The Weaponization of Social Justice

18 Jun

In the past three months I have been doing a great deal of reflection around how to mindfully create space to be more generous and more loving during the extraordinary fatigue of 45. Sadly, I have observed that I and the communities I am a part of and the nation in general are short tempered, ungenerous, quick to anger, quick to judge, and operate from fear and hate, rather than increasing our efforts to be loving and empathic. I know for me it has been difficult to get in the space of being more generous of heart with the daily assaults coming from 45 and his racist, homophobic, ableist, misogynistic, transphobic administration. How then can we be committed to issues of social justice and to be mindfully centered in love is the question I am wresting with currently.

I have, with great sadness, witnessed communities and students where I teach using social justice as a weapon–a weapon to prove how “woke” they are. I will say emphatically right now that none of us are “woke.” My whole life’s work is around social justice and working towards a more equitable world. My colleagues and I are constantly tell people we work with that we are having to hold the tension of messiness of social justice in perpetuity — that we are life long learners and our journey of awareness will never end if we are truly reflective, curious, and come from a place of love and humility.

As of the writing of this article, we are on day 514 of 45’s assault on the United States. The fatigue is real, as we see people in this country pitted against each other and the erosion of empathy and loss of any sense of community. We have to witness and live through more than 514 assaults on LGBTQ rights, on women’s rights (the aggressive attack on Planned Parenthood, on separating children from families and housing them in cages), an assault on civil rights for all people of color —  the list goes on and on. With the deterioration of our nation, I am wanting to engage in conversations and behavior that extend more love and more generosity of heart — to resist the hate that 45 and his administration put out into the universe. I want to make my corner of the universe sane in the face of this overwhelming insanity.

I want to embrace what former First Lady Michelle Obama said: “When they go low, we go high.” And my heart sinks at how much I miss First Lady Michelle Obama and how much I miss President Obama. I am inviting myself and others to resist what is being modeled for us from Fox News, who control 45’s brain — resist operating from a place of fear and hate. We must be mindful and center ourselves in love. I must work to reflect and try to ensure that our actions and words are from a place of love and to create more space for all of us to exist. I know I will fail at this and yet I must dedicate myself to keep trying in the face of so much overwhelming hate and fear, of racism, classism, abelism, homophobia, misogyny, all of the other ways in which we treat targeted communities.

What has been particularly heartbreaking for me is watching people lash out at those who are trying to help and make a difference. For example (and I have her permission to share this), a colleague of mine attended a listening session for the students we teach. My colleague, and friend, thanked the students and then offered: “Thank you, this is so helpful, please tell me what you need so that I can try and meet those needs.” What horrified me was the reaction from a student, a white woman, who came at my colleague with: “Don’t you dare ask what we want — that is putting all of the labor on us and not you. You are acting in a white supremacist way right now.” I hardly know what to say, save that I hope this student will do some reflection and come back to my colleague with an apology. My colleague is Latina and is part of the resistance  movement, so I am also worried we have people using language that they actually lack the sophistication of knowing how to use words with shared meaning.

Another example that was particularly painful was an experience in one of my own classes, where a student told me that: “my job is to listen and to say yes or no, but not to make things messy.”  Wow! Candidly, I consider the lion’s share of my work is to make things messy and to ask people to create more space and more empathy. I can only hope this student, who is now a colleague, will do some reflection and even circle back to me.

Call to action: I invite all of us to try to practice radical love and kindness. While I know I will fail at this probably several days a week, I must commit to staying engaged and working hard to act from a place of curiosity, humility, and love. I must also continue to do everything I can do to help make my world a place that values community and resist the insanity that  is 45, Pence, and their minions. I must center my self in love.

