Why another blog, in addition to the book? Why now? Why should you read this, and why in the hell would I want to take the time to write it? Or to step into the internet Hellmouth that writing it necessitates?
These are all the questions I was asking myself this past weekend, as this idea started to materialize.
I’ll be honest: I think it’s a bad idea. It’s just that it’s a bad idea I think a lot of you will support me in following through on. An outlet a lot of you are looking for. A venting space, or just an “it’s not just me” space, that a lot of you have written in saying you need. I definitely need it.
Give me a second to explain what I want to do here, then I’ll explain how I ended up here.
What I’ll Be Posting Here
Every time there is some huge thing in the news, even if it’s just in my super-siloed version of “news”, something that explodes in Social Justice Land, I grab my phone. I text friends, colleagues, collaborators, fellow activists, educators, and public thinker types.
Anyone I trust, who I trust will be as intrigued to dive into the topic as I am. Who is willing to go down the rabbit hole and see where we come out.
“Have you seen The Letter?", was something I wrote a messaged a few people last week.
“Fuck. Yes. Your take?????", replied one friend, a feminist activist I’ve been friends with for half a decade now.
And then we get into it.
These conversations often go to helpful places. Or uncover prickly points I didn’t see at first glance. Or are, at their worse, still helpful, because I’m not alone beating my head against a wall. I’m doing it with a buddy!
They’re always engaged with low ego, high passion, an excitement to learn or explore, a willingness to be wrong, and a passion to figure out what’s right.
They are also – always, by necessity, implicitly, and with a looming threat of (literal) violence – secret. I’d never post identifiable transcripts of those messages, even with a friend’s consent, because only bad would come from that.
A lot more led to chapters in my Problematic Activism book.
But most of them never see the light of day. The live and die in iMessage, or on Slack, or Facetime.
I say, “You’ve had your fill, Death.” Those conversations, as I’m having them, will have a new life. Here. On this blog.
I’ll write about the topical, zeitgeist-possessed, hot-button-issue things cropping up in Social Justice Land – as they’re happening. A few times a week, I’ll dig into a big issue, point out the dogmatic or otherwise unhelpful ways it’s being passed around, and – when we’re lucky and I’m caffeinated – toss a potential alternative into the ring for consideration. Something that might work, or work better. At the very least, something that won’t hurt.
Then, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile before my book comes out, when it comes out you’ll say, “I know exactly what that’s about!”
And if you end up here after reading my book, looking for more examples, non-hypothetical manifestations of the demons I’m exorcising in the text, you’ll be able to say, “Oh! That’s what that was all about.”
(Yes, I, of course, was referring to this letter. But you probably know that. Or! Maybe! More likely, I’m realizing, you don’t. For your sake I hope you don’t. And that’s another reason for this blog.)
I’m Very Online Enough for Both Of Us
In response to a controversial, doesn’t-make-anyone-happy-other-than-people-I-ideologically-disagree-with article about #DefundThePolice I wrote last week, I got one of my favorite emails I’ve received in a long time. (In coronavirus years, I’d say this was my favorite email I’ve read in over sixty decades.)
In it, the reader said, essentially (loose paraphrase):
“Dear Sam, I’m an old queer activist. I have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about here. I had never heard of #8CantWait, or any of this bullshit. But I appreciate what you’re doing in spirit and I’ll keep reading anyway.”
I took a LOT of liberties with that paraphrase. But the gist of it, and part of what I loved, I interpreted as this person basically saying, “Sam, you are way too online, and you’re entirely not aware of how much we, your readers, are not.”
(Oh, and btw, I will be anonymously quoting people here. A lot. I’ll also be paraphrasing. And sometimes I’ll just sum up the part of what someone said that I want to respond to with a really loose “paraphrase.” In every case, I’ll letcha know what I’m doing.)
It’s true. I’m very online. Sometimes this is unhelpful and masochistic.
For example, when there’s a trend online related to social justice (or anti-social-justice) that I spend a lot of time investigating, that never translates into “real life.” Something that is birthed, lives, and dies on some nightmare-inducing message board.
But sometimes it’s helpful and masochistic.
Because a lot of what happens online ends up influencing what we do offline. Most of the pervasive dogmatic, problematic activism, for example, can be traced to a message board, or viral tweet, or YouTube video.
So I’ll take one for the team.
I’ll venture into the worst, most frustrating, and generally painful corners of the internet, so you don’t have to. And I’ll write about it here.
How’d I End Up Here? (And, therefore, YOU end up here?)
I know you’re here because of me, to a degree. I feel both guilty and grateful for that. Guilty because everything about this project is stress-inducing. Grateful for someone to help share the burden.
For my part, I’ve been talking, thinking, and lamenting about social justice dogma for several years now. Several. YEARS. Wow. That’s a trip to write.
The first conversations I had about this happened at conferences. After a panel, talking with another speaker. Or in the lobby, when an attendee would catch me after a talk. So much has changed since then, not even counting the global pandemic, world being on fire, or murder hornets.
