Dr. Jad Jaber on the counter-productive reality of sensationalized activism
To get right to the point – sensationalized activism is inefficient, and it’s important we take the necessary time to understand why. There are “activists” in the world that try to take over all activism (usually privileged and non-marginalized people), and they seem to mix the nuances of their activism altogether, almost cancelling each other out.
A Black activist is primarily going to be working on Black issues. Some of those issues might intersect with gender and social issues, but the focus is on the experience of the activist themselves. As a Queer Arab, I focus on Queer Arab activism, as that is my experience; a life I have survived myself. The same goes for Indigenous activists – they have paid the burden for their form of activism. Socially, judicially and economically…
Then we have the proverbial “Karens” and “Franks” of the world – the white, straight and cisgender majority, who may very well be Queer, but being white and Queer doesn’t make someone more aware of the intersectional inequalities that racialized minorities face. Still, Karen and Frank like to dabble in it all… And they’re loud, too, ensuring their opinions are well heard and respected.
Their opinions usually receive more validity and concern than those who are actually going through discrimination because white people are more protected when voicing their opinions. Karen cannot be harmed by the community she’s voicing an opinion against (unlike a queer Arab like myself, for example).
Karen will academically infuse her developed language in order to appeal to the ears that can make the changes we all dream of, but when Karen posts about a woman’s right to wear a Burqa in Denmark or the war-struck children of Syria or the homeless in her city being relocated, she preaches without ever meeting or speaking to women who are veiled, children who are affected by war or the homeless who are displaced. She says she empathizes with these struggles, but she cannot ever truly realize them.
The problem we as marginalized minorities face when white activists blindly advocate is that they project their ideals of autonomy, agency, and independence over someone who has probably been fighting against these injustices their whole life. Someone from these communities. White activists will often post on the internet about the atrocities facing Syrian children but then vote for the same neoliberal systems that carry out these crimes!
Blanket activism dilutes the causes of other activism, and the best way to describe it is through the horrible narrative of “All Lives Matter.” No! All lives can’t matter until Black, Brown, Indigenous, Muslim and Trans lives matter! Everywhere! These are different initiatives, but they strive for the same outcome – equality.
Now, with the word “intersectional” at the tip of every person’s tongue, it feels like we’ve intersected everything to a homogenous pit of “rights-based” narrative – “It’s my right to be Queer! It’s your right to be free! It’s our right to…” Let me tell you, this narrative only exists in the “Western” part of the world (Canada, US & Europe). It is a beautiful and well-intentioned narrative, but we have also used this narrative to destroy other Queer people’s collective efforts.
Allow me to be very clear, this is not about who struggled or struggles more, it is about how we are all in this struggle together, but differently!
In my world, back home in Lebanon, depending on who you are, you can either have the rights to everything, or nothing. There is no general framework that exists to ensuring equal and just individual rights. As Arabs, we have no faith in a rights-based system. We lost connection to it by governments and social systems that have abandoned us at our weakest points. That is why we immigrate.
As an activist for queer Arabs, I have never claimed to speak on the behalf of other forms of activism.
I might give them a nod, but it’s not my place to represent the details, argument and rationale behind burdens that I have not personally paid the price for. It is also not my voice that speaks on behalf of all Queer Arabs, specifically Black /Queer Arab /women and Non-Binary genders, or Arab Trans folks.
Let me also say that if many of highly-represented activists found the solution for their activism, they can no longer be activists. There is a subconscious joy in finding the pain and struggle of “The Other” in identity politics: the same pleasure some privileged activist bank on.
If you’re truly moved to help people, then it is all about your intentions: your intention to learn, understand and motivate. When you come into a community without that intention, or without the experience of being marginalized, you will most likely inflict harm on those around you, whether you are conscious of it, or not.
Don’t be a #SlackTivist and don’t be performative with your activism.
Do the real work, and be permeable to change!