On Activism Beyond Your Interests
I was thinking today about some of the areas of activism that I’m interested in, and how I found them “boring” or just not important to me several years ago. One thing I’ve learned as an activist is that not only is intersectionality important, but it’s a good idea to get involved with things that don’t necessarily seem “interesting” to you, or like “your topics.” Here are three reasons why:
- Internalized prejudice. We all have nasty little prejudices that we don’t like to think about. We may have learned them from the media, our parents, our education, or religion, or almighty “society.” We may therefore bump certain issues off the priority list because they don’t concern us, when in fact it’s that nasty prejudice talking.
- Ignorance. On a highly related note, often we’re not interested in things we know nothing about. For example, I didn’t care much about fat activism, eating disorders, disability, or immigration for a long time because those things didn’t affect me directly. They became issues I care about because the more I read about those issues, the more I could see how problematic mainstream views are and how much those issues really do push my buttons. Not only can you learn interesting things about another culture, community, or problem by doing “unfamiliar activism,” but you might find a new perspective for looking at your own life and your current activist goals.
- Coalition building. Activism lives and dies by the passions of those involved. It’s difficult to work for a particular goal when you only involve people who are directly affected by a problem, know that they are affected, identify strongly with the group, and have the time and energy to work towards the goal. We all need to get involved in each other’s causes, and when we work for our own, we need to be aware of the needs and interests of everyone working towards a cause. I’ve seen some activists claiming to be focusing on a “tight goal” or “narrowly defined cause” shoot themselves in the foot when they later get the deserved label of a white feminist movement, or a transphobic queer group. A similar problem happens in academia when researchers don’t tell it like it is–if you’re investigating the health of straight white middle class women, for example, be frank about your population. Don’t claim to represent everyone if you’re only focusing on a limited group.