Words and opinions fly on social media faster than the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. You can now digitally send out emissaries of assholishness straight from your couch, ready to slap unwitting recipients and yank them up and away and into the world where we all are perpetually bothered and angry.
We digitally sort ourselves into camps, side-eyeing those who have the opposite opinions. I’ve witnessed (and even sometimes half-jokingly participated in) internet brawls about important topics of our day. For example:
Does pineapple belong on pizza?
Is Ed Sheeran the best or worst?
You get what I mean. (If you’re still reading).
While some of this is in good fun, we also know that our quarrelsome social media habits were hijacked to great effect in the 2016 Presidential election. Our identities and our tribalism were fed a steady diet of MSG and a Red Bull and then, wound to the breaking point, set loose, with disastrous results. Even now, knowing what we now know about how our behavior was hijacked and manipulated, we are continuing to perpetuate the schisms and abuse. We know better. Why can’t we do better?
A person who has been a dear friend to me in the past posted an article the other day that truly landed like a gut punch. I won’t link to it here because it’s a piece of absolute tripe, but I’m pretty sure you’ve read something like it. It’s a genre best described as “people are too easily offended these days.” Alternate titles:
“It doesn’t matter how you feel about what I say as long as I didn’t intend to be hurtful”
“Get off of my lawn”
“People are upset about social issues now because it’s a fad”
“Old people are racist and sexist; you’re not going to change them”
The author of this piece was offended by people being offended. They say that people are being “too sensitive” for calling out historical racism, for looking at cultural artifacts like literature and music and television shows. Her message is “stop ruining everything for everyone.”
Well shoot. There go all my hobbies right out the window.
Just for good measure, she states that if someone compliments your face, but says you would be even prettier if you lost weight, you should shrug it off. Because they probably mean it in a nice way.
Look, I get some of the outrage fatigue. It seems like you can’t fully process anything before the next thing to be outraged about rolls along. But that in no way means that things aren’t justifiably worth being outraged about.
Here’s a handy-dandy incomplete list things that you can and should be offended about and call out:
Racism, internalized misogyny, patriarchal systems, white supremacy, Christian fragility, Body shaming, cultural appropriation, ableism (both subtle and overt), Homophobia, Transphobia, Islamophobia.
Insider tip: If you’re offended by other people being offended, chances are that you are saying or doing things that are offensive and hurtful. You’re taking other people’s offenses personally because you are guilty of those offenses.
It is not your right to tell other people what they should or should not be upset by. It isn’t. And it really doesn’t matter what anyone’s intent is. You can mean well and still be racist. You can mean well and still say and do things that are deeply hurtful for others.
How are you supposed to learn how to not be “unintentionally” racist or sexist or whatever if people never have the right to tell you that you hurt them? That what you said was problematic, and here’s why? As human beings, this is literally the most direct way to learn– learning from our mistakes. Getting negative feedback. And then thinking OUCH that hurt. Maybe I shouldn’t do that again.
People complaining that everyone is too sensitive these days, or that social discourse is too tiring and annoying are telling us not just something about us: as individuals, as a society. They’re telling us something about them. That they dislike the upset of the status quo. They wish we’d stop making a ruckus about “nothing.” That we’re blowing things out of proportion.
This is the definition of privilege– saying that things aren’t issues if they aren’t issues to you. The same people who say this are the ones who will call for civility in the wake of violence and incivility. They’re the people who will blame the mom of the one-year-old baby waiting in line for a childcare voucher for not getting up off the floor when the police officers told her to. “If she had just followed orders, they wouldn’t have tried to grab her baby.”
Demands of orderliness, “keeping your opinions to yourself,” and not “making a fuss” are ways of silencing the experiences and realities of other people.
That’s why I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m offended. And I’m not taking it back. I am making a fuss. Because no one gets to dictate what is important to me, or to another person, or to any other group. It’s a tool of silencing.
It is ok to disagree. In fact, it’s normal. What’s not normal is to demand that everyone play along as though everything is fine when it is demonstrably not fine.
Sorry, not sorry.