Woker Than Thou
You hear about Joss Whedon? If you didn’t, take a moment to Google, ‘cause I don’t want to repeat the details here. Mostly because I don’t know what’s true (but all of it’s ugly). So go check that out and come back…I’ll wait.
You good? Good. Here we go. And before I start I wanna warn you:
I don’t believe that personal failings take away from the fact that you are someone who cares who cares about an issue, be it feminism, humanism, gay rights, or the quality of swedish meatballs.
So when I read these grinning so-called “think pieces” on Joss Whedon by people who write as though they’ve known all along that he was only pretending to care about women, not only do I question their motives, but I also see yet another disturbing example of a pattern that I don’t think people who are on the side of social justice talk about enough.
Now that doesn’t mean that “performative” social justice isn’t a problem for allies (especially white men); it’s a huge one, and one that needs to be addressed. But I think that there is a difference between someone who means well but has personal weaknesses and someone who doesn’t really care about equality but pretends to care about equality in order to manipulate other people, and the problem with those so gleefully dancing on the grave of Joss Whedon’s persona is that they don’t seem to care.
And I say that because, I’m gonna admit to you now, for my sake, I hope I’m right
I espouse a lot of ideas that I’ve failed to live up to. I advocate nonviolence, but I have also struck first, too hard, and too quickly. I do my best to promote equality, but I have said and done things that make the world worse for the people who need my help. For a laugh, out of anger, and out of plain ignorance.
I try to fight for the downtrodden, but I spent a tremendous amount of my young life doing the treading. I have behaved badly. I have hurt the people in my life. I’ve been weak. I’ve been wrong. I’ve been angry, mean, vindictive, and vengeful, and I regret it but, from the looks of the joyful articles I’ve seen celebrating the fall of yet another straight white man, there but before the proper “expose” go I.
And look: if I’m consigned to the status of “performative” because of that, then so be it. It is not my place to defend or apologize for my weaknesses or to demand inclusion in movements that aren’t about me, regardless of my failings. Social justice does not belong to me. It is not mine to claim.
But my personal failings are. They are mine and they are as much “me” as the best parts of myself because, as I’ve said in this blog before, there is no “you” other than the way you treat the people around you. We have no secret character; we are merely composed of our actions.
And further, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I think that this and so many other so-called falls from grace seem to be more the result of a culture that’s “woker than thou” than that of the failings of the individual. I love Buffy, the Avengers, Angel, and Firefly, and I’m sorry but, until it was the hip new thing not to, so did you.
Do all shows by everyone fucking ever have problematic aspects? Of course. But we seem to wait for collective permission before we descend on someone’s flaws; the person has to fall into the category of “bad ally” for us to notice.
Moments like this worry me and NOT just for selfish reasons, I think. They worry me because, while I spend a tremendous amount of my time advocating for social justice and fighting the straw men, it’s at moments like this that those straw men start to take form, take on life, and bite me.
Take Sam Harris. Ok, not Sam NOW, NOT Sam now but when The End of Faith first came out. The chapter on the problem of Islam was…not well written. But honestly, if you read that chapter in good faith you could see the point Sam was making and it was not that we should nuke all the brown people.
But I didn’t see him get that chance. Look, Sam is stubborn (I think even he’d admit that) and indelicate but he wasn’t monstrous. Even today he’s not monstrous, but his critics didn’t care. They were more concerned with calling him out than hearing what he had to say and, as a result, they got death threats sent to his daughter.
How dare we expect him to listen to anything we have to say after that? How do we expect him to do anything but turn to the side that defended him? The cycle of mistake, to public outcry, to doubling down on bad ideas has repeated itself over and over and OVER again, and I wonder how many times or by how many years I missed it.
The person I was, the mistakes I made, and the bad ideas I had were changed by friends with inexhaustible patience, and while we all agree that nobody owed me that, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without it.
And with each of these new cases I wonder what the difference would be if we who claim to care about people were here to catch people as they fell, instead of stopping to point as they hit the ground. Or why something immutable about them somehow made their fall justice, proved our point, or made them less worthy of our forgiveness.
It is this side of the so-called social justice movement that scares me.
So let it be said now that I am not perfect, I have done some bad things, and I have failed and will fail again.
And if that’s what you require for someone to be under your tent you should kick me out now before someone who doesn’t like me tells you first.
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