by James McMaster
I am a radical QPOC Facebook activist.
Yes, there is such a thing.
I have a reputation among my Facebook friends as that angry, informed minority who is always yelling at straight, white cis-men. I own it. It’s exhausting, but I keep on.
I cover my Facebook wall with political articles and my own radical, queer of color rants in hopes that one of my 1,582 Facebook friends will read what I post and gain a deeper understanding of my marginalized experience and resultant political point of view. I think of each post and comment, whether on my wall or someone else’s, as an individual protest against the politically problematic. For me, ‘likes’ are a 21st century method of voting, a means of pledging political and social allegiance to certain ideas over others. And yet, while Tumblr and Twitter have become a new kind of public sphere in global politics, Facebook remains a website where many wish to keep the personal and political separate. It’s time for those of us on the radical left to recognize that Facebook, like Tumblr and Twitter, is a necessary and accessible political forum for anyone with a computer and an internet connection, a key terrain on which to wage the larger battle of consciousness-raising.
In order to build large, powerful political coalitions that the most marginalized among us can exist in solidly and safely, we have an immense amount of consciousness-raising to do. This is not only true with regard to the issues around which we organize, but also with respect to the identities of those with whom we organize. This is the work of Facebook activism: we engage others in the hard conversations about identity through Facebook’s simultaneously intimate and non-intimate social media interface in order to build a base of diverse, informed individuals working within safer radical movements. We call some out on their racism and heterosexism, and we call others in on their ableism and misogyny. We publicly speak truth to ignorance.
But these tactics do not always work. I’ve had multiple statuses co-opted by – you guessed it – white, straight, cis-men. I’m sure we are all familiar with the patterns. You post something “controversial” as a status hoping for thoughtful engagement from others (or at least twenty likes). Then, someone comments from a place of extreme privilege, explaining to you all the ways they perceive your argument to be wrong. You respond with an impassioned, critical, and highly-edited response that is inevitably followed by an onslaught of tone policing and white tears. Suddenly, whatever issue you were originally trying to discuss gets derailed by some version of this statement: “Teach me nicely! Your movements will never make any progress if you continue to speak to me in militant and aggressive tones!”
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It has become clear to me that the idea of ‘progress’ has been co-opted. The white men with whom I argue on Facebook typically share a monolithic idea of what progress needs to look like in social justice movements. To them, the privileged group needs to be persuaded to give their power over to the less privileged group or else no progress has been made, period. Besides the fact that this logic fundamentally buys into current oppressive systems and paradigms, this understanding of progress conveniently continues to center the straight, white, able-bodied, thin, middle to upper class cis-man. This inability to imagine that progress could be something else, progress that does not consider the oppressor, is at the root of much of my political disagreement with privileged populations on and off Facebook.
Understand this: Facebook activism, far from conceding to any singular narrative of progress, offers us a multitude of alternative progress narratives, narratives that de-center the role of the oppressor in social justice work.
Facebook has a way of exposing the full measure of privileged ignorance, even our own. This is useful to us; it exposes the naked reality of what we are up against. Yes, when we engage with our oppressors we may not always successfully change their minds, but maybe our truth has inspired political transformation in someone quietly reading and learning from our posts. This is progress.
This is also about accountability. Has my Facebook activism ever slipped into misogyny or anti-blackness? Yes. Have I slipped into versions of some of the oppressive behaviors I described above? Yes. I continue to try to learn how to avoid those things and try to be accountable for myself when I don’t. That’s part of the process and the value of Facebook activism. When we make mistakes and don’t delete our comments, when we publicly apologize and thank the person who called us out for their time, energy, and analysis; Facebook can allow us to practice and model political accountability over and over again. This is progress.
I notice the community that gets built in the moment when sides form in a heated Facebook status debate. Suddenly we see who our allies are, we recognize the people who have our backs. Bonds are developed when someone ‘likes’ the comment you were scared to post but knew needed to be posted. This is how Facebook allows us to build coalition and cultivate sensitivity to interpersonal dynamics within social movements. This is progress.
Wars are waged in comment threads all over the internet, but it’s something different when the people you debate online are your friends, people from your past, family members, colleagues, and other intimate relations. The stakes are higher on Facebook. When we are able to visualize the human being on the other end of these hard, contentious debates, we begin to allow that humanity to inform our opinions. This is progress.
Finally, if Facebook (or Tumblr or Twitter) activism becomes our only or primary method of revolt, we are lost. Facebook only represents one front on which the war against injustice is being waged. There are crucial political battles being fought offline, across borders, on streets, on stages, in prisons, in bedrooms, in schools, on screens, in kitchens, in hearts, and in minds. We cannot stop at Facebook activism. Facebook activism is one valuable and necessary path toward many valuable and necessary ideas of progress, but we must remember that progress takes many more forms in many more contexts. We must do what we can, when we can, and where we can. Revolution means accounting for all of our differences, for all of our needs, and moving together toward the many possibilities of progress that exist.
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James McMaster is a queer Filipino-American activist, scholar, performer, and poet living in Austin, Texas. He is pursuing an MA in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas at Austin where he researches the radical self- care of queer people of color in performance and activism. His artistic work tries to untangle racism, capitalism, and colonization from desire, love, and the body. Follow him on Tumblr.