productive social justice
August 4, 2012 8:10 PM   Subscribe

How can I assert my support of issues that matter to me without going hog wild and kicking a lot of people out of my life?

Lately a lot of things in my life have sort of pushed my social justice buttons to the nth degree. I'm more sensitive to homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, etc, than I've ever been in my entire life. Usually I have a pretty productive approach to these things and deal with hot button moments fairly well; now, with all the buzz about Chick-Fil-A filling my newsfeed on a daily basis, a big part of me wants to declare to the people in my life that if they support bigotry and hate of that nature, we're through as friends.

I really want to take a stand against the things that I've listed above, but I worry that me having a knee-jerk reaction is just not a productive way of handling my strong emotions right now. How can I assert my support of the issues that matter to me and satisfy that need without going hog wild and kicking a lot of people out of my life?
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Human Relations (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it would help to dig into the motivations that fuel those with opposing opinions. People I love have a wide diversity of political opinion, much of which I abhor. But I consciously try to remember that none of those people are inherently bad or evil. Often their views are motivated by fear of change, mostly change to a system that has served them well. It doesn't make it ok, and I frequently engage in dialogue to that end. But you're not perfect either.

My mantra is: positive change (especially for equality) is an inevitable wave. I wish it were faster, but fifteen years from now we will look back on this era in wonderment that we could ever have so systematically denied civil rights to a minority.

If you can stomach it, try reading Fox News or the WSJ. Once you get past the inevitable rage blackouts (I swear Fox raises my blood pressure; WSJ, less so) you can tease out the reasoning behind the opinions. It's also just interesting to see what they cover vs. liberal media. The more we can find middle ground, the less risk we run of being separated into two really oddly-shaped countries.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:21 PM on August 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Detach from your social media, and from the constant attention to the news cycle that is blowing this stupid Chick Fil A thing up. Just step away from all that for a couple of days. The intensity is partly a produce of being so plugged-in.

If you want to cut people out of your life, of course that's ok, and sometimes we need to do that.

But if you have friends and family who are basically good people and who play a positive role in your life, it's okay to keep them in your life even if they have political or social views you disagree with. There is a lot to be said for an approach of "I love you, we can talk about most things with ease and affection, but there are a few topics where we are never going to see eye to eye, and that's okay."

You can take positive steps to advance your causes without breaking off worthwhile personal relationships. Call your elected representatives and register your opinions with them on issues that matter. Donate your time and money to organizations working for the causes you favor.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:25 PM on August 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

Stay friends with them. They need to be exposed. If you defriend them, there is more of an echo chamber.
posted by k8t at 8:36 PM on August 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

now, with all the buzz about Chick-Fil-A filling my newsfeed on a daily basis, a big part of me wants to declare to the people in my life that if they support bigotry and hate of that nature, we're through as friends.

Do you feel as though they're purposely pushing your buttons because they know it bugs you? If so, feel free to respond in kind or disengage from them so that you have some peace. If not, maybe block their feeds so they don't annoy you so much or skip past them?

People are dumbasses. George W. Bush proved to me that they'll support torture, resentment of learning, stupid wars, and knee-jerk outrage against gays in exchange for a hug and a tax cut. Take it in stride. They're all just people trying to get by and looking for a sense of belonging.

Or, if you're particularly cynical, take heed to the words of the Stoic philosopher Seneca:
A physician is not angry at the intemperance of a mad patient, nor does he take it ill to be railed at by a man in fever. Just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant.
posted by deanc at 8:42 PM on August 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Detach from your social media, and from the constant attention to the news cycle that is blowing this stupid Chick Fil A thing up. Just step away from all that for a couple of days. The intensity is partly a produce of being so plugged-in.

I totally agree. I mean, I'm fervently for equal rights, and now that I've read the backstory of the whole ChickFilA thing I'm even less inclined to eat there (not that it's an actual question for me; the nearest location is a few hours away). But the reality is that equal rights are steadily advancing, and the people shouting and making noise about how they support CFA are firmly on the losing side in the long run.

