Anti-Racism can’t begin and end with a hashtag
June 3, 2020 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Performative Allyship Is Deadly (Here’s What to Do Instead) "If you recognize yourself in some of these descriptions, know that this doesn’t mean I’m saying you don’t care, or that you’re a bad person, or a racist. Just that you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that your activism can begin and end with a hashtag. But systemic racism doesn’t care about your hashtags and your outrage. People have been hashtagging #blacklivesmatter for eight years, and young black men are being killed in the street for jogging. It’s critical to realize that if your allyship is performative, you are excusing yourself from engaging with the tough and messy conversations necessary to address the root causes. The conversations that will actually bring about change. And you’re easing your guilt with the empty advocacy of keyboard warrioring when what you really need to be doing is advocating with your actions." Here are four things to do.
posted by Anonymous (34 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

I love the last suggestion about doing something that's not public or visible. I can see a counterargument saying that we should be normalizing reading Black authors, donating to Black causes, etc, and I absolutely believe that as well, but it's not saying to never share your activism. Rather, taking an action that no one will ever hear about is more like an exercise to check in with yourself. Donate without tweeting about it; skip sharing that list of books to read and quietly read one of them on your own; how does it make you feel?

I talked to a dear white friend on Tuesday while everyone I knew was posting black squares. She surprised me by mentioning that she had been at the protests in her city over the weekend. Never posted a thing about it.
posted by sunset in snow country at 4:21 PM on June 3, 2020 [30 favorites]

This is a necessary intervention. Thank you.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:22 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thank you for sharing this.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 5:06 PM on June 3, 2020

Can I ask how you plan to do that, liquorice? How do you amplify a voice without sharing? I'd like to do that too, but I don't have any idea how. (I'm actually thinking mostly about political voices, rather than arts/movies/etc, but of course they are tied together).

The only social media I use is metafilter, so I've actually felt vaguely bad when donating to various causes because I don't share those donations on facebook or anywhere else; most places ask you to share, I assumed because it might give someone else in your social sphere the idea to donate as well. I'd very much like it to be normal for privileged white people like myself to donate, and I feel a little guilty that I'm not helping with that at all.

Anyhow, thanks for posting, this will be a good article to pass on when someone says "oh I posted a black square, but I don't know what else to do" -- here are in fact some other things to do.
posted by nat at 5:08 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is great. I liked many of Barack Obama's suggestions too.
posted by bearwife at 5:25 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

nat: How do you amplify a voice without sharing?

I think you have to ask yourself, "am I sharing this For The Cause or so people see me as a good ally, or am I sharing this because I have genuine enthusiasm about this?"
posted by capricorn at 5:28 PM on June 3, 2020

I don't think that's what the article is saying. Frankly, shared is shared, whatever your motives are, and waiting for the perfectly idealistic motive to act means never acting. But you can't let reposts be the beginning and end of your activism. It can be a useful discipline to do things quietly, without seeking approval or attention for them. But sharing something on social media is by nature public, so if you're doing that, you're doing it publicly. It's just not enough by itself, especially if it satisfies or distracts you so you don't do more useful things.
posted by praemunire at 5:46 PM on June 3, 2020 [13 favorites]

This is really great.

For me, the social media thing isn't the issue, because I've never been on social media for privacy reasons. But I want so much to take effective action and not just stew uselessly in my anger and sadness.

Having a few clear suggestions of actions that could be actually useful is tremendously helpful.

(I'm especially appreciative of item 1, because I often feel like contributing money is a cop-out, because it feels like it's not hard enough. I feel like I should be spending every waking hour volunteering ... even though I know how powerful money can be, and what a difference it can make to individuals and organizations.)

(I've also been working on item 3, and it's sort of validating to see it here.)

I am so grateful for ideas of things I can DO.

Thank you so much for posting this, stoneweaver.
posted by kristi at 5:57 PM on June 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

I was feeling bad because I don’t really use social media, but I logged in this week to post big personal news and saw a big stream of “silence is violence,” so I felt like I had to post an anti racist statement but I didn’t know what to say and it felt icky and performative. But I’m okay-and-trying at the daily life stuff.

