Because of so much ink spilled and so much time wasted arguing online about the merits of social justice and equality online, even with fellow supporters of social justice, I have decided instead of making yet another tired argument to instead dissect it. This article mind you, is based off years of observation so its not an absolute one!
As you can imagine, there is plenty of room rife for conflict when discussing such things. If you are a frequent visitor or Tumblr, 4chan, Reddit, or Facebook you probably heard the terms “social justice” (Link) and its uglier, more ad-homeium cousin “SJW” (Link) being thrown around by foes and proponents of social justice. Often these types of arguments (because they are hardly the constructive debate, even among people for social justice) start when one person (usually a person from a marginalized group or a passionate ally) links an opinion piece, shares a relevant news article, and/or makes a rant about an injustice that has happened to them or someone they know. From there, you get posts supporting the cause, ignorant posters who are just now learning about this concept and making some pretty negative social faux-pas, trolls who look at this like everything online as one massive joke, and actual bigots. And mind you this is all a spectrum, not defined categories. (with the exception of bigotry, as bigots are actually just as well-read as non-bigots about the world around them)
Down With the Cause!
This is the first part of the spectrum of people who will react to the post. Besides the trolls and bigots, these are the first people to express their support and/or their outrage, often in short phrases, memes, or even links to thought pieces. These kinds of posts are always going to be encouraging in their efforts, even if the message will seem reactionary, simplistic, or even negative to a bystander reading through these posts. The quality of the posts can range from a simple “like” and/or reaction meme, to a thoughtful critique bordering on ignorance to the subtleties and deeper implications of certain actions (The subject of microaggressions are one great example and this often can be the trigger for ad homeium attacks perpetuated by posters who fall in this range)
Being down with the cause is great but here too you can begin to see biases which often stem from a combination of ignorance and misunderstanding. Microaggressions are a great case-study in this discord, because the very nature of microaggressions are rooted in misunderstanding and ignorance. Push-back is to be expected when you first present these ideas which brings us to:
The ignorant posters. These types of posters are to be expected as ignorance towards the subject (especially if this person is a white male) goes hand in hand with the unfortunate realities of systematic injustice still prevalent in Western society. That is not to say that ignorance is a bad thing at all, rather it is ignorant of the reality due to not being that person. That whole adage about “put yourself in their shoes” can be useful in trying to emphasize with the other persons struggles, but since the subject of social justice will make anyone uncomfortable, it is often hard to do because of a very real psychological phenomenon known as “white fragility.” Put simply, if you’re a white dude who is merely reading the post and you reply with something ignorant, it is because of general discomfort and being confronted with the reality that injustice goes beyond mere black and white thinking. (You are human after all, and thus prone to mistakes.)
Wrapping it Up
I have excluded the “bigots” category simply because as previously stated, bigots are to be expected and they will be often as well-read as their non-bigoted counterparts. This article is not absolute and definitely should not be interpreted as such. Rather it is a look at how we engage in sensitive topics on the Internet. Something as timeless and important as social justice should be discussed, but one has to exercise caution as always as to what you are getting into.