Community Question: Do relationships impede activism & justice?

photograph of a group of young adults jumping, caught in midair, on a hill outsideI know internet readers tend to like their blogs spoon fed with headings and bulleted lists and strong language. I’m doing something different with this post, I challenge you to step up and dig into this with me!

I do not do that which I know I should do. She says something insulting and I let it slide. He calls me Peter’s “friend” and I don’t correct him. They make jokes which aren’t really funny and I chuckle enough to not attract attention. It seems that family, friends, and closer relationships impede the cause of justice by compromising our words and actions, by elevating relationships over rightness. Still, I am at a loss for what to do. That’s where you come in! I’m issuing a challenge for you to overcome internet passivity to work through this together.

Here’s what I observe with myself, let me know if you see this in yourself and if you have any thoughts on solutions.

I do not correct problematic language. For instance: my boyfriend’s father has never referred to me as “Peter’s boyfriend.” He always introduces me as “Peter’s friend.” Sometimes he even refers to me as his friend. Recently, I’ve taken to reintroducing myself (if Peter is around, he gives a personal–and correct–introduction). On a personal level, it makes my skin crawl and I feel shoved back into a closet to which I will never return. On a systematic level, this use of language continues to make queer relationship invisible. I’ve never addressed this with Peter’s father, though Peter has on multiple occasions. Which brings me to…

I do not intervene. Anti-Oppression 101 says that you speak up and take action when necessary; you don’t wait for someone else to do it and you don’t leave oppressed people stranded. Sam Crowell stepped up when a man came into my church spewing anti-gay rhetoric. But what about when it also affects someone you love and care about and they don’t want to say anything because of their own personal relationships? I’ve put my love for another person (perhaps a misguided love? or misrepresented?) over what I know to be the right action.

I don’t ruffle feathers. Whether it’s my own family and friends, or those of someone I am close to, sometimes I don’t do anything because it will be uncomfortable. We’re on vacation for a week together, they are always going to be his parents, we are at a party… I put comfort, sometimes others and sometimes my own, over stepping up and saying or doing something to correct an injustice. There’s a part of my that even hesitates to publish this article: what if a friend or family member sees it and gets upset?

I go inside myself. When oppressive things are said about or done to me and I do not respond, I loose a bit of my humanity. There is a saying “Sometimes we speak to change the world, sometimes we speak to keep the world from changing us.” When I don’t speak at all, I make myself a victim. It doesn’t feel good and it leads to other unhelpful actions: I avoid eye contact, I leave the room, I keep conversations shallow and short, my body language clams up.

So now what?

What then are we to do? Activism burn-out is real and all too often our relationships suffer. If relationships can help us take care of ourselves and right action also helps us take care of ourselves, and sometimes those two ideals are opposite of each other, WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!

Gandhi, in his autobiography, eschews close friendships as they obstruct our ability to love the whole world fully as we necessarily prioritize some (our relationships) over others (everyone else). Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple” (14:26). Great.

So, I’m turning to you blogosphere: what are we to do?

Photo by scion_cho