While it’s great that people are becoming increasingly aware of the ways that overarching power structures and interlocking systems of oppression impact the lived experiences of individuals, we can’t forget the years of our lives we all spent saying and doing inappropriate and/or offensive things. We aren’t born with a complex knowledge of the history of structural violence and we certainly don’t exit the womb with the ability to critically engage with the world around us. It’s time to be more transparent, open, and honest about our growth and that starts by holding ourselves accountable for our past, problematic behavior.
For some of us that could mean browsing our twitter or Facebook history for posts that remind us how thankful we are for unlearning our once toxic ways, for others it could mean taking the time to reflect on past relationships that changed or ended because of how emotionally abusive we were. This task may be more difficult for some than for others for countless reasons but the point is to humble ourselves in the process of remembering our not-so-perfect pasts in order to be better in the not-so-perfect present.
The not-so-perfect future will, most likely, still be marked by Call Out Culture and cancellations. For better or for worse. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s healthier and more productive to critique people’s words, ideas, and belief-formation processes than to people themselves. We are more than our beliefs. We are more than our thoughts. We are more than the problematic tweets and offensive Instagram posts we shared twelve years ago.
Take a moment to think about ideas or beliefs that you feel strongly about now that you didn’t a decade ago. Two decades ago. One year ago. We’re constantly learning and unlearning as we navigate white supremacist, racist, ableist, classist, transphobic, heteronormative capitalism and the ways we survive and thrive vary tremendously. Some of us have no positive role models or limited access to healthy coping mechanisms and are forced to figure out how to carry on another day without any support. That can impact how and what we believe in ways that people don’t discuss enough.
In Robin Kelley’s Freedom Dreams, he explains that “making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us” while emphasizing the importance of imagination in liberatory movements. If deprivation, marginalization, and bondage have any influence on our desires, other motivations may be impacted by the conditions within which they develop. With respect to what we believe, and why we believe those things, our relationship to oppressive systems is partly to blame.
One aspect of revolution that we should all actively work on is acceptance of our own complicated paths to personal growth. We are products of process, change, and evolution. There’s beauty in the journey and every moment of clarity along the way helped us become who we are today. If we take the time to acknowledge and reflect on where we started as activists, as advocates, as members of the global community, we can have more respectful and productive conversations with others about areas in which they need to grow or heal. We all have work to do, things to unlearn, things to learn, and pasts to understand in the context of oppression. Let’s keep that in mind before we call out and cancel other people.
Let’s also keep in mind that there are different types of harm that come with saying, posting, and doing inappropriate of offensive things. If your words or actions harm(ed) people you may want to consider seeking professional help. If your words or actions don’t harm people you may want to consider seeking professional help. If you have access to culturally-competent help you can afford to address issues related to your unhealthy behavior or thoughts, or your life in general, you should take advantage of that. We can start the work of healing and being better people on our own but it can also be beneficial to seek out resources for specialized guidance and support. For the sake of your own health, and public health and collective healing, just start somewhere.