FWIW, I’m a smallish middle class cis white lady, nobody finds me threatening and hitting me in public is probably gonna make your day a lot worse, so I often feel safe getting in people’s faces when needed - figuring this out was like getting a superpower.
posted by momus_window at 6:01 PM on June 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

I can barely look at Facebook these days. Many friends are posting black squares and solidarity messages. I do not use Twitter or any of the other social media, except Reddit. Reddit is more targeted, discussion-wise, and I read mostly about hobbies and local news there.

I feel completely shut down by what's happening. I'm a cis-het white male, almost 50. I have enormous privilege, but not a lot of money. I'm comfortable. I just cannot and do not want to offer opinions or even attempt to show some sense of online solidarity. I mostly feel despair, with some fleeting feelings of hope every once in a while.

So I have kind of shut down. I used to volunteer at my Alderman's office. But with Covid 19 along with some weird interpersonal stuff that happened there, that's not happening anymore. I feel like I'm floating. I'm in Chicago, but in a part of the city that has been mostly unaffected by physical harm. I read the news, and then I turn off internally. That feels wrong, but I don't know what feels right.

I'm going to read this article again and think about what I can do. I appreciate reading comments here for suggestions.
posted by SoberHighland at 6:39 PM on June 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

How do you amplify a voice without sharing?

I don't think liquorice's point was that you amplify without sharing. It's that you take in something because you feel it will benefit you for experiencing it. And you don't always have to talk about that. Sometimes you do a thing that is for you. And maybe the challenge there is to take in something you might not choose out of your own whim but which might be on a recommended list of type-of-author, and to decide to like it or try to understand it, and not make a display about it.

Like with the monetary donations up above, it's the tiny contribution of the widow's mites to the coffers that was the righteous choice, not the display of a large donation by someone more influential. Sometimes that contribution is just to your own sphere of experience, to help you grow a bit for experiencing more in the future.
posted by hippybear at 6:50 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have been signing up for webinars on how to be a more effective ally because in some ways just donating money as I did for BLM and other causes repeatedly over the years just feels too easy. My friend reminded me though that every movement needs coin.

As far as quitely acting, I get the idea, but I have been sharing my finds because the women I purchased the webinars from were shared on friend's stories, and easily finding good causes and resources can be vital for people who are already spread really thin for numerous reasons at this point in time. I feel profoundly grateful that I even found found a little time to sneak away to join a couple of the protests after work and before curfew this week.

Secondly, I am recommitted to having these hard conversations with anyone I meet who doesn't get it. I steeled myself and did it yesterday with a coworker and actually they started to come back from their original stance. I tried not to shame them, but was very firm. Now I aim to reinforce it as often as possible.

Anyway, for those interested, here are a couple of the sites for resources, buying from black owned business and places for sending donations (i seriously couldn't make the links work!)


Black Trans Protestors Emergency Fund Paypal:
posted by doktorj at 7:40 PM on June 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

I talked to a dear white friend on Tuesday while everyone I knew was posting black squares. She surprised me by mentioning that she had been at the protests in her city over the weekend. Never posted a thing about it.

So I totally get the ickiness of broadcasting allyism. But I guess here is what I struggle with-- like actually struggle with, I welcome perspectives on it-- isn't part of the point of a demonstration being public about it? What is the point of a demonstration if not to make a public show of unity and power behind a cause? If so, why would you not want people to know that you stand behind black communities? If your best friend from high school that you barely talk to anymore sees that this is a cause that someone they have been close to cares about, does it do anything to shake them out of their apathy or is that wishful thinking?

On the topic of calling out racism, I'm trying to unlearn some of my midwestern nice girl socializing to make people feel better and smooth over awkward situations. If anyone has any resources on getting better at that I would welcome them.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

What is the point of a demonstration if not to make a public show of unity and power behind a cause?

Maybe it's better to regard a demonstration as way to make a public, physical show of unity and power behind a cause. It's being there that matters. It's every person who makes a choice to actually be there. The more that choose, the more power that is represented.

