Posts Tagged ‘ activism ’

On privilege

Ever notice the word “privilege” had the word “vile” sitting right there in the middle of it? I didn’t until tonight. Here’s what privilege is: being in your mid-thirties with an advanced degree and a writing job and still always wanting to insert a “d” into that word. Privilege is relying on spell-check for professionalism. It’s having spell-check in the first place.

We’re in the middle of a few “national conversations” right now: about flags, and states rights, and history, and somewhere on that list, maybe pretty far down, racism, spelled timidly with a lower-case “r.”

Privilege is the luxury of time to discuss these things, the ability to dissect issues from a so-called objective space. To determine from your own impartial analysis, for example, in the case of many recent killings, whether the dead person – presumably someone of color and with little privilege – somehow “instigated” the situation. To not fear any real consequences no matter what conclusion you come to. To know that no one in your inner circle will be targeted in an attack because of their race while you are making up your mind.

Privilege is discussing race, and gender, and sexuality, and religion, and, yes, privilege, in the safety of a classroom. It’s paying exorbitant sums of money to do so. It’s walking away with academic credit and a “specialization in diversity studies” on your resume.

It’s a gift. It’s ripe for misuse. It’s the option to not have read this far. To click “like” and move to the sports page. To disagree by posting vile commentary.

It’s willful ambivalence. It’s knowledge without action. It’s uncomfortable silence.

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Armchair Activism

As I predicted, National Opt-Out Day came and went, nary a blip on the radar screen of or collective consciousness. I’ve already discussed the reasons I thought this act of civil traffic slowdown wouldn’t go down as forcefully as the organizers hoped.

But I think another issue is at play here. That is: many activists of my generation rely too much on the web to take their stands.

The web is, of course, an amazing tool for putting out information and organizing for various causes. The problem is that it is almost too easy. I get an average of 3 “emergency petitions” every week: clean water for Haiti; stop fracking upstate, stop the new schools chancellor, abolish DADT, prevent tax breaks for the rich… The list goes on. I probably open about half of these emails and add my name to 1 in 3 that I read.

That’s it. It’s almost too easy.

Compare this with the folks on the street, hounding you to “spare a minute for gay rights-” a minute no one ever seems to have. Contrast internet action to door knocking campaigns and phone banks. All of these old methods of organizing are inconvenient. They put the issue out there when you may not want to deal with it. They force you to take time out of your schedule to listen, sign, act.

They also hold you accountable. You are forced to take a stand in front of someone. Saying no is very different from simply ignoring an email. They put you on the spot.

I fear we are becoming so reliant on the new model of armchair activism that we are starting to forget that change is hard. That it is inherently more difficult to take a physical stand than a virtual one. That doing so will probably inconvenience you a bit. And I’m worried too many of us are becoming to accustomed  to signing on, clinking a link and maybe on a difficult day, changing our Facebook photos to cartoon characters to do so.