On Divisiveness in Activism

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard a lot of accusations of activists being “divisive” by asking white protesters to take a back seat at rallies. This is not a new thing; in feminism there is a long history of white women telling women of colour to stop talking about race, that the movement is about ALL women and that they should stop being divisive by pointing out that women of colour have a different experience that goes ignored in feminist circles.

However, accusing people of being divisive is a dangerous thing to do in activism, as it is silencing and can veer into mimicking the very sexist or white supremacist oppression that we are trying to destroy. The problem seems to be that there is a mindset that goes like this: I am taking part in anti-oppression activism, therefore my intentions are clearly good, and we should all just focus on doing that good instead of picking on each other and destroying the movement from within.

But what this mindset fails to acknowledge is that just because you are anti-oppression, does not mean you are magically immune to perpetuating systemic oppression. The fact is that we have all grown up in these oppressive systems, and just because we are aware of them and are attempting to fight against them does not mean we do not still replicate those dynamics within our activist spaces. This is clear in feminism when men like H*** Sch***** (typing his name would inevitably attract his vitriol) become spokesmen for the movement and are considered more legitimate and relatable and a great asset to the movement. Oppressive systems are so pervasive in our lives that we model them without even realising it.

Thus, a huge part of activism is not just to protest against systemic injustice. It is also to constantly look inwards and analyse our own motivations and roles in a movement, to recognize when we are perpetuating an oppressive dynamic that we have learned. That is a huge amount of work, and not something everyone is willing to do; however, it is an integral part of being an activist. This is why activism is someone’s entire work and life – it is hard work. Activist spaces are constantly trying to unlearn oppressive behaviours and systems and create new ones; because if you do not know how to undo oppressive dynamics in your own life and spaces, how could you possibly know how to undo it on a societal level? You cannot come into an activist space, claim to be an activist, and then wonder why other activists are asking you to do the hard work that activism involves.

White people at a Black Lives Matter rally yelling the chants that do not represent their own experiences, acting as if they are affected the same way as their black co-protesters are not practising activism. Viewing people who ask these protesters to step aside and leave room for black protesters as being “divisive” is a dangerous viewpoint to hold – it is usually held by white people. White people do not get to decide where the lines are drawn in activism around racism, just as men do not get to decide what is important or necessary in feminist activism. We as privileged people do not get to define the oppression that we may perpetuate, and we do not get to ignore the voices of the people who are marginalized by a system we are part of. Telling us to take a step back is not a petty demand for people to be utterly perfect; it is a plea for us to take our activism deeper and heal the wounds we have carved into our own activist spaces.


Letter to a rape joke

Sorry for being dead, I’ve had a sudden rush of performances to prepare for, which has been… interesting. Here’s a relatively-quickie-but-goodie for y’all just to, you know, pretend I’m actually still alive.

I was subscribed to the very-popular raywilliamjohnson on youtube up until relatively recently. I started to take issue with more and more of the things he was saying until I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I’d let him know why it was that I was unsubscribing, even though I knew the chances of him reading the message would be minuscule considering how full his inbox must be. I took the time to write out a message to him, only to find that he doesn’t actually accept private messages on youtube from anyone except members of his friends list. I thought, okay, I’ll check out his website. But there was no contact information there. And no private messaging available on his facebook account.

So my revocation of my subscription went unexplained, and I’m sure he couldn’t care less, but it meant the chance of him having a possible lightbulb moment – or the beginnings of one at the very least – was nonexistent. Despite the fact that ray is unable to receive this message, I decided to share it anyway. With you guys! YAY!



Dear Ray,

I know that one person’s voice rarely makes a difference. Especially around the topic I’m about to cover.

I love your stuff, I’ve been subscribed to your channel and facebook page for several years now. I know that you’re a great guy; and so I hope you’ll actually read this, and maybe even think about what I say. I know it’s asking a lot because you must get about a bajillion messages every day and it’s impossible to take everyone’s opinion into account.

But look. I think you’re awesome, but lately I’ve been finding I can’t bring myself to laugh at your jokes. You made two domestic violence jokes in one video, and your latest facebook statuses about “epic” sexual harassment…

Yeah, yeah, I know “omg get a sense of humour”.

I work with victims of abuse, rape, sexual assault and harassment. I have friends who have been assaulted and/or raped. Those jokes are about real people. They’re about real people I know; real people I’ve worked with and helped through horrors, nightmares. The worst parts of their lives. And when I hear people make jokes about the torture these people have been through…

It doesn’t make me angry – I’ve no anger towards you. It makes me hurt. A lot. I can’t even imagine how it makes the actual survivors of those crimes feel. Especially since everyone makes these jokes.

They are heard every single day by people who have suffered through it.

I think everyone needs to start thinking about how that must feel.

What it’s all about

Why start this blog?

I have run rampant in the feminist/socialist/activist blogosphere for quite a while now, discovering new blogs every day (though rarely ever commenting). But every so often, I’d find something about a blog I’d previously liked that didn’t sit well with me. Bloggers getting called out for some privileged talkin’ on their part, and then their refusal to accept this… I’ve seen it on feministe and feministing with race issues, and just recently on my-previously-most-favourite-blog-ever-who-I-thought-got-everything-right Shakesville with trans issues.

I don’t think any of these issues I found were in bad faith on the bloggers’ parts – I think they legitimately didn’t realize that what they were doing was way uncool. The problem is not in making the slip-up with their privilege – it is, after all, a part of privilege to not be able to tell when you’re exercising it – but in how they dealt with it. When someone from the marginalized group tells you you’ve fucked up and calls you out on it, it’s probably a good fucking idea to listen up. Especially when you are called out repeatedly for similar things. It’s time to take a step back and seriously think about what you’re saying.

And fucking apologise. Gracefully. With no “buts”. No “you could have been nicer…” As feminist bloggers, you should know how angered you get when someone repeatedly exercises their privilege and then denies it. Of course people are going to be pissed with you. Don’t take it personally, because it isn’t. Or at least, it’s not until you continue refusing to give a decent apology.

So I realized, after all of this, that the number of feminist blogs that deal with their own privileges well dwindles the more time I spend in the blogosphere. And it dawned on me that, if I can’t find a blog that satisfies me… why not try to make that blog myself?

Thus Hot Air was born.

I can’t promise to never ever ever say anything privileged ever, because that’s hard for me to know because of the whole privilege-being-invisible-to-those-who-have-it shenanigans. As is proven by so many well-meaning bloggers getting it so wrong. I don’t think anyone can make that promise. I know I can promise to try my fucking best to always be aware of it.

And what I can definitely promise you is this.

My vow to all of you who may read this is to always always always listen when I am called out, to always always always be wary not only of other people’s privilege but especially my own, to never say “sorry, but…” and if I ever fail to do any of this, which I’m so scared I will… well the blog will be moot and I’ll close it. And do call me out with fiery, passionate, unrelenting anger.

I will hope to whatever deity(ies) there may be, that I never stop listening to other people. I don’t want to let you down like that.