I have lots of names and nicknames. Audrey, Aud (started by my 7th grade English teacher who insisted on only calling his students by the first syllable of their first names,) Koh, AKoh, the list goes on. One of them is SJW, short for Social Justice Warrior.
Coined by Tumblr, this term has been used both as an identity and as a way to mock people for–well, fighting for social justice. Being known as the girl-who-won’t-shut-up-about-social-issues at my school has been both a blessing and a curse, mostly the latter in my social life.
For one thing, the word is frequently used with heavy disdain, as shown when I was playing Cards Against Humanity with my friends and made a face at a rather questionable card. One girl commented, “Look, SJW is getting uncomfortable,” and everyone else laughed. Whenever I’m catching up on current events, I can still hear the derisive laughter ringing in my ears.
I try hard not to think about it. After all, what matters most is the fact that I’m getting my opinions out and that people like to hear them (at least, that’s what I’ve been getting). And while I love and appreciate the fact that many teenagers are doing the same, I’ve noticed a huge problem: some people post on social media about social justice in an effort to “look” informed while refusing to try and dismantle their own prejudices.
This is incredibly harmful. Firstly, it’s completely counterproductive. One time, when I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed two posts in a row, photos that said “ALL LIVES CANNOT MATTER UNTIL #BLACKLIVESMATTER.” The people who made these posts are antiblack; they throw the n word around like it stands for nothing and appropriate African American Vernacular English (AAVE).
Now, I don’t know if said people truly mean what they post. I have no way of knowing that they really reflect on how their posts could affect others and use that to further their knowledge of social issues. However, you cannot tweet #PrayForParis and be islamophobic (or continue to be) at the same time. You cannot express sympathy for the victims of the Orlando shooting and be homophobic at the same time.
It’s an insult to marginalized groups to simultaneously claim to champion their cause and to participate in behaviors that degrade them.
Societal atrocities should force you to empathize with the groups being targeted and to work to dismantle your prejudices. Such events should not be used as an opportunity to tweet comforting words while saying and doing racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. things.
That is shallow, offensive, and purely dehumanizing. That is not activism.
Activism is not trying to prove to your friends how good of a person you are by posting about current events. Activism should not be a popularity contest. Activism serves both you and others; you gain more knowledge, more insight into social justice and into your own beliefs and prejudices, while you advocate for other people’s issues.
So, how to go about challenging your own beliefs and overcoming your own biases? Start with considering that you may hold prejudices in the first place by examining where you get them from: the people you hang around, the movies and TV shows you watch, the songs you listen to, etc. Think about the messages you receive and send to others. What compels you to say or do such things?
After you identify them, make the effort to be friendlier with people you perceive to be different. It may be hard at first, but behavior influences thoughts, and you’ll soon find yourself feeling more comfortable around said people. Expose yourself to media that breaks down stereotypes and prejudices. Do research, a lot of research, and discuss your findings and thoughts with other people. Discourse boosts your understanding, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
I’m happy to see that nowadays, many teenagers I know are taking the time to voice their opinions on issues they really care about. My classmate is a vegan and fights for animal welfare using various social media platforms to reach out to a large audience. My friend published a zine on Japanese imperialism in Korea and blogs about Asian racism. Girls at my school share links to social justice articles on Facebook and engage in discussion.
We can be activists if we make time and space for important conversations. Fellow SJWs, let’s get to it.