What has been very helpful for me is watching the television show The Good Fight! This is such a brilliant show and my husband and I feel a bit more hopeful, a bit safer, and a bit less anxious after each episode. The amazingly talented Delroy Lindo, Audra McDonald, Cush Jumbo, Nyambi Nyambi, and Christine Baranski, and the rest of the amazing cast of The Good Fight create amazing resistance to the world 45 is creating. We are also watching RuPaul’s Drag Race as a tonic to the hate and fear mongering perpetrated by this administration. While I know it can be extraordinary difficult at times to love people who are actively hurting you, I am trying to sustain the belief and action that being centered in love is the way to eradicate racism, homophobia, abelism, misogyny, and all of the intersections therein. With love and gratitude, Michael.

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27 Responses to “The Weaponization of Social Justice”

  1. Brian Arbenz June 18, 2018 at 6:13 am #

    I agree on the pretentiousness and mechanistic ways of achieving “woke.” It’s part of the over reliance on phraseology of online activism. However, the Obama administration’s record was much more a part of the 45 problem than the dominant paradigm shows. Obama greatly increased arrests of undocumented immigrants and he gave the White House powers to detain any person, citizen or non-citizen, indefinitely and without charge for any reason the government wishes — see the National Defense Authorization Act’s sections 1021 and 1022 he enthusiastically signed. As for: if they go low, we go high, that’s an excuse for failing to confront the rising racism; it’s the good people doing nothing that MLK warned was all that was needed for evil people to triumph. The fascism of today is bipartisan.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 6:31 am #

      Hi Brian, thank you for helping start a dialogue here. While I agree that Obama has some culpability here regarding how we treat undocumented community members, his culpability pales in comparison to what we are currently witnessing under 45, Pence, and Sessions. Pence and Sessions then tried to justify their reprehensible behavior by quoting the bible. I worry you have created a false equivalency here and I am in no way defending the behavior of the Obama administration towards undocumented people.

      • bevanyardleigh June 19, 2018 at 8:21 am #

        Hello Brian – I don’t know you, and I am confident you are commenting from a place of honesty and sincerity. Reading your initial comment, the criticism offered, and your reply, however, I feel like you’re going down a rabbit hole of Obama frustration and avoiding the central issue.

        You said “the fascism of today is bipartisan.” That is the most blatant example of both-sides-do-it that I have seen in a while. There are plenty of examples of bad behavior and policy among the Democrats — and in the Obama administration — but to equalize those, even remotely, with the daily onslaughts to human decency perpetuated by 45 and the GOP over the past 18 months is misguided at best.

        I appreciate your frustration with President Obama, but I must argue that he emphatically let himself “be Obama” throughout his two terms. He is a thoughtful, pragmatic, diplomatic optimist who — despite the slings and arrows thrown his way — really wanted to find ways to solve America’s problems collaboratively. We may have wished for a bolder, louder warrior, but that’s not whom we elected.

        Thank you for your passion and desire to hold everyone accountable for their missteps and misdeeds. Sadly, frustration with Obama at this point does nothing to resolve the horrors we live with or build the strength and collegiality we need for an effective resistance.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 19, 2018 at 8:29 am #

        Hi Bevan, thank you for carefully and mindfully continuing the conversation. Yes, I agree with your comments, and I so appreciate you assuming good intent from Brian. I am so grateful you are part of the social justice community, Bevan! In solidarity, Michael.

    • penguinlad June 18, 2018 at 6:43 am #

      Brian, I agree that we have to hold ALL those in power accountable for their actions and recognize that no party or politician is perfect. Your final line, however, smacks of both-sides-do-it-ism. It’s important to pay attention to scope, degree, and extent. It’s hard to call even the worst lapses of the Obama administration “fascist”. It’s even harder to consider the BEST of the Trump moments anything other than appalling and atrocious. Considering them anything like equivalent leads to the complacency and despair that depresses turnout and loses elections. Let’s demand better from EVERYONE with strong votes and careful attention to actions.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 7:05 am #

        Thank you, Penguinlad for calling attention to scope and I appreciate you and Brian engaging in a much needed conversation. In solidarity, Michael.