In other words, if your real goal here is advancing equal rights, will it help to flame out and scream at people AND TYPE IN ALL CAPS, or to take a different approach?
posted by Forktine at 8:45 PM on August 4, 2012

Is it just me or is Chick Fil-A the moment when straight people took personal risks en masse on behalf of gay issues? Maybe just sort of silly risks like defriending people on Facebook, but it's a fascinating tipping point.

One of my straight friends called me out of the blue the other night to ask me how I handle reading stuff like that on FB. I told him that mostly I don't engage in that stuff. Or I unsubscribe them without defriending them. Big public confrontations end poorly because when you call someone out in public they often just dig in their heels, and they have a lot of their other friends rallying to their defense.

Best to send just a small personal message to remind them that you're included in their audience when they post things like that, and that you find it incredibly insulting and aggravating, and that it's going to be a long political season so maybe they'd better just cool it before they start losing friends over some dumb shit.
posted by hermitosis at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a friend who posted something along the following lines to Facebook:

"If you are regularly posting in support of anti-gay causes, or otherwise working against full legal and social quality for LGBTQ people, I will unfriend you on Facebook. This does not mean we can't be civil to one another, it doesn't mean that we can't continue to be guests at the same parties, it doesn't mean that we will never speak again. But this is the pre-eminent civil rights struggle of our time, and I am willing neither spend all my life arguing nor sitting on my hands and letting this bigoted garbage pass without comment. So now you know."
posted by KathrynT at 8:59 PM on August 4, 2012 [37 favorites]

I tend to eat a lot of shit at work, only occasionally speaking up. It sucks, but I do like eating. In my personal life though, I tend to follow the Yo, Is This Racist school of thought. Yelling at people. Some people I yelled at shaped up. Some just left my life. It worked well for me either way.
posted by Garm at 9:28 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that may help is to remind yourself that just because other people don't care about something at the same level as you do doesn't mean that they don't care at all - and you are actually the one being closeminded and intolerant by insisting that their priorities match yours.

For example, one of my best friends is a Republican. He's not socially conservative at all (in fact, he's a Buddhist and supports gay rights) so I asked him one day how he could support the Republican party when they are so intolerant. His response was that while he cares about gay rights, he cares about the economy more - because "rights" don't mean a thing in the world compared to people being unemployed and starving. While I disagree with his analysis of how to fix the economy, I can't fault his logic.

Similarly, I care about social justice issues, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I care at a level of 2. My major passion is the environment, which I care about at a level of 9. After all, it's not going to matter if gay people can marry in 20 years if the entire planet is a smouldering wasteland. If I judged you to be a bad human being simply because you don't care about the environment as much as I do and would rather focus on social issues, I'd be a pretty intolerant and close-minded person, wouldn't I? But that's exactly what you're becoming when you draw hard boundaries like that - an intolerant person who's incapable of reapecting other points of view.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:29 PM on August 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

talk. calmly and rationally. be sure you know what you're talking about. step away when you can't be chill. for a few days, even, as others have said.

but use any privilege you have to help those who don't have it, when you're able to. talk. have polite conversations. use logic. call out bullshit. thank you.
posted by woodvine at 9:32 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: and please don't fall for the 'tolerance' argument. you don't have to tolerate intolerance. if both sides were to agree to disagree, one of those sides would walk away with full equal rights as citizens and humans, and one of those sides would not. this is not a level playing field.
posted by woodvine at 9:35 PM on August 4, 2012 [29 favorites]

1. nthing the advice to detach from social media (and least for political stuff) and the news media. I've done this for the most part, and I feel much happier as a result.

