I don’t know about you, but my Facebook has become increasingly political. I remember the good old days when all we did on Facebook was look to see who others were becoming friends with and laugh at drunken pictures we got tagged in. Now I’m not saying that becoming politically active is a bad thing. I do believe that we as citizens have to get behind issues that matter to us and the rest of humanity. But I’m finding that these days Facebook is often used as a kind of digital version of mob-justice. Disclaimer: I’m sure this is true of other social networks but I’m using Facebook here as an example.
I have noticed over the last year that more and more people are getting satisfaction from calling other people out on racist, sexist and other stupid or ignorant behaviours. On the one hand I feel chuffed that people are taking these acts of prejudice seriously and calling people out on their wrong-doing but there is also a part of me that feels uncomfortable with the “lynching” aspect.
The truth is we all have our prejudices. We all think and say things that might get us into trouble once in a while. And we all have our blind spots. Even the most “woke” person out there is capable of saying or doing something that could be construed as politically incorrect. I’m actually the first person to admit that I love to get on my high horse and point out when others are being racist or sexist. For this reason I have been doing a lot of reflecting on this matter and trying to understand it a bit more.
My question to other members of the politically correct police brigade: Do you think that positioning yourself as superior to others because you’re more politically correct is really going to open up dialogue around these issues as opposed to shutting down any chance of a rational discussion?
I remember having a conversation with someone on Facebook about calling people racist. I don’t remember the exact incident but I think it went something like this:
Person x makes racist comment. Person y calls person x racist. Person x is offended and insulted, refusing to accept he/she is racist. Person y calls him/her stupid. Both people leave feeling misunderstood, hurt, and insulted.
Now, please understand I am in now way supporting the use of racist language or ideas. I do think it’s important for people to call out unacceptable utterances on social media. But I am not sure if it is fair to label someone a racist for such things. Number 1, I think most people are ignorant to how their ideas perpetuate racist/sexist ideologies. Number 2, I think that calling people names and telling them to “get” is not really a successful way of educating not only the offender but anyone else who may read such things online. Number 3, maybe this is me just being a mushy psychologist type but when did we forget that people who say racist or sexist or homophobic things are also people, with feelings. I don’t have to accept their ideas about things but that doesn’t mean I can treat them as if they are no longer sentient beings whose hearts and minds work in much the same way mine do.
I really think it hurts when someone calls you racist if you don’t know why or understand the large body of literature that supports their use of the word. And very often people who do this social media lynching are highly educated and use very sophisticated language to prove their points. This further alienates the person from the lesson.
Again, there is another side to this story. I have also seen people on Facebook, particularly those of the “woke” variety who have been complaining about all the people they have had to de-friend and how saddened they are by how unconscious some of their closest friends are. I have heard of great suffering at the hands of foolish Facebook comments. And this is true. I can imagine the pain caused by finding out someone close to you harbors sexist thoughts or supports racist ideologies. I know that for many it is a very hard moment when the choice has to be made between trying to educate those who say ignorant things and walking away.
I have been one of those people who has de-friended someone after failing to educate them on Facebook about sexism and racism. The person was so belligerent and arrogant that it was impossible to present an argument. But it’s more than that. People are extremely defensive. They are defending their bigotry as much as those defend their political correctness.
So what is the solution? Has this little rant/rumination actually helped to achieve anything? How will we determine how much energy to put into educating sexists, racists and homophobes on Facebook? How will we find compassion with these people when they sometimes so belligerently stand up for things that are wrong with this world? And how can we look at our own sense of self importance for being politically correct with some dose of humility rather than self-righteousness?
Bare in mind I have used the term politically correct on purpose. I understand that not all people who fight against racism and sexism etc. do so out of politically correct reasons. But I think that all of us have prejudices whether we like to admit it or not. Political correctness is something that people do as a way of distancing themselves from the “badness” that is sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. But we all have a shadow side. So how do we determine when someone’s shit outweighs their potential? On a scale of racist to woke, at which point do you hit “delete”?