People know it is happening because of the grapevine and the news. I don't think a social media mention is going to make someone go "man, I haven't thought about that guy in years but he's there, maybe I'll go down there too". Either they are inclined, or they are not.

You don't demonstrate by seeing photos online. You demonstrate by going out and being there. These days, there is calculus to do about gathering in crowds and shouting a lot, but people do their own math and enough of them have come out on the side of "go be there, be present, be physically counted, find community, learn from those around you".

There's a lot of other stuff going on too, and it's hard to tell how related it all is because I get conflicting reports here and there. But if being there and being counted is important to you, then go do that and be that. And study your maps first, and don't get kettled, because they're doing that a lot right now.
posted by hippybear at 8:06 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this. It is well-timed, and it gives me much to think about.
posted by lilac girl at 8:26 PM on June 3, 2020


posted by loquacious at 10:42 PM on June 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Got those links fixed up, doktorj.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:00 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this.

I think about this a lot, and I don't even totally know what I think (cf, the two three hours I spent rewriting this comment.) Most of my social circle lands more on the side that being public is a force multiplier to normalize good ally behavior and nudge other people into it, and there absolutely is logic to that that I've benefited from many times myself, I'm super glad those people exist. But I'm barely on social media, which is where a lot of this conversation makes the most sense.

My normal instinct is way on the other end of You Keep That Shit To Yourself, for many reasons, but one is that to even mention it feels like implying I'm somehow amenable to being validated or recognized for it, and I do not like that feeling, or the feeling of even maybe putting that expectation on other people. Like I'm speaking in super vague terms here to an audience that will rightly definitely not have that reaction, and it still feels super weird. (It's not a 100% rational thing. Protestors, I'm proud as hell of all of you, please do not be like me and randomly show up alone without telling anyone where you are, it's real dumb.)

At a protest I'm just a body, and I need to be careful because it's a white body and that can be dangerous or threatening to people, but it can be used well too. On a fundraiser I'm just another Anonymous. Nobody gives a shit what I get from the library, and why on earth would they. I'm not going to lie about it and I'm not embarrassed, but I'm not going to draw attention to myself just whenever. All that stuff either comes to some kind of meaningful anti-racist practice, or it doesn't, and that's ultimately not even for me to decide. I can try to be trustworthy in solidarity, and that's all great, but I still have to make myself trustworthy tomorrow and the next day. (I wouldn't trust me.) There's a risk that's worth considering that people might appreciate or feel supported by some of this stuff if they knew about it. But if I need to go around telling people why I'm a good ally, how good an ally could I be?

(And I'd be remiss here if I didn't mention how much of my education I owe to MetaFilter, and specifically stoneweaver and the many many other MeFi people of color who've poured in enormous and at best thankless work over years to try and make this a less racist and violent site with less racist and violent people on it. Even if you think I'm full of shit on all of this, and that's 1000% fair, thank you forever.)
posted by jameaterblues at 11:41 PM on June 3, 2020 [11 favorites]

One thing that's strange to me is that I perceive a lot of social pressure to speak up, but I don't ever perceive any social pressure to show any evidence that I did anything else in particular to help. I don't really understand why that is.
posted by value of information at 2:22 AM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

To tell you the truth, I am a bit conflicted by this piece. I actually find it in some ways more difficult to perform allyship than to do some of these actions. I've been donating to organizations like the ACLU and RAICES for years, and never ever post about it. My husband and I do private actions like writing to our elected representatives, I have called out people at work for racist or sexist actions. I have made calls and sent texts to try to get people to vote for people who I believe will push the needle on these issues. I am pregnant now so am not attending the latest protests, but I have attended similar ones in the past. I actually rarely post about these things publicly because I am a wuss. I guess I should probably note here that I'm not black, but also not white. When I posted a black square this past Tuesday, it was actually a really hard decision. I was worried about the performative allyship thing, but ultimately it felt that my outsides needed to match my insides. I've been thinking about this stuff for ages, and trying to do my bit, but always privately, making as few waves as possible. Maybe it's because I'm an immigrant? Maybe it's because I'm not white? But at least for me, the square thing was meaningful.
posted by peacheater at 6:35 AM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Virtue signalling is still a signal, you know. When I post basic support tweets and share 101 articles on social, I'm also saying to those people in my circles that yes, that's still A Thing with me, and that they still won't find a friendly or polite audience here for their shit. It's a complement to a number of call-outs and uncomfortable conversations, as well as other forms of action, happening in "real life".
posted by Freyja at 6:47 AM on June 4, 2020 [9 favorites]