2. I think you can take a stand by constructively expressing your opinions, while still being present in the lives of people who don't agree with you. I have rarely seen opinions changed by confrontation or bridge burning (especially when there are "sides"), but I have seen that happen by slow, persistent exposure.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:47 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the best way to participate is to give money to the causes that agree with you.
posted by rhizome at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hide them from your feed. If you click on someone's profile, then the more-options button, there should be an option that says "Unsubscribe." This will hide their posts from your feed. This option has been vital to maintaining my friendly work relationships.
posted by a hat out of hell at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2012

You know there are those people in the family that everyone avoids talking to about politics or whatever because they are so opinionated? And you get pressure not to disagree with them because they're older or your cousins father or a guest or whatever? I say screw that, I'm 35 years old, I pay taxes and I'll have whatever opinion I want. I don't need to be a polite little girl or defer to the elderly and the menfolk. I'm not an ass and I don't bring stuff up but I'll not back on expressing my disapproval if someone offends me either. People figure that out pretty quick and they stop saying things that I will find offensive in my presence. In effect I've become the one who sets the tone in my house, in my office and in my space and at other people's houses or in their space they at least respect my beliefs enough to watch their mouths. That includes my parents, siblings and coworkers. So it's possible, but not if you want everyone to agree with you all the time. Then you should move to a hippy town on the West Coast!
posted by fshgrl at 10:01 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's the downside to losing some friends over things you feel strongly about? I certainly don't agree with all of my friends about everything, at all, but I have a pretty zero-tolerance approach for bigotry. Especially if it's about my civil rights, and they're saying it in front of me. I don't see what the value is, for me, to stay connected to anyone on fb who doesn't think I should be able to get married, for example, and is willing to say it in front of me. I don't need that in my life. They can think it, believe it, say it, fine, but I don't need to read it. I also don't think that fb or twitter have much value as a medium for having in-depth political discussions, so am not likely to engage someone on their wall. In a message/email, maybe.

That doesn't really address your concern about how to express yourself withOUT kicking people out of your life, I know, but I know that I feel better when I limit my exposure to people like that.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:22 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I personally unsubscribe from updates and postings from people who have Terribly Objectionable Opinions, though I don't unfriend them fully. That way they are free to drivel on as they like and we can remain in contact, but I don't have to see their terrible opinions all up in my shit.

I also have an anonymous Tumblr unrelated to any of my social media accounts, account names, etc., where I can safely and peacefully spew my leftist propaganda and vitriol.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:29 PM on August 4, 2012

For me, it's all about who these people are to me, in my life.

Friendships wherein the bulk of our contact is via Facebook? Hide, unsubscribe, and/or defriend. These people are not close enough to me that I feel I need to expose myself to their hateful political ideals.

Coworkers? This is a category where I tend to suck it up unless I know we can have a fruitful discussion. Or unless the person is saying something so fucked up that I cannot let it stand (e.g. bald-faced racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, etc).

Genuine friends? Maybe this is "echo chamber" of me, but most of my close friends at least roughly correspond to my political views. I tend to speak up on politics among friends because, by and large, we can have conversations about issues without being oppositional.

Family? I do a lot of biting my tongue, picking my battles, and figuring out which hills I'm willing to die on. There is a lot of, "Hey guys, let's not talk about global warming right now, OK?" at the Thanksgiving table. Again, though, when something is specifically bigoted, I'll stand my ground.
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 PM on August 4, 2012

I'm lucky enough not to have anything on the wrong side of these issues showing up in my social media feeds, but if I did, I would ...

1) Disengage from / unfriend people who don't matter that much and who wouldn't care much what I think anyway.
2) Consider dropping non-debatable comments on people who might care what I think (frowny faces, oblique jokes, links to factual counterpoints, etc.), but probably just hide their feeds.
3) Probably not debate anyone, but for the folks who're most on board with, you know, the Enlightenment, boil the issue down to one statement with as little attack surface as possible, leave it as a drive-by, and move on.
4) Possibly increase the number of really good articles on the issue that I link to myself, since I'd obviously have a relevant audience.

Basically, my assumption is that critique is generally going to fail in its aim of getting someone to change their mind. The best thing people usually take away is that someone rational disagreed with them. And you can do that very simply without blasting everyone and kicking them out of your life.

Not that there's anything really wrong with that either.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:38 PM on August 4, 2012

I like KathrynT's friend's statement if you want to make one. I like it A LOT.

I liked everyone who cautioned remaining calm and civil, keeping the lines of communication more or less open.

But if you want to make a statement that clearly states, "I'm not OK with bigotry or disenfranchising my fellow humans," than post your feelings where people can see it!

