Tag Archives: ally

Why the ‘Activism vs. Slacktivism’ Debate is Irrelevant

Activism vs. Slacktivism

Social media campaigns have been widely critiqued for reducing activism to hitting the retweet button or sharing a Facebook post. This article suggests that slacktivism can be counter-productive, as sharing on social media might lead you to feel like you’ve done your part and absolve you of the responsibility to do any more. Similarly, Sarah Ross challenges her readers to be critical when they see online activism and asks, “are you willing to go further than the click of your mouse?” Zachary Sellers is also a critic of social media campaigns, claiming that they are ineffective, that they spin messages to their advantage, and that they are more about advertising than action.

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Photo Credit: Elijah via Compfight cc

I think these critiques are valid and often true, which makes me critical of my own participation in social media campaigns. Is my retweeting and online support always backed up by concrete action? And does it always need to be? Isn’t is also important to speak out about issues to show that they are important and need to be addressed? I know that what I choose to say (and not say) sends a message, so I wonder about the implications of refusing to participate in social media campaigns. Does that silence send the message that those causes are not important? These are questions I’m still wrestling with, and I welcome feedback in the comments section below.

Despite criticisms, it is obvious that some social media campaigns have been critical in raising awareness of issues, creating discussion, generating political will, and bringing about action. 40 million tweets from #BlackLivesMatter were analyzed and found to have been essential in driving conversation about race, criminal justice, and police brutality. The #BlackGirlMagic movement has led to debate, discussion, and supportive communities, which has furthered the topic of representation of Black girls. #MMIW has been used to share stories and to put pressure on the government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

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Vigil for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women on Parliament Hill, Oct. 2015

Photo Credit: patimbeau via Compfight cc

So, the main distinction between powerful social media activism and ‘slacktivism’ that I’ve seen emphasized is that online activism is powerful only when coupled with real world activism. I wonder about this. Is it like a formula?  

social media campaigns + real world action = meaningful activism?

I’m not so sure.

Problematic Real World Action

Although I understand the importance of retweets being backed by real action, I think it’s also important to point out that “real world action” can also be problematic. Volunteering and charity work can sometimes perpetrate racist, sexist, classist, ableist attitudes and reproduce stereotypes about the very people the work is supposed to be helping.

Examples of this:

Recently, 5 Days for the Homeless took place at the University of Regina. For this campaign, five students slept outside for five nights to raise awareness about homelessness and to collect donations for Carmichael Outreach. It faced a great deal of criticism for sensationalizing homelessness and reproducing stereotypes about homeless people. You can read Carmichael’s response to these critiques here.

My point here is that the activism vs. slacktivism debate is basically irrelevant, as both online and offline activism can be equally problematic and oppressive. Instead of choosing sides, we should be critical of all types of activism campaigns so that we can work to break down oppression and avoid contributing to it. I will be the first to acknowledge that we will often fall short, make mistakes, and contribute to oppression without meaning to. The important thing is acknowledging this when it happens and not say things like: “But I didn’t mean to reproduce stereotypes about homeless people…” or “But I was only trying to help those poor children in Africa!”

Good intentions don’t matter when they are coupled with oppressive actions. In order to do anti-oppressive work, we have to acknowledge our implicitness in oppression and work against it at every turn. This means being critical of ourselves and the way we structure or take part in activism campaigns, in both online and offline spaces. 

So how do we move to meaningful activism (online or offline)?

I’m not pretending that I know exactly how we do this or that there are clear steps to “doing activism right.” But I think the most important thing here is that we must operate in solidarity with the people we are advocating for.

Whether it’s through participating in social media campaigns online or taking action in face-to-face spaces, we need to focus on the experiences of those who are marginalized. Instead of focusing on ourselves – our feelings, our good intentions, the cookies we receive – we need to make marginalized voices and stories the driving force behind the work we do. If we don’t listen to these voices and stories, how can we understand the issue or know what work needs to be done?

We need to continuously educate ourselves on the issue we are working against but not expect those who are marginalized to do the educating. They already have enough burdens without us making it their responsibility to teach us about the oppression they face. We also need to continuously educate those who share our identity. For me, that might mean engaging White people in conversations about race or engaging able-bodied people in conversations about how disability simulations can reproduce stereotypes.

Many of these ideas about how to move to meaningful activism came from these great articles:

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know by Jamie Utt

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’ by Mia McKenzie

The Case Against ‘Allies” by Mychal Smith

I’ll end with this quote, from Jamie Utt’s professor:

“If you choose to do social justice work, you are going to screw up – a lot. Be prepared for that. And when you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”

These are our responsibilities – to be critical of all the social justice work we do (both online and offline), to focus on and work in solidarity with those we are advocating for, and to learn from our mistakes and do better going forward.

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Moving Towards Reconciliation: Why Planting Trees Is Not Enough

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson 

Originally posted via UR S.T.A.R.S.

What does ‘reconciliation’ actually mean?

Like many, we entered our post-secondary education with limited information about Treaties and the ways in which the two of us are positioned in society as a result of our privilege. We have spent the past three years learning and unlearning alongside mentors (professors) and like-minded peers – all of which has contributed to our personal and professional growth during our time in the Faculty of Education. We established S.T.A.R.S. (Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society) Regina in 2014 as an outlet for our exploration as socially just, anti-oppressive educators.

Despite progression towards change in our hearts and minds, we continue to struggle with the disconnect between thought and action. Yes, we are our own toughest critics; however, it is important to be critical of ourselves because that’s how we will continue working through our privilege/push ourselves to keep doing this work.