And I guess one way in which the black squares did help - I actually did have to call my boss out yesterday. It was a team meeting and it felt like a sudden ambush. So I should say that I actually have always had very good interactions with my boss (white Jewish guy) and he's always been super supportive of my career. We haven't talked about politics much, but I know that he doesn't like Trump and we've been able to have fairly nuanced discussions on other complex topics. Which is why I felt super disappointed when he suddenly said that it was "so ridiculous" that after months of staying at home for COVID, protesters were now gathering in thousands. And then to top it all off he started talked about the rioters "looting" Newbury Street (in Boston). I could feel my heart beating extra fast as I saw that everyone else on the team meeting (online using Teams) seemed dumbstruck. I had to say something. I said, "To be fair, that was after an entire day of peaceful protests," which didn't feel nearly enough to express what I was feeling. He mumbled something generally agreeable and the meeting ended. But I was still shaking and upset.

I decided to reach out to one of my other (white, female) team members who's much closer to our boss, and actually a good friend of his. I had never talked about politics with her - but I also had the sense that she was a good person. The black squares gave me courage in a way, because I knew that this stuff was being talked about, that at least in Boston the tide of public opinion was with me. It was really difficult to make that call, but I was so glad I did because she agreed completely with my take on what our boss said, said that she wished she was able to say something in the moment, and that she had already planned to talk to him after the meeting. We talked about the burden of calling people out, and how that that's something that black people have had to bear, and that it was time for all of us to do our part.

She then talked to our boss and told me about the interaction. She said she told him that putting the emphasis on the looting instead of the actual murders of black people was the wrong way to prioritize things. She says that he felt really bad and said that he had spoken while only thinking about things through the lens of "personal safety". I'm feeling glad that I said something and also found someone on my team that I can discuss this kind of thing with - we were both surprised at how much we were aligned.
posted by peacheater at 6:57 AM on June 4, 2020 [25 favorites]

Is there value in displaying the message "If you want to be explicitly racist around me, I will not be a safe space for you, and you will not have a good time"? Any value at all?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:02 AM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yes, there's a lot of value in speaking up. It's not an either or. Maybe you can turn it into a thought experiment instead: How would it feel to not speak up? Is there any value I can provide, any good I can do in the world, that's not primarily based on sending social signals to my peers? Because that is important, but so is money, so is learning and self-examination, so is contacting your city council about police oversight, so is speaking up behind closed doors.

geegollygosh, I totally get your question, and I think some more context about my friend would help. She's not very active on social media anyway, so it would have been a bit weird for her to post about the protest (whereas for people whose entire lives are online it'd be weirder not to). But she has occasionally posted links about white privilege and anti-racism in the past, at times when the world isn't in an uproar about the death of a Black person, when nobody is really talking about these things. She's a real one. But I'm also not saying that everyone should be like her and do exactly what she did to be a good ally. It's just that in the context of everything else I know about her, it was an action that made sense. Her anti-racism actions were fully her own, and that's something you gotta do at some point to really make this your fight, even if you also post the thing everyone else is posting on social media.

I would also like to second stoneweaver's drawing attention to the point about speaking up IRL. It is important.

