I woke up to another controversy.
The controversy is just like any other. Right now, as I’m typing this, the internet is talking about a public figure punching down on an oppressed group. In this case, it’s Trans people. The specifics of the controversy isn’t important because it will be over by the time this gets published. A day after this gets published, someone else in some industry will punch down on LGBT+ people, BIPOC, Disabled people, or indigenous people. Take your pick. Someone will say something bigoted, the internet will rush to the defense of someone unknown without really caring about the oppressed. That outrage will end, and another cycle will start anew.
Examining the current criticism that’s engulfing the internet right now, as it always does when it gets to this kind of fever pitch, made me want to log off for a while. By a while, I mean longer than a week. It’s no secret that I dislike social media. I think it’s poison. At the same time, I understand that social media is an excellent way for marginalized authors like myself to find community and perform some epic activism. I still believe, though, that my time is better spent off social media more than on it. I don’t think these two thoughts contradict each other but I don’t think they work well together either. Perhaps that’s why I’m the world’s shyest hypocrite.
Bad jokes aside, I’d like to talk about previously performed literary activism before I started learning about the social model of Disability and evolving how I do activism.
I used to believe that if I didn’t at once jump onto the dogpile and publicly lambast a book or an author for having a bit of Ableism, that I wasn’t Disabled enough or that people would see my activism as fake. I also believed that if I didn’t publicly lend my voice to the mob of people that, quite honestly, said everything that needed to be said about a problematic book long before me, that I wasn’t growing as an activist. I also feared that my silence would be seen as complacency or even enabling the toxic behavior.
While I still don’t agree with banning problematic books, there’s validity in criticism. I fully support criticism of media. I just have a personal gage now that decides when and where the criticism changes from productive discourse to vitriol envy. If I feel that criticism has turned into revenge or envy, I simply won’t engage anymore.
Even though I might not engage in criticism anymore when the discourse changes to something hostile in my mind, this does not mean I stay silent. I’ve been taking a new kind of advocacy approach. One that makes me feel better about the work I’m doing on this earth while I’m here. It’s an approach to advocacy that, I feel, builds networks while keeping a stance.
Other than pointing out when and how something is problematic, I do everything I can to lift up artists and figures that haven’t received much attention with a forward thinking message that advances the discourse.
I enjoy lifting others up that have a very thoughtful message and share it in a constructive way. I feel it’s more praxis than just criticism and I also believe it can help you find other people you’d like to support in the future. Someone could see you promoting someone and offer a similar artist to try.
The promoted artist may, but not always, return the favor. It isn’t about giving or receiving promotion, though. Promoting people that you feel advance this discourse, will, eventually, overpower the problematic discourse and replace it with a better conversation.
Replacing problematic artists is far better, in my opinion, than just taking down a problematic artist. It’s far harder to rebuild and replace than to destroy but replacing problematic artists will also open up the gates for new bodies of work to thrive and do better.
Reading and writing is a powerful form of protest. Disabled people have many ways we organize our own resistance. We build communities and champion thoughtful Disabled artists. That might not be a visible movement, but it does change the world. All it takes is for one more person to learn something new.