So, millennials are a generation of easily triggered, easily upset, Lefty-loony ‘snowflakes’ who attack innocent people on the Internet and protest over nothing. Right? Why shouldn’t you be allowed to use slurs and school women on their areas of expertise and vote for your alt-right-in-a-centrist-disguise party? And what’s with all these genders, huh? People want so badly to be oppressed. Like, why should black people be allowed to vote? Or women? What’s with gay men receiving HIV/AIDS treatment — ew? Or women able to report their husbands for raping them?
This is what I hear when the ‘millennials are sensitive snowflakes‘ rhetoric comes around. It reminds me so easily of being told at fifteen to ‘tone it down’, as a bisexual person talking about LGBT+ issues, in a school that didn’t so much as mention the word ‘gay’. Speaking out about these issues is now being an ‘SJW’ (an acronym literally nobody in social justice has claimed, by the way), and in being labelled as such somehow your arguments are invalidated. It’s like being called a ‘feminazi’ a few years ago: same sentiment, same goal.
It interests me because it’s such a thinly-veiled strategy to shut marginalised voices up, yet the media has so readily adopted it as a completely valid counterargument to anyone challenging social issues. Being offended is just an overreaction and being discriminated against is all in your head — but oppression doesn’t operate through a series of singular, unconnected incidents of insensitivity. Oppression doesn’t operate like that at all.
Oppression functions when a group of people are systematically and deliberately disadvantaged within society, and it has many different outlets. Jim Crow laws are a clear and undisputed example of racism in America, but so are microaggressions, such as calling a black woman ‘angry’ when she’s expressing an emotion. Yet, somehow, the latter is classified by so many people as some kind of victim’s complex on the part of black women.
These same people still agree Martin Luther King was a pioneer of social change and should be remembered as such, but view Black Lives Matter as a belligerent, pointless movement because ‘there are good and bad cops!’ Black Lives Matter adopts the methods of past civil rights movements (maybe because, shockingly, the civil rights movement is ongoing) to address entrenched and heavily researched inequalities within the judicial system which black people encounter many times throughout their lives.
There have always been social inequalities to be discussed, so why is it that presently, discussing modern-day inequalities (which often stem from our country’s history with the groups in question) is seen as being ‘sensitive’?
Once social change occurs, and protest is retroactively seen as beneficial, you can then claim to be a part of it and support the cause. This is because it feels distant enough for one to feel like one’s actions don’t impact it (even when temporally, it wasn’t long ago at all). White people will say we aren’t racist; but we still laugh at racist jokes, think that we can say the n-word, and stay silent on current racial tensions in our societies. It is also how we are taught our histories: for example, Martin Luther King saying ‘riot is the language of the unheard’ is conveniently omitted from the syllabus, allowing our society to condemn any seemingly violent, or even aggressive, outrage against current inequalities. But also, whilst protests are ongoing, and marginalised groups are calling out those in power, those who are unaffected by such inequalities can choose to remain silent. This is how the status quo is maintained: through comfortability. Through lies that tell us this is, ‘just the way the world works’.
But it is not. History has shown just how malleable our societies are. How our cultures operate, what they value and what laws are in place; how they are controlled by the powerful. But that doesn’t mean we are simply subjected to their reign with no questions asked. Minority influence is certainly a thing, and we have all learnt about it in action. History class 101. So why is there such an immense backlash to critiquing our power structures?
The answer is simple: privilege. Privilege is ingrained in one’s ability to remain apolitical. You don’t see the issues being brought up as actual ‘issues’ because they aren’t within your realm of experience. Women not getting high-paying jobs is the fault of the women, not the patriarchy, because ‘I am a man and worked hard to make it, and women can do the same! Just look at Oprah’. But within this lies the implicit understanding that it is the oppressed group’s own fault that they feel mistreated — whether because they don’t work hard enough, they have a victim’s complex, or they just like to complain.
This same attitude is adopted when people say, ‘political alignment shouldn’t ruin a friendship’, because a middle-class person whose friend votes Tory sees it as a decision in a vacuum. Working-class people don’t have that luxury when Conservative austerity means our benefits are sanctioned, our schools underfunded, our youth clubs shut down and our tower blocks allowed to burn to the ground. What party you support is linked to the moral and social ideas you have about what world we should live in, and who should be allowed to thrive in it; even if to you, it’s just, ‘well, I don’t know, my family votes for the Conservatives so I always have’.
And this is exactly why we need to speak out. A common phrase thrown about is, ‘if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention’, but it isn’t just a lack of attention at fault here. Sure, some people are just ignorant, because if something doesn’t impact them, why would they know about it? And this is an issues in itself. But self-proclaimed ‘anti-SJWs’ most certainly pay attention — they have something to say on everything activists say. They just refuse to believe that we could actually be making sense — and that they could be doing something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.
If we shut up, that is the only narrative. If we shut up, we are performing a disservice to those who have screamed before us. If we shut up, we are saying, ‘Okay, I guess this wasn’t important enough to talk about after all’ and strengthening the alt-right neo-Nazis who believe this is the case. If we shut up, we let our privilege overcome human compassion and morality, and let marginalised groups suffer (because you cannot take a step back when your own identity is suddenly being politicised and demonised).
If we shut up, I’m letting down my fifteen-year-old-self saying, ‘I exist! I exist! And I damn well deserve the space I occupy!’, and you’re agreeing this is ‘just the way the world works’.
So talk LOUDER.
By Amelia A. J. Foy
Co-Curator and Editor of Risen Zine