It happens.

I had the opportunity to be on the leadership for Next Step: A Social Justice Retreat. We faced tough conversations on identity– everything from race, White privilege, sexual orientation, gender expression, socioeconomic status…

A few of the leaders and I got to talking about social justice bullying. You know, that moment when you learn about just how messed up the world is and feel the need to save it– one ignorant person at a time. It happens to a lot of us. The reality is, bullying turns people off from the valuable learning that could happen. So how have I learned to navigate my own social justice bullying?

1. Breathe, approach, respond vs. React, attack, breathe

In the book, “35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say,” Maura Cullen mentions B.A.R.

Breathe –> Approach –> Respond

The moment someone says something that I consider basic, my blood boils, I sweat, and a migraine forms. I had no problem laying down some wisdom and shutting that ignorance down in the name of awareness. This happened when I first got my “social justice lens” but admittedly, I’m definitely still working on my social justice bullying– it’s a process.

It can be so easy to do the exact opposite of BAR, which is R.A.B.:

React –> Attack –> Breathe

I think emotion is a beautiful thing. How can we use that emotion and energy toward effective communication? How can we sustain ourselves in this exhausting work called social justice? People (particularly of subordinated populations) have every right to be angry and get angry. Anger is a human emotion that does not need to be shut down or shamed; it’s what we do with that anger that matters. What about within our communities of people who want to get it?

No, it’s not a “pass” for people to just say and do whatever they please… but what about the people who we have relationships with, who are trying, and want to serve… but make a mistake?

Breathe. First.

2. Imagine the people in your life as tiny infants and as 100-year-old adults.

Take this with a grain of salt. In Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” the book gives tips on narrowing in on the more important things in life. I’m not saying to talk baby-talk to people who piss you off (as tempting as it might be), and I’m also not saying that all 100-year old adults need to be nursed. However, arguably, both tiny infants and 100-year-old adults require a little more care… a little more patience. An infant doesn’t know any better– teach. A 100-year old adult may be cranky and in pain– have compassion. Apply this the next time someone just doesn’t understand how color blindness is not okay (hint: it’s about accepting and appreciating differences, not ignoring them) or the next time someone has the audacity to ask a transgender woman about her private parts on television.

[Update 3/2/14: the original video in this post was removed. The extended clip for Katie Couric’s site is now available in the link below starting from 2:20)

I admire the way that Laverne Cox took Katie Couric’s intrusive question and made it a learning moment for a person who clearly “didn’t know any better.” (Although “not knowing any better” is not a good excuse, it’s a microaggression). And while educating ignorant people all day is not the do-all/end-all answer (people of dominant identities need to do their own homework, too), imagining someone like a tiny infant or 100-year old adult can look like a lot of things: patiently explaining something or even just letting it go. This doesn’t work every time (holding someone accountable for a sexist comment or leaving them to figure it out on their own are two of many options).

The migraines still come… but the compassion is getting there; I’m working on it.


Equality means everyone has shoes. Equity means everyone has shoes that fit.

3. Calling In vs. Calling Out

In the beautiful article, “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable,” by Ngọc Loan Trần, I learned all about calling someone IN, a term inspired by the idea of calling someone OUT. I urge all so-called “social justice” advocates/enthusiasts/gladiators to read. My takeaway is to essentially put the relationship first. It’s all in the article, and it’s done so well. Here’s a couple of my favorite lines:

“I picture “calling in” as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray and there will always be a chance for us to return.” 

“And it is seriously draining. It is seriously heartbreaking. How we are treating each other is preventing us from actually creating what we need for ourselves. We are destroying each other. We need to do better for each other.”

Stay well, gladiators.