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On Cynicism and Calling Out: Creating Movements That Don’t Leave People Behind

I want you to think

I am so ready to let go of the America’s Next Top Radical model of social justice; it’s unsustainable, unproductive, and frankly a pretty bad strategy. It seems as though some of us – us being folks invested in the advancement of social justice in some way or another – are calling folks out sometimes not to educate a person who’s wrong, but to position themselves a rung above on the radical ladder. What’s worse, both in real-world organizing and online, this behavior is often rewarded: with pats on the back, social status, followers. We’re waiting and ready to cut folks out when they say the wrong thing. We’ve created an activist culture in which the worst thing we can do is to make a mistake.

Of course, it’s not all so simple.

A while back, I was reading a piece somewhere I can’t recall about tools of survival that no longer serve us well. Cynicism, I think, is one of these tools. For folks doing activism on the margins – women of color, queer and trans folks, sex workers, disabled folks, immigrants, those of us that fall in several or all of these or more marginalized categories – I know that our being so guarded comes from a place of being repeatedly and consistently hurt. Hurt by activism that works to further marginalize us. Hurt by projects that leave our communities behind. Hurt by good intentions that never were and never will be enough. We’ve become cynics in order to shield ourselves from hurt we can’t afford, to not waste time on folks that never included the full liberation of our people in their agenda. We’ve become cynics because, in order to survive, we’ve had to shut some folks out.

...We’ve long been really good at critiquing and saying what we don’t want, but to get to a world we DO want, we have to be able to dream really big. I fear that the ways that cynicism operates in our call-outs (and activism more generally) is limiting our ability to do so. How can we dream utopias if we are so afraid of being wrong? We have to be able to make mistakes. We have to experiment, we have to fail spectacularly, and we have to be able to trust that our community will let us know with tolerance when we’ve done so. I’m not sure that I am all the way there yet, but I don’t think there is another way....

Read the rest at Feministing.

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