry, but that’s exactly what it means – I have no more value than you intrinsically, but I’m still more educated than you). These are the same people who pride themselves on calling other people out, not for the sake of justice, but to win an argument, to be “right” even though any half-educated person knows these days that the idea of “right” is nebulous and socially constructed. There is no greater arrogance than this because it causes the harm of others for the sake of satiating an insatiable ego.

So, they never stop.

In the current political climate, all red lines have been obliterated.

Just the other day, I had to remove Holocaust deniers from my pages. Shortly thereafter, I nearly spit my coffee all over my phone when I saw one of these individuals claiming that black people and the Black Lives Matter movement “has become a group of brats who say everything and anything is racist if it involves someone of colour.”

Excuse me for a moment………………. are you f*cking kidding me?

These types of people support Donald Trump. Like, actually support him. Like think he would be a good president kind of support.* In a world full of critics and just regular goddamn people who can’t even believe he has made it this far (because: what an insane, horrible, nightmare-ish joke that just won’t end, am I right?)… there are people out there WHO I KNOW who watched the Republican National Convention and shouted “All Lives Matter” along with these lunatic fascists. Lifelong Republicans who believe in the party of Lincoln no longer recognize this mutated far-right, gun-toting, skin-bleaching zombie that is the GOP. They are committing party suicide left and right, trying to distance themselves from the hateful rhetoric that shitheads like David Goddamn Duke delightfully retweet.

(*Note: my loathing of Donald Trump is in NO WAY indicative of any support for Hillary Clinton.)

Yes, that’s right. I have people I have known my entire life, still in my life, who consciously defend white supremacy and white supremacists. There is no other way to frame it. Their entire identity is enshrouded in their whiteness and they spend their time defending any ill-perceived attack on it from those “darkies” that keep shouting for their own freedom. I’m included in that lot because I’m an educated, veiled “Libtard” with a husband and kid from Africa.

Like many activists, and especially like many historians, and ESPECIALLY like many historians of the Third Reich and Holocaust, I have no clue what to do any longer and am horrified to watch elements of history repeating itself as people get their lesser-educated minds washed and manipulated by dangerous fools with a microphone.

I’m tired.

There is a tidal wave of bitter insanity brewing in these people who barely stop short of shouting “white genocide” from their gentrified neighbourhood rooftops.

I’m so very tired.

How do we continue slogging? How do we, who have taken NEVER AGAIN into the depths of our being, stop a train wreck while it is happening, while the cars collide and screech towards what can only be a supremely violent end? How do we stop a tsunami with what seems to be only a few sandbags?

I don’t know how to put any of this very eloquently despite the fact that writing is my vocation, so I’m just going to list some things we can all do to hopefully avoid political catastrophe in the coming while. I have to believe that we avoided this kind of disaster in Canada by saying “No, absolutely not” to the divisive, xenophobic rhetoric of the Conservatives (regardless about how you feel about ANY other political party in this country) and I have to believe that if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere, anytime and about any issue.

Apologies to those who like things framed positively, but some of these things are direct references to harmful behaviour that people DO so the advice needs to be framed as a DON’T.

