I have a ton of opinions and guess what? You are not required to agree with all of them! You are absolutely entitled to disagree on anything or debate with me. You are also entitled to tell me if I’ve said something unintentionally gross or inaccurate and ask me to change it, or link me to any other voices on this. I’d like to link to posts by others on this topic. Also, this post isn’t necessarily about diversity or diverse book; that’s really not what this specific post was meant for. I have lots of different posts for that too, and I’d like to make more in the future, as diversity is something I’m personally really passionate about!! This is just a slight rant (I guess??) about a trend I’ve noticed recently in social justice communities especially (since I frequent those), but really, every community.
So to start off: I am not against callouts and I am very pro-diversity. This is not a post that will talk about how terrible “those SJWs” are; I think calling out problematic tropes is an important part of reviewing books, especially for me personally. I’m a lesbian with mental health issues, so I am marginalized and I have definitely felt misrepresented after reading certain books. And I’d also like to add that I’m white and therefore do have white privilege! That’s why I will use mostly examples of books that are problematic around lgbt+ rep or mental health rep, because those are what I’m more qualified to speak on. (There will be exceptions, because 90% of the major callouts recently have been for racism.)
But today, I wanted to talk about the ways in which callout culture doesn’t work for me on book twitter and on goodreads.
Let’s Get In To the Actual Post
I’ve noticed this trend recently, after getting unfollowed by a mutual on twitter for trying to be polite to a different person who disagreed with said mutual. There’s a mindset on twitter right now that being polite to people you disagree with is problematic. I’m sorry, but this is such a gross concept. Being polite to someone and treating them with general human decency, even if they’re unknowingly being racist or homophobic, isn’t problematic. General human decency is not fucking problematic!! Ignoring gross things someone says and not mentioning it to them? That could be a sign of privilege, but it’s not what I’m talking about here. Politely explaining something is not problematic. It’s also not always a sign of privilege. I know plenty of people, some of whom I’m friends with, who have unknowingly said homophobic things. I have had to explain to some people, including friends, why what they said was gross. And no, it’s not fun, and no, I don’t blame people who don’t want to spend their days doing that. But the fact that I am willing to speak to occasionally-homophobic people does not mean I hate gay people – it means I’m a lesbian who’s trying to do my best.
I’ve seen many bloggers say that interacting with people who have said problematic things is a sign of privilege. And I don’t totally disagree with that statement; if someone is a ruthless hater of all trans people, obviously they’re not going to form a dialogue with a trans person ever. I almost feel like if you’re in a position of privilege, I think it’s actually good to try and start a dialogue with people who have said gross things. Us people in marginalized positions often can’t, or won’t be heard as loud by those people. So it’s nice to see others trying to engage or talk to them. I know a lot of people disagree with this view, and I GET it – it sucks to see your mutuals interacting with people that you can’t interact with because they automatically hate you. I just feel like I’d really prefer people do advocate for people like me. Claudia Boleyn did a really great video on this as well.
Now, let’s talk about the pros and cons of being nice to racists and homophobes. If someone is being rude and racist to you, you are absolutely not required to be nice to them back – twitter trolls are twitter trolls. But if someone unknowingly says something cissexist, or with homophobic connotations, it’s a lot more productive to tell them without attacking and give them a chance to fix it and apologize, rather than jump on twitter and ask people to report them. Teaching people how to be better, rather than attacking them, and advocating, not slamming, is helpful. Attacking people might show others we care about these issues, but it changes no one’s opinions.
Now, this isn’t always true. There are some people you just can’t reason with. For example: Richard Spencer. I am not advocating for being nice to literal neonazis. If someone wants your entire sexuality or race dead, please do go ahead and fight that person. I’ll cheer you on. I am also not saying you have to be kind and angelic to people who are being rude to you. We’ve all lost our tempers in discussions with trolls. It happens. Twitter trolls can’t usually be reasoned with, so I’ll understand (and hopefully everyone will) if you don’t try.
