Should I Always Wear My Activist Hat?
Scrolling through my social media feeds offers up a treasure trove of perspectives on social justice issues. Each time I log on, I’m inundated by opinions ranging all over the place, and commentaries on what society is getting right or wrong. It’s par for the course to find articles like this interspersed with cute animal videos when you’re connected with activists and count them among your closest friends.
Since I’m a curious clicker, I always find myself opening tons of tabs and reading through endless posts and op-eds. Many of them tend to be critiques of various media happenings – responding to an offensive joke made by a famous comedian, ripping apart a celebrity’s ignorant tweet, discussing the flaws of how a television show or treat something, etc. After a while of taking in opinion after opinion, I end up in a state of social justice overload. And especially since these are exactly the types of articles I write as well, it makes a small part of me wonder if we should ever remove our social justice activist hats every once in a while and just take something for what it is.
You see, activism has always been a tough balance for me. Whenever something gets under my skin, I want to speak out. But I’m aware that as a highly vocal activist, I’m always on the verge of having a full-blown reputation of being mad at the world. I know for a fact that some people already view me this way.
I often think back to an experience I had in my high school chorus class. For some reason, perhaps to fill time after our spring concert, every year my teacher would hold votes on superlatives. You know, most likely to succeed, most enthusiastic students, and the like. Want to know what I was voted? Most pessimistic. I came home that day and cried my eyes out. People who hardly knew anything about me passed judgment that I have a negative outlook on life? I have always been a realist, but I sure don’t go around thinking or spreading the worst. None of my closest friends in school ever called me out for being a pessimist, nor did any of my family or others I engaged with on a daily basis. So why, then, was I associated with pessimism? Maybe this sounds ridiculous, but I think this charming superlative was forced upon me because of my disability. A bunch of high school kids assumed that being disabled was this big negative, so therefore I must only see the bad parts of life.
Whatever the real reason, though, this moment stays with me. I don’t want to be known as being mad at the world, and I think it’s quite possible to take a stand against injustices without being seen as such. And if every once in a while, some little microaggression comes about on the Internet, and I laugh it off or roll my eyes and let it go, it’s not a betrayal of my activist sensibilities. It’s simply being a human who doesn’t always feel compelled to call attention to the negative.
Like I said, it’s a tough balance. I think of it as being a lover and a fighter. Sometimes I want the cute puppies just as much the social justice. But in moments where I feel like hanging my activist hat on the hook for a bit, I remind myself that if we don’t continue to put our work and our words out there, if we don’t continue to fight, then we are ultimately jeopardizing the love we want to feel.
Emily Ladau is a writer and disability rights activist whose passion is to harness the powers of language and social media as tools for people to become informed and engaged social justice advocates. She maintains a blog, Words I Wheel By, as a platform to address discrimination and to encourage people to understand the experience of having a disability in more positive, accepting, and supportive ways. You’re welcome to connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.