      • Brian Arbenz June 18, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

        I share your disdain for what you aptly named, both sides do it-ism. I heard that line as Nixon resigned, and I have always said to people who use it: hold the individual accountable for their present deeds. False equivalencies are never right; they are a tactic to weasel out of responsibility. I hope everyone will take a 2nd look at what I wrote. My frustration at President Obama failing to isolate the reviving racism and new standard of rudeness (exemplified by Limbaugh’s dog whistle racist remark about Michelle Obama’s physique) is my way of saying Obama should have let himself be Obama. I feel he was passively-aggressively empowering the new hate. Not through action, but inaction. The president also evidently crumbled before Mitch McConnell over whether the FBI probe of Russian interference should be revealed before the election. I wrote President Obama a hard copy letter in early 2016 expressing my anguish that while racism was coming back on the right and economic egalitarianism on the left, I saw him and the Democrats overall not isolating the former, and not embracing the latter. Again, we needed him to be Obama, and his party once again to be the party of an economic fair shake for the average person.

  2. Susie Snyder June 18, 2018 at 9:11 am #

    Bravo Michael. So glad you are holding out for acting from a place of love that is consistent with our most precious goals. It takes incredible grace and courage to “fight” in this way. But strive we must to resist the contagious hate and polarization and the destructive flailing out that is an understandable reaction to threat and violation and rather to “be the change” we wish to see in the world. ❤️ Susie

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 10:36 am #

      As always, Susie, you consistently operate from a place of love, as you seem to be centered in love in ways I aspire to be. In solidarity and with great love, Michael.

  3. Kathleen Saadat June 18, 2018 at 12:11 pm #

    Michael, I empathize with you and am distressed by what I see as ignorance coming to the forefront under the guise of being anti-racist, (whatever anti-racist means). I am concerned that many of us seem to be behaving more and more like the folks we see as our enemy…. the folks we fear. I am often more discouraged by folks on “our side” than by the folks on “their side”. The discussion about #45 should not be about Republicans and Democrats. Rather, our discussion should be about our democracy and how we will save it from fascism. We should be discussing how in that effort we shape the world informed by love, otherwise we simply re-create the past. It takes courage to stay in a place of love. It takes courage to listen, learn and to teach. It takes courage to work one’s way out of old dichotomous paradyms and embrace the new. It takes courage to be vulnerable be being human and allowing others to be human. ALL FORMS OF LOVE AND COURAGE are needed RIGHT NOW! Thank you for your courage.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 12:35 pm #

      Kathleen, thank you for being a tremendous mentor to me, as I am always learning from you. You consistently model how to be centered in love and I only hope I can be as consistent as you are! With enormous love and gratitude, Michael.

  4. caelesti June 18, 2018 at 1:39 pm #

    I agree the in-fighting & Oppression Olympics has gotten ridiculous. In understanding the problems of the prevailing focus white privilege theory I recommend Thandeka’s essay, and her book Learning to Be White. She is an African-American Unitarian Universalist theologian & minister but what she discusses is relevant to non-UUs as well. https://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/why-antiracism-will-fail/

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

      Hi Caelesti, thank you for the comment and for the reading recommendation. In solidarity, Michael.

  5. Jennifer Carey June 18, 2018 at 7:19 pm #

    Michael,
    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this article. It took a great deal of courage. Like you, I’m becoming more troubled by the knee-jerk, social justice cudgel that is seemingly wielded with disregard of the audience. And ignorant, devoid-of-true-meaning terminology is thrown out as an insult (e.g. what happened to your friend).
    I find myself troubled by this a lot more recently. Perhaps it’s that so many feel the need to stand up to the very real and damaging bigotry, misogyny, and racism that has been amplified by 45 and his ilk. However, by being thoughtless and attacking allies or those who want to do better not only does not help our cause, but seems to hurt it.
    Second, I fully recognize that people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and other do not “owe” me their intellectual labor. However, I feel that all of us to have an onus of responsibility for self-advocating. This means, thoughtfully educating those around us. It is not only unreasonable, but quite simply unrealistic, to ask others to be thought readers. I’ll lend to positive examples here. Early in our friendship, we spoke a great deal about marriage equality. I remember having the privilege of telling you that proposition 8 had been over-turned. At the time, I believe I talked about being an advocate and supporter of “gay marriage.” You gently corrected and educated me by telling me that a more accurate term is “marriage equality” because same-sex couples were merely seeking the same rights as opposite sex couples. Another time, a friend of mine who is transgender did some amazing volunteer work with an Anthropology course I was teaching. She volunteered her intellectual labor and experiences with them. We talked about things like hormone replacement and surgery. She also educated me when I used the term “sex change surgery” and explained why the term “gender confirmation surgery” was more accurate.
    Neither of you screamed at me or accused me of being homophobic or transphobic or bigoted. Instead, you recognized me as an ally who was willing to learn and do better. As such, you volunteered you intellectual labor and shared your experience.
    I would add to your post and ask that in addition to trying to love fiercely, that we also strive (hard as it may be) to assume good in other’s actions before we react.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 8:36 pm #

