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  • Writer's pictureJacke Karashae

self-serving social justice

when writing songs about the internet age, i’ve been at a place for a while that i know something is bugging me about the ways i’ve interacted with social justice in the past, and for a while, i didn’t know what.


i certainly love the drive of it, and am happy that there are people using the connectedness of the internet to learn about, empathize with, and help with others’ injustices.  but there’s also a toxin in the tweetstream, a side effect of being someone who only hears about the things that happen to other people, but doesn’t really experience it themselves–who is one step removed from the boots-on-the-ground realities of the dark side of the culture.


in a medium where the ways other people are wrong is constantly revealed, it is


painfully


easy to become arrogant about being right.

 

at first glance, arrogance seems like a weird result of empathy.  if you are simply doing your best to be a sensitive, caring, righteous person, how would that become contorted?  why would educating yourself about the trials of others cause you to think something about yourself?


as someone who constantly is facing the temptation, i have a theory.


i think there’s a tendency within us–within me–to find a way to relate everything we experience back to ourselves, personally.  maybe it’s our culture of individualism, maybe it’s self-absorption, maybe it’s a natural way of understanding the world; perhaps it’s a mix of the three.  but i think we try to take most information and ask, “what does this mean to me?”


when you do this with something within your own experience and/or control, it’s pretty straightforward.  to take a trivial example: if you are thinking about going to a restaurant but someone tells you the food had glass in it one time, what it means to me is: okay, probably don’t want to go there anytime soon, and perhaps you question why that restaurant is still in business.  (fun fact: this actually happened to my brother.)


but if you hear about something that is happening to someone else, or something that will happen to someone else, your reaction is (or should be) much different.  if my friend’s mouth is bleeding and they tell me they just accidentally ate some glassy food, i may tell myself to not eat at that restaurant and feel some frustration that such a restaurant is even in business, but that’s not the primary reaction to the conversation.  i don’t run off to write a ten-paragraph thinkpiece on how terrible restaurants are and how good of a restauranteur i would be if i ran one.


my immediate reaction should be–“oh geez! are you all right? how can i help you?” and if the situation called for it, i would drop what i’m doing and drive them to the hospital.


so, let’s bring this into the world of social justice.  when we see oppressed people posting about what is happening to them, our primary, motivating, driving response as observers should be to help in whatever way we can, even at personal cost.  perhaps that means donating, perhaps that means protesting, perhaps that even means just rethinking our assumptions about our role in our culture.  in all senses, it means taking cues from the person or people who are under oppression and attempting to support them–if we can find a way to.


now, here’s where things get dicey.  sometimes, it’s really not clear what i or you, as individuals, can do about “big issues” that span decades or centuries.  it can feel like the norm envelops us and we are powerless to making a significant difference.


this, i think, is where the temptation to arrogance stems from.  the temptation when we face oppression in our society, especially when we benefit from the oppression, is to try to numb ourselves to the role we could have in making a difference and the sacrifices that role might entail by distancing ourselves from any association with people that are “part of the problem”.  we try to say, “yeah, well, the problem is with those people.”


i think this is why we are so often tempted to post about tragedy or injustice with some variant of the phrase “what’s wrong with those people?”  is that it’s cathartic/self-assuring to dehumanize and demonize the people who do things we disagree with so that we can feel like they are totally different from us, less (or perhaps more) than another human being.  we somehow make a cultural issue into a philosophical dilemma, shrugging our shoulders and saying, “hey, evil people will always exist.  these are just some of the evil people.”  i think this impulse just gets stronger the closer we are to the systems of injustice we see.


now, i would say that evil will always exist (philosophical argument to be had later).  but assigning evil to a certain outcast group of “the oppressors” or “the wicked” or “the lost” is a way of excusing ourselves from the complicated issues of oppression and injustice.  it’s making others’ pain about us proving to the world we are one of the good guys.  it’s philosophizing on how we should write a scathing Yelp review when our friend’s mouth is full of blood.


these days i’m trying to pay attention to not only the what but also the how in the way i listen and responsd.  when i get that temptation to those-people things that friends say that bother me so that i feel better, i stop myself and think, “i have access to these people that others don’t.  if i hear something that grieves me in what they say, i am the one that can speak up, and just maybe i can make a small difference here.”


in those moments, it can’t be about me.  it can’t be about my raging-against-the-dying-of-the-light, it can’t be about me getting prodding someone to blow up in a way that validates to me how other they are.  it can’t even be about me telling someone else they’re wrong.  it has to be about humility and vulnerability, about taking an opportunity to share a perspective about which i care deeply.


it has to be about having enough bravery to say something that could be rejected and having enough humility to have an actual conversation with another real human being.

i don’t know if this applies to you.  but as a well-off and culturally privileged person, it is something i have to constantly keep in mind.

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