We know reconciliation is important, but how can our inner changes translate into outer action?

False Facade

In the work we have done, one thing we have struggled with is our ability to switch off or walk away from the work, especially when it becomes most discomforting. We can do this because of our privilege.

Although performance (meaning the ability to “try on” an identity as an anti-oppressive educator) can be a positive thing, there is a fine line between using performance as a starting point and completely abandoning anti-oppressive work while continuing to receive recognition and praise for it.

For example, although we both believe that meaningfully engaging in ceremony is part of the reconciliation process, there have been many times that we have turned down opportunities to participate because we were “too busy” or had other things to do.

Ultimately, our lists of priorities that prevented us from participating was our privilege in disguise.

Our privilege means that we can say and think things like: I don’t need to go to this; this doesn’t affect me; my life won’t change whether I go or not. Yet, even when we have participated in ceremony the potential to be unaffected by the experience is a reality – we can cut ourselves off from it just enough so that we are not personally affected by it.

What is being an ally?

We would love to be able to say we are allies of our Indigenous friends and colleagues; however, we realize that we cannot give ourselves that status. Showing up to ceremony does not make us allies; putting ourselves in a physical space is not enough. We need to make a consistent effort to authentically work towards reconciliation rather than superficially and periodically visiting the idea – committing to being witnesses, not tourists.

Receiving Cookies

Something else we’ve struggled with is receiving so much praise for our work with S.T.A.R.S. Regina. Noel Starblanket often wears his S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt and often commends our group when he speaks. Our #TreatyEdCamp event was recognized in the Legislative Assembly. Dr. Jennifer Tupper, the Dean of Education, sends out tweets like this:

We are grateful for any recognition we receive, but it is still problematic. Due to our privilege, we are positioned as “good white people” and praised for doing very little. Dr. Michael Cappello calls this kind of praise “receiving cookies.” We’ve been really uncomfortable with being positioned in this way and are unsure of how to respond respectfully.

Moving Forward – ReconciliACTION

This post started with us asking each other:  What have we ACTUALLY done? We provided opportunities for learning through PD events like #ReadtheTRC; we brought teachers together to learn about integrating Treaty Education into all subject areas; we’ve had many conversations about power, privilege, and reconciliation. But what effect is that ACTUALLY having on us and others? How do we move from talk to action?

Although we are still wrestling with these questions, we’ve tried to identify a few of our next steps:

  1. Listen to Indigenous colleagues when they say this is good work. 

Although it’s important to be critical of ourselves, we must be careful to not fall into a cycle of cynicism. We won’t dismiss encouragement and praise from our wonderful allies, but we will not to take it as more than it is. We cannot allow these ‘cookies’ to lead to our complacency or tempt us into apathy. We must remember that our Indigenous allies are happy to see these starting points, but also expect much more from us. While we are grateful for any recognition, the feedback and input of our Indigenous colleagues and friends is most important because they have been directly impacted by this history. It is these relationships that are central to reconciliation and our movement forward.

  1. Start with conversations.

We know they are ‘Calls to Action’, not ‘Calls to Conversation’, however, we need conversation to guide us to the right ways to do this work. As Gary Edwards explained at Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, we know we’re in a time of real change because nobody knows what to do or how to do it.

We also need to have conversations with our peers, colleagues, profs, siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who might not know about the horrific historical injustice, or the painstaking work put into the TRC, or what the Calls to Action mean for reconciliation. Although this conversation may be uncomfortable and difficult, we must commit to it. It’s far too important to remain silent and our silences will not protect us anyway. These truths must be spoken.

  1. Build relationships.

We have often heard, “Reconciliation is about relationships,” but wondered how we could go about springing up relationships out of nowhere. The best we can come up with is putting ourselves in spaces where there is potential for relationship building. We will participate in ceremony and seek out public events, like the lecture by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair and the roundtable discussion Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, where connections and relationships might start to form. We will listen to the advice of Emerging Elder-in-Residence Joseph Naytowhow, who encouraged us to use laughter as a way to enter into relationship.

  1. Take responsibility. Pick a Call to Action and commit to it.

After Sinclair spoke, many people stood up in the lengthy line for the microphone to ask questions that sounded like: “…So what do we do?” to which he replied, “I just wrote a 5000-page report. What are you willing to do?” He urged us to read the report, or at least some of it:

He encouraged us to pick a Call to Action, to work to make it happen, and to never stop.

Sinclair used the metaphor of planting trees to describe the importance of starting to do this work and never stopping. We will not see reconciliation fulfilled in our lifetime; our kids may not see it fulfilled in theirs. But we need to start with planting seeds and teaching our children to water them so that their children might see the saplings and then their children might see the roots deepen, the trunk widen, and the branches fill out. We need to commit to this work for future generations.

We commit to Call to Action #62. We will teach about residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada. We will continually learn how to integrate and utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into our classrooms and we will provide opportunities to help our colleagues do the same.

The Choice

We’ve realized that instead of carrying the weight of undoing colonialism and achieving reconciliation, we need to start with planting seeds. Is planting the seeds enough? Not even close. But we have to start somewhere. And for us, it starts with the decision to commit to this work for the rest of our lives.

We will need help along the way to ensure we do not give in to our privilege, which will tempt us to apathy, to smugness, to being tourists rather than working towards witnessing. Will you challenge us when we set foot there?

 

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is life’s work, and we must choose it every day.