this ain’t livin’ Turns Five!

I know, I didn’t believe it either. What’s more, for the bulk of those five years, I have been writing something here every day.

I know that anniversary posts are supposed to be lookback or lookforward posts, talking about the history of the site or where it is going, or that I’m supposed to write up some big State of the Blog at this point, but I don’t know. I am exhausted (writing every day will do that for you, especially when you’re active at multiple places like I am right now) and I’m not really sure that this site is for half the time at this point, who I’m writing for, why I’m writing, what I am attempting to do here, what kind of community I belong in and what kind of community I want to build.

There’s a sense of feeling adrift in the between spaces that comes with owning some identities, and it’s been overwhelming at times lately. Writing openly about mental illness is not something I thought I would be doing five years ago, just for example. I find it somewhat dismaying that the strongest response tends to be either to my posts about pop culture or to my personal posts, that when I write about structural issues, not very many people pay attention.

And I think that is a really telling revelation. Because I get the impression more and more that people are really interested in ascribing social problems to individuals, rather than institutions. I see this perhaps most with disability issues; people are very eager to read about personal experiences of disability, to have parts of the lives and bodies of the people around them served up for their delectation. They are a lot less interested in discussing structural issues that surround disability, less interested in examining their own role in those social structures.

I see this in feminism, I see it in anti-racism, I see it in every aspect of the social justice movement. Every time a sad story hits the radar, everyone is furious and righteously outraged, everyone wants to talk about it and be angry about it, but it’s always about the individual. Never about the social structures, attitudes, and institutions that created that situation. Once the story drops off the radar a few days later, everyone forgets about it and moves on until the next story crops up, and the cycle continues.

It’s not that people blame individuals exactly, but rather that they refuse to view these situations in context. By doing so, they can make it a series of individual, personalised cases. Sure, they are sad, but we’re getting better! Things are getting better! I think this allows people to feel better about, well, honestly about how useless this all feels sometimes. Tackling structures seems so intimidating and impossible that focusing on the individual makes it less frightening, allows people to feel less like this is an impossible battle.

When a Black girl is shot to death by police in her own home, I don’t think ‘oh, that is awful.’ I mean, I do, but I also think about the structures that led to that moment. The long history between law enforcement and Black folks. The circumstances that led to police being in the wrong house when they shot that little girl. The collective lack of response on the part of law enforcement after the shooting. It’s not ‘a tragic accident.’ It is part of a systemic pattern of violence that has a long history that is rooted in the very earliest history of the United States.

Just as being denied service on the basis of a disability isn’t a one time event, but a reflection of ableism in society and the problematic social attitudes that we are all entrenched in. Just as a rape isn’t a single instance of sexual violence, but part of a long and very old pattern that is not going away.

Until we can start honestly facing institutions and engaging them, we are going to be stuck reinventing the wheel over and over again. We are going to be trapped in the mire of insisting on viewing each case individually, and of engaging in personal attacks instead of examining structural problems. People. We can’t see the forest for the trees here. We need to step back, and we need to really examine what is going on here, and what we want to happen. Do we want one case to have a positive outcome? Or do we want to stop these things from happening at all? Do we want to attack individuals for not being perfect models of social justice1 or would we rather focus on looking at societal influences on how people think, act, and behave? Do we want to focus on tearing a community apart, or building it up? Is this about making change, or attracting attention?

What do we want? Why are we doing this? What is the goal, here?

Because, right now, I am not convinced that the online aspects of the social justice movement know the answers to these questions. I see a lot of folks writing about structural issues really well and being ignored in favour of personal stories. I see a lot of people only writing personal stories because they think structural issues aren’t important or they believe that they aren’t qualified to talk about them or they genuinely think that these things are personal and not reflections of a much, much larger problem. And I see a lot of people bullied, abused, and harassed into silence because they are deemed not ‘good enough’ by leading members of the community and anything goes ‘in service of the cause,’ and it’s more important to tear people down for the sake of cookies, apparently, than it is to tear down the systems around us.

  1. As defined, of course, by us.