I think this is a good cause to get behind. Don't make it like you are against anyone (because that would be a bit of irony, eh?) but DO state it's good an just to make sure every human being on Earth has the same rights and freedoms.

It's a process. Things are changing for the better. I'm super glad to notice that things are changing:)
posted by jbenben at 11:41 PM on August 4, 2012

I was once sitting around listening to someone spout a fairly offensive opinion when someone in our group said mildly, "Wow, I am really surprised that someone with your background would think that." And then went on to point out what he thought was wrong with it. With "your background" he was referring to the fact that the other guy graduated from law school, and the discussion involved the law. But what I took away was the idea of saying, "I'm really surprised to hear that you think that."

So that's what I do now. One of my friends says he is for the death penalty for what I think are incredibly poorly thought-out reasons. I happen to think it's possible for a rational person to be for the death penalty, but not in its current form or for the reasons my friend gives. So we've had discussions about it, and I've found out his reasons for feeling that way, and I can live with it although it seems totally off base to me.

I think Facebook and mass emails are another story, because generally it's not a conversation and you're not being invited to respond. My issue is usually not with close friends but with family members who are apt to forward or favorite stupid things. I usually reserve judgment until they actually say or write something along those lines.
posted by BibiRose at 6:34 AM on August 5, 2012

Nth-ing detaching from the media immersion. You'll be amazed by how well you can still stay informed even though you aren't frequenting sites.

As an anecdote, I have a good friend who is relatively new to the internet (as in "has only been online for a handful of years") He tends to saturate himself in every possible liberal/progressive opinion and news site possible. Visiting him has become an ordeal as every conversation tends to circle around to a litany of reasons I should be appalled/angry/incensed/ at what conservatives are up to now. It's just constantly "grar!!!grar!!!grar!!!" with an aggressive insistence that I be equally "grar!!!grar!!!grar!!!" I try to avoid visiting him as much as possible.

So, yeah, detach and try to moderate before you become that guy.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:47 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

For my more vocal friends on Facebook, specifically those who are lathering at the mouth over their support for Chick-Fil-A, I changed their friendship status so that I only see their 'important' status updates. We're still 'friends', but amazingly enough I don't miss what they have to say.
posted by matty at 9:06 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been wondering about the same things recently. I use FB to keep in touch with a lot of family, most of whom are deeply conservative. So I've had a lot of "ARGH" moments lately over the CFA blow up and I've been avoiding the knee-jerk reaction but feeling conflicted about it.

This is sort of the direction my thoughts are taking: People's minds don't change in flame wars. It isn't your job to fix what anyone else thinks, but it is your job to live out your values.

I think living out your values means finding the best possible ways you can spend your energy on the things you care about. Which is probably not engaging in flame wars on FB. I think you can adjust annoying status feeds (as matty suggests) with a clear conscience, put your outrage towards donating and volunteering for reputable organizations, and just quietly but firmly be honest about where you stand. If someone disagrees, you don't owe it to them to engage. You can say "I'm sad that we disagree about this, I love you" and move on.
posted by bunderful at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of good things to think about here! Thank you. I am marking KathrynT's answer as best because it accomplishes what I'd originally hoped to accomplish: letting people know where I stand in a polite but firm way. I too am excited about the changes that are at foot, but I am also very distressed by the number of people in my own life whom I never believed would ever support bigoted practices in the way that they do, and I don't think I'd be doing right by myself and the things I believe in if I didn't, as woodvine noted, let these people know that I don't tolerate intolerance.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:43 AM on August 5, 2012

I think it's also important to remember to avoid getting more-activist-than-thou.

Wolfdreams01 makes a good point, but it's on a bit of a simplistic scale. How this actually tends to play out in real life is: maybe some people are anti-racist, but also a bit sexist. Maybe people are pro-GLBT rights, but are not as solid on disability rights.

