Epistemic status: Mixed. Part of this post is purely my opinion on strategic considerations in social justice activism. These statements accurately represent my opinion at that time, based on my own experiences and on general background knowledge. Other statements about the causal role of social justice activism in deciding the 2016 election, specifically, are more speculative, and are probably overconfident as written.
(CW: race, privilege, Trump)
I think social justice activists deserve some of the blame for Trump.
I also think they are correct about their most important points, and often have good justification for their actions.
As I said in my earlier status about my forays into pro-Trump sections of the internet, many Trump supporters are very angry at social justice activists. Some of this anger is genuinely ‘whitelash’, the discomfort of white people being forced to confront their privilege. However, some of it results from a confusion of language that is perpetuated and even celebrated by SJWs and their allies.
A common definition of ‘racism’ as used in America is something like “conscious revulsion or devaluation of people not of one’s own race”. This (or something similar) is the definition Trump supporters almost universally accept (which is why they can’t possibly be “racist” if they are married to a person of color, or are themselves a person of color). Social justice advocates of my generation use a very different definition; for them ‘racism’ includes the above, but is expanded to include unconscious biases, cultural appropriation, unacknowledged privilege, unwitting microaggressions, and (sometimes) tolerance of these things in others.
Trump supporters (AND ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE!) are completely unaware of this highly expansive definition. They see activists make allegations of ‘racism’ and are *JUSTIFIABLY* confused and angered. After all, an 18 year old college student wearing face paint and a head dress for Halloween is not evidence of “conscious revulsion or devaluation of people not of one’s own race”.
Social justice activists have done virtually NOTHING to address this confusion. Instead they double down on the need to disrupt and challenge ‘racism’ wherever it appears. Demands that they clarify this point are met with anger and defiance by activists. Activists will say things like, “It is not my duty to educate you about my experience, you should accept that you will never fully understand and make efforts to educate yourself”, or, “Asking me to explain race and privilege to you is to ask me to relive all of the trauma that I have been subjected to because of the white supremacist culture.”
In making these responses, SJWs embrace a very reasonable, common-sense *NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST* moral principle. They don’t explain, because they have no duty to do so. It is harmful and unfair for the privileged to ask the disenfranchised to relive trauma, just so they can understand injustice better. I think SJWs are absolutely justified on these grounds. ****BUT ENDORSING NON-CONSEQUENTIALIST MORAL PRINCIPLES CAN HAVE REALLY REALLY BAD CONSEQUENCES.****
There are also more subtle dynamics. Requests for explanation by privileged folks are often actually covert demands for justification. “Explain your experience to me, black queer person, so that I can critique your experience, challenge your inference, and ultimately deny your conclusions.” Privileged people are defensive and guilty and often not really interested in good faith discussion. They demand higher standards of justification for claims about social justice than about other issues. They change the subject when they are on the defensive, they make uncharitable interpretations of SJ arguments and hammer on them. They are shitty conversation partners, and marginalized people rightly don’t want to deal with it.
There are also tactical considerations. Some SJW believe that the best way to gain attention and support for their cause is through disruption, confrontation, and demonstration. Some privately hold more moderate beliefs than they express publicly, but think the best way to get to their preferred position is to anchor with a more radical view and then compromise to a better midpoint. Some have seen the effectiveness of radical activism (maybe they were personally influenced by such tactics). Some are just angry and want to publicly express their fury.
I don’t claim to have the answers, but I DO claim that the answers will be complicated. I DO believe that many SJW have subtle, sophisticated, and largely TRUE positions on how race and privilege work. I DO believe that racially privileged folk unfairly challenge and undermine good faith attempts by marginalized groups to communicate. I DO believe that Trump supporters are wrong, and cruelly-so, to deny the bigotry of their candidate.
But I don’t think that social justice can progress without cleaning up its act. Social justice needs *DIPLOMATS* as well as warriors. We need a more-moderate arm of this movement.