  1. Take care of yourself. There are a lot of articles out there about activist burnout and the fact that no one can serve from an empty vessel. These articles and ideas are true. While some people equate occasionally disconnecting for the purposes of self-care with privilege, this is not always the case. In fact, for those of us who have to be traumatized every time we see our brothers and sisters bombed or shot to oblivion in our newsfeeds, this is an important first step in grounding yourself. You can know that there is immeasurable pain in the world, take care of yourself and still be active in mitigating injustice in the best ways you know how. These things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, that knowledge and desire to be active necessitates that you take care of yourself lest you be dragged down into the deep hole of depression. Trust me, I’ve been there. I go there a lot. But people need me and my voice more than that hole can serve me, so I have to care of myself guilt-free. We need you around too. We need your bleeding heart. So turn off, tune out, feel the sunshine on your skin, enjoy coffee with a friend, pamper yourself at the spa – do whatever it is that you need to do to take care of yourself before you get back in the trenches. The rest of us will understand and be waiting.
  2. Have painful conversations, if you can, with everyone you know. Maintain contact. The more these people are isolated, the more warped their worldviews become. This one is tough but necessary if you are able to do it. There is absolutely nothing that works better for immediate social change than inviting people to have a conversation… or many of them. Even if those conversations get heated or uncomfortable. Even if they don’t have the results you hope for – they are helpful. A conversation does not have to be an invitation to tea. It can be as simple as asking someone to clarify what they mean when they make racist jokes. It can be as uneventful as calling someone out for an Islamophobic post and asking them what exactly they meant by that. You will find that after all the brainwashed rhetoric has been spewed and the dust settles, they likely didn’t know what they meant by it (“Why did you shoot me?” “I don’t know”) and at the heart of everything is fear and a genuine lack of knowledge. Even for the craziest, consciously racist white supremacists. Their hatred is born in ignorance and the antidote to ignorance is awareness, then education.
  3. Don’t stop sounding the alarm. The fight against the darkness of ignorance and hatred is unrelenting. People devote their lives and careers to trying to protect themselves and others from harmful rhetoric and violence. You don’t necessarily have to do this on your social media accounts, but you can definitely do it in everyday, real life. Every time someone makes a Judeophobic comment about Jewish world conspiracies or claims that all Muslims are terrorists or make queerphobic comments about transpeople in washrooms, you should say something. Even when other people won’t have your back. This isn’t really something we can do once, for one group even, and then call it a day. I’ve been accused of jumping on every social justice bandwagon out there, of capitalizing on the oppression of others by making myself look good. People who hate you will pull any argument out of the hat to besmirch your image. Continue sounding the alarm anyway because your concern is born out of love, not hatred. For me, if I’m known for standing up for society’s most vulnerable individuals and for sounding the alarm on their oppression again and again, no matter which demographic they belong to, I’m going to wear that with pride.
  4. Don’t shit on activists who are doing more than you. This is a tough one. There are a lot of well meaning, non-racist people out there who take it upon themselves to write stupid posts about how “talking about politics and religion on Facebook lacks taste”. Like, what do you even gain from this? What are you contributing to the conversation? When I hear this stuff, I hear people saying “I don’t see colour” – using their privilege to erase other people raising their voices about things that matter to them. Elsewhere, I have written that the internet has become a vehicle for connecting liminal, minority groups and what we are seeing is a dramatic increase in critical awareness for a variety of minority issues. The result is an influx of posts, videos and pages devoted to the causes of those marginalized in regular society. Almost immediately, people in positions of privilege have criticized these movements as minorities being overly-sensitive, rolling their eyes at the proliferation of trigger warnings, or jumping to defend those who have been brought to justice by bringing their injustices to light online. What these individuals don’t realize is three-fold:
  • These oppressed people have always been around you. They just have a larger collectivity now because of the internet and their voice is much louder because of the heavy use and reliance on this technology today.
  • Oppressed people who cannot find justice in their everyday lives will use every means at their disposal – outside of the collectively prescribed methods – to achieve their justice.
  • If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Challenging the arbitrarily-legitimate and hegemonic-heteronormative social order is what the internet does best. If you don’t like the sound of rallying cries from all directions of oppressed society – you’re probably part of the problem.
  1. Read more. And not just articles you find on the internet. We have to keep educating ourselves in history, philosophy and the social sciences. Other pools of knowledge are also critical: anything and everything that engages our critical thinking and analytical skills to keep us on our toes. Reading stuff that confirms your well-intentioned biases does little to stimulate your mind or increase your knowledge base. The more you know is the more you know and that, in itself, is priceless. Since hatred is rooted in ignorance, I have said time and time again, the primary antidote is education. Facts aren’t enough but they are a good start. Seeking out wisdom through critique is the next step too.
  2. Do more stuff. Yeah, it can seem like a full-time job and I know that it is for me too. But you have to actually do things that make a difference in your community. These things do not need to be complicated. It can be a letter to the editor. It can be forming a small reading group to read the TRC or black history. It can be signing a petition. It can be making a donation or helping an agency committed to fighting discrimination. We have to put our beliefs and ideas into practice. You will be shocked how fast change accumulates when we all put a little extra effort in.
  3. Don’t hate on yourself for only making local change. You don’t have to save the world and, more importantly, you can’t. You can, however, change spaces that you move through and communities that you subscribe to. In fact, this is more important than anything else you are likely to do. Change starts locally and builds momentum outwards and it starts with people being committed to get together and strategize ways to make that change from all possible angles. What you are doing is critically important – don’t worry about living on in the pages of history.
  4. Don’t give up. Bailing out a sinking ship is exhausting if you are doing it alone. Banding together with others, learning to swim or building a better ship in the first place might be better strategies. Either way, we can’t give up, no matter how shell-shocked we feel. People can change; people do change. You have changed and learned and grown – so why can’t others? Part of never giving up is recognizing that this isn’t a one-person show to save the world. You do what you do with your strengths and join hands with others who have their own strengths to stand together. Even if, for every step you take forward, you end up taking two steps back, we have to continue stepping forward. Period.
  5. Take solace in the fact that there is no essential human character. Human beings are neither essentially good, nor essentially evil. We are socially constructed and even though this means that goodness and evil are also socially constructed, it also means we can build the society we need to, together, through dutiful and purposeful education and inculcation. I’m prone to saying BAH at the darkness of humanity and writing all of us off, but I exist and you exist – therefore, it is possible for other compassionate, caring and self-reflective activists to also exist and bring change.

I invite other ideas for staying active and sane. We are, after all, in this together.

In solidarity,

Nakita