I am ALSO not saying you are not allowed to block people or ignore them due to their shitty opinions on your entire sexuality, race, or xyz group. Call me an SJW all you want, but I’m not willing to be close friends with people who want me to be legally forbidden from marriage. And I’m not willing to be friends with people who think black people are inherently suspicious and deserve to be shot by cops. Or with neonazis. Believe it or not, I have seen those people floating around goodreads leading normal lives. I’m not talking about those people. Keep that shit 10,000 feet away from you if it helps your mental health. None of us should have to associate with people who explicitly hate us because of who we are. But that’s not who I’m talking about.
I’m talking about people who might have good intentions, but also don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. I’m talking about people who unintentionally say cissexist or homophobic or racist things without knowing. I’m talking about people who liked a problematic book or want to read a problematic book, just because they’re not aware. For those people, I think it’s better if we can try to be nice, as long as someone hasn’t been explicitly rude to us. Yes, sometimes it can be hard and sometimes people don’t seem to deserve articulate arguments. But it’s more helpful to try and teach someone, not attack them or call them out. They’re people, too.
Plus, it gives all of us better legs to stand on when the goodreads trolls start deciding who to attack next. Being polite and articulate lends us credibility, which is unfortunately hard to gain in the eyes of some. This isn’t the same as a lack of emotion; it’s just that we ALL need to stick to our points rather than attacking people or labeling them “SJWs” or any other words. If we stick to our points and avoid ad-hominems, we have a lot more credibility, even to people who might not always agree. Calling someone out point-blank only serves to make them self-righteously angry and denigrate us.
For example, I’ve had plenty of people call me a mindless SJW, a sheep, or otherwise for disliking a book. I had not done anything to personally denigrate a single one of the people who called me these words. Trying to label people as nothing but a member of a single group because they have a certain opinion is dehumanizing. It’s not a way of categorizing people. It’s just not. It’s a way of feeling better about the fact that you’re an asshole, because oh no, that person is an SJW!! Or an anti SJW!! Guess what? They’re a person too, and they’re a person first. I’m not saying this applies to everyone who uses terms like this; sometimes labeling is fair. But how dare you call someone a sheep – a literal, actual, sheep-person hybrid – without knowing them? That hurts. Holy fuck, calling someone an animal isn’t okay. I don’t care that you’re online, I don’t care if you disagree, it’s literally just not morally okay to do this shit to someone you’ve never interacted with in a negative way.
Also, extension of that, and I assume this one won’t be an issue for 99% of people reading this: it’s literally never okay to doxx someone, threaten someone, or tell anyone to kill themselves. This isn’t about discourse or what they’ve done; actions like these are flat-out not morally okay. It doesn’t even matter if the person is trash, honestly. Doing stuff like this just makes you unhappy. I know it’s cheesy, but to quote Wonder Woman, goodness isn’t about whether someone deserves it. I don’t really care about the feelings of neo-nazis or whatever, but I see death threats being sent to people who are perfectly okay all. the. time. So I’m just going with the idea that death threats are never okay.
Funny example to end this post: If you sent anyone death threats over the 13 Reasons Why discourse, from either side, guess what? You weren’t supporting depressed or suicidal people – you were hurting them. You were missing the entire point of the show you just binged over a weekend.
TL;DR: Being polite to really gross people is not required, and if you lose your temper with a few assholes you shouldn’t be judged for it. But when talking to middle-of-the-road people, trying to educate rather than simply saying “fuck you” is more productive because it changes opinions rather than just showing your own.
Most importantly, most of us in the diverse YA community specifically are decent people trying to do our best. We need to empathize with each other. Not all of us agree on everything, even within our own communities. I don’t agree with every lesbian on what constitutes lesbophobia. Does that make me a person who hates lesbians? Uh, no, it doesn’t. I’m not saying using the word “homophobia” is bad; god knows I’ve used it to describe books. I just feel like when we use it to describe people who are in our community, there’s a problem. We need to talk about homophobic actions rather than saying “this person literally hates gay people and is a piece of shit.” Ignorance and hatred aren’t the same things. Both are bad, but only one has intent.
Thanks for reading if you did. ❤ And again, feel free to disagree or have mixed feelings!! This is just how I think about these issues.