A few years ago, Social Justice Warrior was a term encompassing every person fighting social injustice, including Feminists, Civil rights activists, LGBT supporters as well as socio-economic activists like the occupy movement.
In 2011 however, the term changed in popular usage to no longer refer to such activists but rather to signify slacktivists: people who share Social Justice messages on twitter and Facebook, but who fail to adjust their behavior in real life.
In the process, it became a pejorative term, notably in the rise of the alt-right movement.
This isn’t 100% new. There were always people who talked the talk, such as enforcing a political correctness bubble around them, while being unwilling to walk the walk or being unable to address injustice like turning their head away when seeing intimidation or discrimination.
It is in the nature of human beings to want to minimize your own discomfort or level of efforts, while maximizing your level of popularity, so I am not blaming any stacktivist. It’s probably better to spread civil rights memes than to do nothing or worse, to spread sexist or racist memes.
But this is not what the Safety Pin Protest is about.
The safety pin protest doesn’t occur online. It occurs in real life, full time, around the clock.
It is a commitment of your own real life time and not idle retweeting of positive messages.
It’s about effecting positive change around you.
My daughter participated in a video game tournament (Super Smash Bros) at our public library last week-end for teens and children. Over 200 people were present, including participants, spectators and parents.
The people present were of different ethnicity, language, background and religion and yet, everyone got along.
In quarter final, a young, perhaps 8 or 9 year old black girl was eliminated early by teenagers all of whom were a good 5 years older than she was, and she was devastated, crying back to her seat, sobbing violently.
I saw that no one was helping her, so I stood up, and crouched next to her, telling her in soft words not to worry, that those who beat her were a good 5 years older and that she would get better by the time she would reach their age and by then, they would be too old to participate. That she was the youngest participant to reach quarter finals and that meant she was really good. To not give up, to succeed, you just need more practice and she is still young and has plenty to learn.
She stopped sobbing, smiled and thanks me. I left, and while leaving, her mother mouthed a “thank you” silently at me while nodding.
To me, that’s not slacktivism. It’s acting in real life to protect a vulnerable child. It’s not social justice either, since she wasn’t discriminated against, she was bullied, intimidated, etc…
But being a child, she was vulnerable lacking the experience of such disappointment after the rush of reaching quarter finals. . Being a girl in an 80 to 85% boy audience meant she possibly had no friends on location, just a mother who was at that moment cheering for her other sibling, the girl’s older brother who won next the quarter final (sadly, against my daughter, but that’s beyond the point).
How many of the people present shared self-esteem memes online in the previous week? How many of the people present share online message in support of girls in non-traditional roles?
And yet, when faced with a real like situation of a girl’s self-esteem being questioned, most people remained idle. “Not my problem”. “Not my daughter”. “She had to learn to live with disappointment”. “I am afraid of being judged or being accused of being a pedophile for talking to a young girl”.
The worst is that a few weeks ago, before I learned about the Safety Pin protest, I probably would have found such an excuse despite sharing social justice memes on Facebook.
Last Saturday however, I used my commitment to stand up for that girl and to try to give her the kind of wisdom that every kid hopes to get, but so little do.
That’s the difference. Social Justice Warrior share online positive messages to whoever friend is listening. Safety Pin Protesters act in real life, one on one, to protect strangers.
I am not judging the Social Justice warriors, but that’s not what the Safety Pin Protester is about.