I guess l'll close by saying that although I end up speaking for Team POC in this and a lot of Metafilter discussions, I am not black, and I have benefited a LOT from white privilege as well as anti-blackness and the model minority myth. I'm grappling with the same questions and issues that a lot of white people are right now. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing! I'm uncomfortable all the time! But I do know that you HAVE to let yourself be uncomfortable, and that debating minutiae on Metafilter is a way of trying to find the "right" action that no one will criticize. You gotta let yourself be criticized.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:27 AM on June 4, 2020 [10 favorites]

This is so necessary - I've been grappling with how much to show online, especially when I'm trying to promote black texts, art, movies, shows and amplify black and indigenous voices as much as possible.

Towards this end - I've also had the instinct "Hey! I'm a movie blogger! I can join a blogathon that promotes movies which amplify black voices!" And I'm trying to find one, and haven't found one yet. But I've also been very tempted to start one myself because "well, shoot, if I haven't found one maybe I should start one" - because I suspect the optics of a white middle-class lady starting such a blogathon wouldn't be that great.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

hi the above post is missing a crucial phrase
it is supposed to read

"....I've also been very tempted to start one myself but I have not done so because....."

I missed the edit window thank you I will shut up now
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on June 4, 2020

Call out people in real life

Yeah. And I think--now in this time of social distancing--it's less about the onlineness of it and more about calling out people who are important to us, who we want to like us. Bosses, friends, family, colleagues, religious leaders. I say that because I think many of us segregate our online lives in a way that lets us feel safe, where we wind up performing this sort of thing to an audience that includes relatively few consequences for ourselves. But having these conversations with people who are close to us in our day to day lives--not our activism lives, our whole and holistic lives--is important. These conversations need to be about quality above all else.

I don't want to minimize the consequences of doing that. It is hard, and it is scary, and you might lose power or professional relationships or you might break friendships or your family might leave you on the side of the road. But people who know you, people you have a relationship with: you are real to them. Your voice matters to them, and your relationship matters to them too. And you might find out that you have more allies than you think.

We owe it to others as allies to make a point of being allies in all of our lives. If it is too risky to call someone who has power over you out, doing as peacheater just described is good, too. Make networks. Talk to people who saw who maybe have less power, because together we are stronger than we are alone, and as a collective we have more power than even the highest-ranked individual person. Be vulnerable. Try not to let fear paralyze you.
posted by sciatrix at 8:17 AM on June 4, 2020 [11 favorites]

My normal instinct is way on the other end of You Keep That Shit To Yourself, for many reasons, but one is that to even mention it feels like implying I'm somehow amenable to being validated or recognized for it, and I do not like that feeling, or the feeling of even maybe putting that expectation on other people.

So, I have always been very similar. Last time I went to a protest it was hard to tell a couple people where I was going-- which I needed to do, for safety reasons! It was easier for me to anonymously donate to a bail fund than it was for me to repost something supportive of the protests on social media-- I think partially because of the performative ally thing and partially because it's harder for me to take strong stands around people I actually know. (See above being socialized to make people feel comfortable, this is something I'm working on.)

But I've been thinking a lot recently about whether this is sometimes counterproductive anxiety that is too careful and too wrapped up in Being the Kind of Person Who Doesn't Need to Be Recognized for Their Actions. A few days after I initially donated to a bail fund, I posted a list of bail funds to my facebook. It made me feel uncomfortable, partially because the implication I think is 'I donated to this!,' but I know for a fact that at least one person donated after seeing it on my wall and it was shared multiple times. So would it actually have been better if I'd just donated and kept it to myself as I typically do?

On a separate but related note, sometimes I wonder if the power of social media in particular is underestimated because it's so new and something that older activists didn't grow up with. It seems like there is a lot of value to seeing messages of support and solidarity coming from all sides, and a lot of potential for awareness raising and perspective broadening among people who may live in places where protests are less prominent. But of course I also understand the frustration with people who post something and think the work is done. (And I don't want to center the conversation on social media or create a derail.)

on preview: thanks for your response, sunset in snow country. I think something that resonated with me in the article and in your comment was the idea that there is value in treating it as a practice to sometimes intentionally do these things quietly as a reminder of why you're doing the work.