      Jennifer, your comments here made me cry! As always, I am so very grateful for you and for your friendship and for your allyship!! Yes, I am deeply disturbed by a culture of “I caught you/I gotcha, thus proving how woke I am.” Let us hope you and I and all of the lives we touch can help to tap into our shared humanity through radical love! All my love, Michael.

    • Brian Arbenz June 19, 2018 at 7:28 am #

      Very well expressed. The rush to condemn, instead of share a better perspective, makes enemies where allies could be.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 19, 2018 at 7:31 am #

        Brian, my serious concern is that we can’t create a social just and equitable world if we use the same tools that 45 and the GOP are using–the tools of hate and fear. I must believe that we can change this course through radical love and by building relationships and community. As always, I am grateful for you, Brian. In solidarity, Michael.

  6. evelyneholingue June 18, 2018 at 7:32 pm #

    What I try to do is, “When they go low, we go high.”
    But I admit that we are living difficult times and I see few answers. Talking about these issues is a huge step. And never losing love in humankind is another. That’s what I try to do every day. A smile. A random act of kindness. Making sure no one is invisible and that everyone counts. Just hoping small things matter and that more and more of us believe that too. Thank you, Michael for playing more than your part.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 18, 2018 at 8:38 pm #

      Evelyne, you are consistently far too generous to me! I fear I fail far more often than I would like. I am grateful to have you in my circle–in my community, as you help to provide some sanity in my corner of the world in the face of great insanity. With great love, Michael.

  7. christopher fairchild July 1, 2018 at 3:50 pm #

    Michael, thank you for this thoughtful and candid piece. We will only be able to improve if we learn not to demonize those who are making a sincere effort to better the world in whatever small steps they may need to take to get there. To me, it is about the direction, rather than the goalpost.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

      Brad, truly, the world is a better place because you are here. In everything you do, write, and create, you make the world a better place for me and for everyone! I honestly do not think I would be here today if it were not for your sisterhood! With enormous love, Michael.

      • christopher fairchild July 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

        thank you, Michael. you are indeed my sister. I cherish you.

  8. Doug Payne August 1, 2018 at 5:25 pm #

    Michael, it is indeed sad what is happening in our country. It is distressing what I see from this president. His constant lies and distortions are sickening. Nancy and I just watched Frontline about the immigration issue a dot was plain that this administration is devoid of compassion. Looking forward to seeing.you in a few weeks! Doug

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 1, 2018 at 7:10 pm #

      Doug, thank you for being such a great dad to me!! You and Nancy have always modeled what it means to be a good human being with empathy! Love, Michael.

  9. Tucker November 12, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    The left operates like this in the modern day. It’s sad to say, even for me, being a conservative. Look at any “movement” and you will see riots, robbing, and violence follow. It’s happened in BLM, ANTIFA, or any leftist cause. There is a death in true liberalism and now the left is reverting to its regressive state of oppression and hate. Soon anyone on the right, even if they agree with some of the left’s ideals. Take anyone who is black, gay, or any minority and is on the political right, they are called traitors and are ostracized by their former friends. Some examples include: Kanye West, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, etc. The only diversity the left doesn’t care about is the most important: diversity of opinion.

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