Those conversations turned into a failed nightmare of a podcast (maybe being revived? uh oh. spoilers?). That podcast turned into an online course that’s connected me with thousands more of you. And that course, after a few months, turned into a book. That’s Problematic Activism, the eponymous book of this site.
I’ve done a smattering of writing about social justice dogma, and problematic activism more broadly, in a bunch of places over the years, but none of them were the right fit.
IPM, for example, is a bad spot to publish what I’ll be writing here. That’s a site where millions of people find resources and dip their toes into social justice activism. Everything I’m going to be writing here is assuming (1) this isn’t your first rodeo, and (2) you’ve seen someone gored by the bull, and realize the clowns in the barrels might not be working as well as we thought they were working.
To say that non-matadorically, I won’t explain Privilege Theory or Intersectionality Theory here, for example, if I’m writing a post about someone applying those ideas. Further, this blog will be for people who have already started to witness the shortcomings of social justice activism in their life – firsthand.
A lot of people aligning themselves with the social justice movement are so insulated by social-media-filtered echo chambers, they haven’t experienced the pushback of trying to take an idea of how to advance equity and put it into practice.
Everything I’ll be writing will be informed by over a decade of facilitating workshops and trainings for social justice, keynoting and speaking at hundreds of conferences, organizing activism campaigns in dozens of countries, writing curricula and articles and books, and reading hundreds of thousands of emails from activists. It’s safe to say that I have experienced pushback. And more than that, I’ve seen lots of ideas go out in the world and try to become practice.
In everything I write, I’ll be assuming the Social Justice 101 is covered, that you’ve ventured out into Social Justice Land and witnessed pushback (either firsthand or on the sidelines), and we can jump right into it.
A Few Rules (big asterisk here)
I want you to hold me to the following, and I’ll be doing what I can to hold you to these rules as well:
1. No doxxing, naming & shaming, or otherwise rallying a mob to attack Frankenstein’s Monster.
Do you find it really annoying (or, tbh, pretty douchey) when people are like, “Um, actually, it was Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster that they chased with pitchforks. Not ‘Frankenstein.’ He was the doctor.”
Hi, I’m Sam. I’m one of those d-bags. But there’s a reason! And it applies to social justice! (#praxis)
Here’s the thing, y’all: everyone hated the Monster, and the Monster was subjected to the vitriol, torch-mobs, and violence. But it wasn’t the Monster’s fault! He was the victim! On the other hand, Dr. Frankenstein was – shall we say – the real monster? 🧐 🤔
Alright, intro to literatary analysis aside, the (obvious) point stands, and it applies (in a less obvious way) to social justice activism: we shouldn’t be attacking the creation, or byproduct, of an unjust, oppressive system. We should be attacking the system.
I’ve written about this before under the guise of "-isms not -ists”, and I’ll be doing it a lot here. When you notice that I don’t name names, this will be why, 99% of the time.
2. Public thinking means public mistaking.
I’ll test out ideas here, and some of them (maybe a lot of them – I hope not most of them!) will be bad. To accomplish the goals of the social justice movement, we’ll need to create a future unlike anything the planet as ever experienced. That requires big, bold, and otherwise-unvetted ideas.
We need more space in the social justice movement for ideating, dreaming, theoretical risk-taking, and this will be a space for that. If I share a bad idea, I’ll update it and make it better, or I’ll just straight up banish it from the interwebs. I don’t want to do harm here, but I need to be able to take risks.
I need your help! Tell me how my ideas are bad. Point out what I’m missing. Explain how I could have argued it better if you agree, but think my case fell short.
I’ll be forever open to constructive criticism. I just ask that you’re willing to go out on a limb with me to get somewhere we’ve never been, knowing we’ll fall more often than we’ll make it.
To respond, my Twitter is linked below every post (for public responses and convos), and there’s a “reply” button (which will take you to an anonymous google form). Use whichever you prefer.
*The Big Asterisk
I reserve the right to change these rules whenever I want, if I think it will better help us accomplish our goal: which, to say it now because I haven’t said it before, is to advance us toward living social justice.
And you, of course, may reserve the right to peace tf out of here and never come back if you don’t dig what I’m doing.
But I hope you’ll stick around. If so, I’ll be writing another post for you on Thursday.
Start a Conversation
If you read along, even if you just read this intro, I hope you’ll use this blog as a starting place for a conversation with people in your real life (social distancing permitting, of course).
Text a friend about something I shared here, call a colleague or classmate, post an open question on social media asking for input from social justice people in your life.
Social justice dogma itself is spreading like a virus, while any conversations about it directly – why it might be harmful, how we’re getting in our own way – are stunted. One of the first essays I wrote for the Problematic Activism book was about how talking about social justice dogma is anti-viral. I still believe this to be the case, in both senses of the phrase:
It’s hard to start a conversation about dogma, that’s true. It’s also true that as soon as you do, you take away some of its power. In my experience so far, talking openly about it, thoughtfully, is enough to unravel it.
Conversation got us into this. It has the power to get us out.