And maybe for someone like me, there is also a value in practicing being louder sometimes when it pushes me out of my comfort zone. It feels easy to be paralyzed by fear of doing "the right thing" but perfection is not really the goal, I guess-- listening, amplifying, getting better, and trying to respond without defensiveness if I'm called out is what I should be working toward.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:21 AM on June 4, 2020 [13 favorites]

It's definitely a good call for more introspecution. Like, cool for you, Friend who's sharing and reposting all the "correct" things... but you don't seem to have interrogated why you live in a white enclave and I seem to be your one POC friend? Or stop fucking checking in and apologizing on behalf of white womanhood when there's a crisis to make me do extra emotional labor of absolving you.
posted by TwoStride at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Having a few clear suggestions of actions that could be actually useful is tremendously helpful.

Vote in every election and vote NO on Every. Single. Police. Measure. This is probably the most important thing you can do. They are ALWAYS looking for more funding. Deny them. It is 100% the reason I vote.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:51 AM on June 4, 2020 [14 favorites]

Is there value in displaying the message "If you want to be explicitly racist around me, I will not be a safe space for you, and you will not have a good time"?

There is. However, many people who reblog and post performative anti-racist statements, don't go that far: they're happy to call out racism in politicians and celebrities, but fall short of having a discussion with their racist cousin who retweets the president. They might say "hey man that's not cool" but they don't unfollow, don't block, don't insist "if you're going to do that, you're not welcome in my life."

Calling out your boss is risky, so it's understandable that many people won't do that. It's much less risky to call out a coworker you barely know for racist comments about the janitorial staff - except that your workplace may not be as friendly if you get the rep for being That Person. (OTOH, maybe you'll inspire the other would-be allies to say, "hey, no more of that BS about how [racial slur] people don't know how to stack boxes because your favorite soda's on the bottom.")

I suspect that MetaFilter is not the target audience for the article. Those of us who want to help, tend to be considering, "how does this actually help anyone?" when we're choosing which forms of activism to join. She doesn't seem to be saying "retweeting and posting blackout squares is not activism; don't do that." She's saying, "That is not enough," and we know that. How much else or how much more we can do is going to vary by individual circumstances, but we're aware that "say stuff online," especially to crowds of similar-minded people, isn't what's going to make changes happen.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:16 AM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Man I've been chewing on a lot of this stuff the last few years, yeah. I think the social media question is a complicated one, partly because as Freyja and sunset said above signaling is still signaling and it has value even if it's a low-stakes kind of action.

For me I think the key is it doesn't have to be a binary of post visible support vs don't; it's a question of, like the article says, not letting that be the end of your efforts or activism, and also I think it's about the quality and content of that social media activism.

There's posting to a hashtag in solidarity, and then there's posting resources and calls to action to give folks who follow you something to do next besides just faving your post.

There's saying Black Lives Matter, and then there's talking about what that means and why and what you're going to do about it and why its the responsibility of folks in your feed to take action too and how they can get started.

There's saying read black authors, and then there's putting black authors, their writing, their titles, their links, right there for folks to get to.

Whatever the overall balance someone's going to strike in terms of publicly vs privately doing the work, I think when posting that getting away from the slacktivist "i said the motto, i'm good on allying now" habit and really making an effort where possible to make your signals also signal boosts and concrete calls to action helps a lot.

Call out people in real life

Yeah. This is something I struggle with not so much for being unwilling to call people out but because the circumstances of my life are such that it's rare I'm in a position to do that in an off-line context. I'm a work-from-home homebody, my friends are pretty universally solidly ethical and aligned with social justice causes, the parts of my family I have any communication with at all are likewise pretty solid. I end up calling in friends and family now and then when they get into sketchy territory on the details, and even then it tends more to be a discussion than an intervention, but most of the people who are technically in my family and would need pushback aren't actually in my life at all. It leaves me feeling sometimes like I'm on island where I'm not doing the work other people have to because there's no good bridge access for jerks.