If you cut off from those people because they're not as hardcore as you, you're leaving them only one direction to go : down. You're losing them as allies on all the other stuff you care about - and having the side effect of making sure they won't ever change their mind.
posted by corb at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Nah this definitely isn't a game of who's the bigger activist. I hate that game and have worked hard never to get into a pissing contest with people over who is doing the most to help move the world forward towards happier, more equitable times. This is really about me realizing that a lot of the people in my life are revealing their true selves lately and what I'm seeing isn't making me feel like it'll be worthwhile to be friends with them anymore.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:20 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Living in Atlanta, I have this all the time. I've endured ultra-Christian-conservative politics discussion at a birthday dinner. I just quietly said, "Sometimes it's hard to be the only Democrat." Basically, I didn't need to cause a scene or even outright disagree with all the stupid shit I was hearing, I just needed to let everyone know that I was uncomfortable, and since, although they all have weird opinions, because they are nice people, and we are friends, the subject was changed.

Husbunny's cousin is an annoying born-again, (although lovely in other respects). My favorite thing that happened was he said something dumb about gay kids at the mall and before I could decide if I should step in and say something, setting off a family bomb, my MOTHER-IN-LAW told him off on Facebook.

Just remember that while you don't agree with your friends and family, you do have affection for them and love them for their other qualities.

If you're asked, by all means be calm and state your opinion, but no need to try to school people. No more than you'd appreciate being schooled by them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Engage in thoughtful, meaningful dialogue. Listen, and listen some more. Respect the feelings of the talker.

If Auntie Jane makes a racist comment, ask her, "What's up with that, Auntie?" You don't have to be very disapproving, the mere act of questioning lets people know they've overstepped the boundaries. Maybe Auntie Jane has stories to share, or knows better and has had a lapse into old habits. If so, tell her "I love you Auntie Jane, and you're part of my life, and I get startled when you say something like that, because I know you're a loving person."

My family became a lot less homophobic when a family member came out as gay. Thoughtful interactions with people we love are more persuasive than lectures.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on August 6, 2012

Response by poster: I'm still thinking about this, and I wanted to ask if this feels like it would be an okay thing to post up on FB:

"I've been thinking about this for a long time, wrestling with whether or not it's something that I want to be public about or whether I really want to make an issue of it, but I have decided that I cannot not comment on it. I want to come out and say that I am categorically and most emphatically against everything that Chick-Fil-A stands for, and I cannot abide by the intolerance and the hate that its fans and supporters continue to dish out under the false guise of what they think is "free speech". What is being *said* and *done* by Chick-Fil-A and its most ardent fans actively promotes acts of denigration, abuse, and subjugation of the GLBTQ community, and I would not be able to live with myself if I didn't come out and say that I find support of that company and its associated bodies unconscionable.

I respect that many of you are Christians, and that as such you do not agree with the premise of homosexuality in any forum, and I will not ask you to agree to disagree, because I feel that is the ultimate cop out for both of us and what we believe. What I will not respect is being asked to tolerate intolerance, and that is why I want to let it be known now that if you are regularly posting in support of anti-gay causes, or otherwise working against full legal and social equality for LGBTQ people, I will unfriend you on Facebook and other forms of social media. This does not mean that I do not like you as a person, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t speak again or can’t hang out or whatever. It just means that I am not willing to spend my time arguing with you about what you post, nor am I willing to let such bigoted remarks and actions pass without comment. Thank you."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:43 PM on August 11, 2012

I am categorically and most emphatically against everything that Chick-Fil-A stands for

You're against chicken? That seems a bit extreme.

Elsewise, just silently unfriend people or block their stuff from appearing on your wall. You don't have to rage-quit. I can almost guarantee you that if you post this, your sense of "hey but we can still hang out" will prove delusional and will not be rewarded. However, that might just give you more ammo, right? "See? I knew they were small-minded. Now they don't want to talk or hang out just because I told everyone I thought they were abusive intolerant bigots."
posted by rhizome at 2:59 PM on August 11, 2012

Response by poster: Not to split hairs, but I'm a vegetarian, so yes, I am against Chick-Fil-A from that standpoint.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:06 PM on August 11, 2012

Best answer: The sentiment is good, but in the context of FB, it's probably TL;DR. If you want to give these people notice, make it short and sweet rather than a EULA for being your friend. I wonder too if the topicality of CFA per se is a little last week such that this would be better as a generic pro-LGBT / anti-froth message. Good luck.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:22 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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