But I do a ton of interaction online, and one of the things I've been trying to think about is where it is possible for me to show up and do the work that I have been sometimes choosing not to. I want to spend time on MeFi because I know folks are pretty well aligned with where I want to be on this stuff. And I think it's really important to note that in large part over the years it's me who has become better aligned with what folks here have been trying to say and do, and it's benefited me enormously in that respect. For all the work we need to do and I need to do still, this place is my home and it is a place I can more or less trust folks to be trying to do the right thing even if we fail or fall short an awful lot.

But MeFi isn't the whole internet, and as much as I remind myself it's not my job to moderate everywhere else I go, I think one of the things I can do is put at least some energy into making the same effort and the same arguments I make here and have learned here into other places, even just as a voice in the crowd, instead of noping out of those spaces entirely.

The last few days I've spent time for the first time in years on the NextDoor group for my neighborhood and North Portland in general, and I've been...having those tiring fucking conversations I come here to avoid. I am taking the lessons I've learned working here and using that practice and sense of principle and ability to communicate firmly and I am being a nuisance in the best way I can. If that gets some of the local neighbors to open their eyes about their white NIMBY pro-cop racism, great, i'll talk it out with them. If it makes them feel unwelcome bringing that out on the board, that's fine too. And in any case it won't just be people of color in the neighborhood having to respond to that shit, or see nobody else responding. It's something, and it's local.

When I was in college, I would go online looking for fights for the sake of fighting. When I grew up a little, I got tired of that and spent time on MeFi looking for conversation. A couple decades later, that conversation and the lessons of moderating here have given me the practice and skill and endurance to turn myself outward. It's probably time for me to put a little more effort into picking the fights that are worth fighting in my neighborhood, online and off.

I don't know what the fuck I'm doing! I'm uncomfortable all the time!

Yep, this. It's hard to accept the discomfort is a normal and basically helpful part of the process. It's been hard for me to really work through and accept in my work on MeFi, and I'm never gonna be done working through that because I'm a pretty conflict-avoidant person in general and it turns out prone to some pretty massive and disabling anxiety to boot when it gets out of hand. But it's part of making progress, and it's part of not being paralyzed by fear of fucking up, of fear of discomfort.

And it's partly a matter of practice. I've been on either end of some pretty uncomfortable conversations in the last few years, and it doesn't stop being uncomfortable but I'm getting used to letting that discomfort be part of the texture of a conversation instead of overwhelming my ability to have that conversation. And that feels good, the way a muscle getting stronger feels good the fiftieth time you do some exercise and can feel it getting easier. It can be hard have faith at first that that'll happen, but it's heartening when it does.
posted by cortex at 2:01 PM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

The question of what is merely performative and what is providing a helpful public signal has layers.

Imagine that someone cares about a cause in their heart but isn't planning to donate because it's not in their budget. But then they find out if they give a certain amount, they can wear blue jeans on Friday at the office, so they give the minimum amount because they don't want to be the only person not in jeans.

Imagine that someone is planning a major gift because they really care about a cause, and they request anonymity because they don't want to flaunt their generosity. But then the fundraiser asks if they would consider making their name public after all, because then a matching amount can be raised from others who might not otherwise have donated.

It doesn't have to be donations, though, it can be any action in support of a cause. If I read a book by a Black author and share which book and which author and rave about how great it is, it might not be obvious whether I'm doing that because I genuinely loved the book and wanted to share, or because I want everyone to admire how woke I am that I read books by Black authors, or some other reason or mix of reasons.

And that's why it's deadly. The kind of actions that are publicly visible, that my woke friends might applaud me for, might be all that I'm willing to do, or maybe they're the tip of the iceberg of all that I'm doing. It's hard to tell from outside. When a Black person needs me to really go to the mat for them, can they trust me to show up and get it done, or am I going to flake out? If all they've seen from me is some woke social media posts or some donations or whatever it may be, then I'm a Schroedinger's ally. Will I or won't I show up in the tough times?
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:14 PM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Sorry, individual stories of one person acting really badly while calling out racism are unfortunate, but let's not let that distract from the core discussion here.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:21 PM on June 4, 2020

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