Friday 18 April 2014

The Social Justice Network

It's still very surreal for me. 

I'm frequently asked by interviewers and friends alike how I've managed to create the network and amass the loyal following that I have.

I'm always flattered and grateful because people don't have to read my writing or support my endeavors. So the fact that they take time out of their schedule to read my thoughts and ideas is both honoring and humbling.

April 2003 seems like only last week when I was using the invite codes to start a new blog on this wicked cool sight known as Livejournal. At the time I only had 2 readers. 

Fast forward and after approximately 11 years, 5000+ blog posts, eight articles gone viral, 14 con appearances, 3 book signing events, 2 books, an audioshort, a PSA video and countless other endeavors, it feels like I'm only getting started and having a cult following (any following) is still a difficult concept for my brain to process.

The fact that my next book, West of Sunset, is coming out on April 30, is still kinda difficult for me to fathom. He says while currently working on line edits.

Some may believe it's luck, I'm sure that's a factor, but as a wise friend once stated, there's definitely a lot of hard work, and the meeting of preparation and opportunity.

While Lady Luck may have been a factor, I certainly made it a point to stack the deck, sacrificing nights, weekends, holidays, a social life, to hone my craft and to elevate my art and career to the next level.

The irony, I never set out to build a network or get involved with social justice/equal rights. In fact when I first began blogging, I rarely discussed those issues for the sake of my mental health. Sometimes Fate can lead us down the unlikeliest of rabbit holes.

So how did the 'network' come to be where I'm constantly the go to guy for signal boosting news, resources, cross-posting articles, and multitasking with a frenzy on my iPad, Macbook, and iPhone that I feel like the male equivalent of the Oracle?

Much like getting published, I don't believe there's one set path to making connections and building an audience. I will say however, the following techniques and advice have served me well over the years and hopefully they'll do the same for you.

1) The Reality of Social Justice

Social justice movements/spaces/activists are often accused of being a toxic cesspool run by hypocritical, depraved, corrupt sociopaths.

Well I'm here to set the record straight and inform you........THAT IT IS ALL TRUE.

TRU FAX! TRU FAX! Tru fax indeed.

You'll find just as many racists, homophobes and other bigots on the left just as you will on the right. Sometimes the enemies of the left can be even more dangerous because they pose as allies; notably white allies which if you break down the word allies it pretty much reads all lies and an oxymoron on top of that.

Because race still matters, racism is often dismissed and often takes a backseat to other oppressions, especially when whites are in the mix. As a result, you have agendas run by whites who aren't looking to dismantle institutional oppression but to remove the stigma of their marginalization so they can have a seat at the oppressor's table and reap all of the privilege that their cis straight white male counterparts share.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr touched on this repeatedly, most notably in his very famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail:

Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. 

There's a reason why the Prop 8 fallout transpired and why many queers of color have had to create their own spaces. There's a reason why #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, the hashtag that's put white fauxminists on blast, is still relevant.

People (especially whites) who get involved in social justice generally do it for one of three reasons: hubris, a hobby (and when I say hobby I mean folks who view social justice in the same manner as Pokemon and Magic the Gathering where the Ultimate Prize is achieving Magical Speshul White Person status), or the person generally wants to do the right thing and is making an honest good faith effort to be the change they wish to see in the world. More often than not, it's usually the first two.

In fact I usually prefer working with whites who are not involved in social justice because their motives tend to be noble and sincere and you tend not to have to deal with most of the gaslighting and goalpost shifting.

All of this being said, while many of the people operating in social justice are corrupt, that doesn't negate the dangers that are ever-present as a result of institutional oppression. Racism is still plagues our society as does misogyny and homophobia/heterosexism and other forms of bigotry.

And yes there are those who are fighting the good fight for the right reasons, but unfortunately they are in the minority.

I say this so you'll be equipped and prepared for the viper's pit if you opt to enter. I say this so you'll be prepared for the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even financial drain  that so often happens when one is working in social justice.

2) The Revolution Starts From Within

Now I know what many of you are asking, what does this have to do with networking? Because not doing the internal work today inevitably leads to one's downfall tomorrow. Too many (white) liberal fauxgressives believe that the rules and the standards don't apply to them. That they're just a magical unicorn of a speshul snowflake.

Stainslaw Jerzy Lec said it best, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."

None of us are perfect, we're all fallible and we will all make mistakes from time to time.  How one handles their mistakes speaks volumes just as much as the mistake itself.

Because we live in a world that reinforces bigotry, there is much for us to unpack and unlearn. You have to put in the work to deprogram yourself from the isms that has been embedded in each of us as the norm. Said deprogramming and discovering that you have (latent) prejudicial beliefs and realizing that you are not as good a person as you thought you are is painful, it's difficult and humbling. But that's how you evolve. That's how you become better.

When you lead by example and walk the talk, people will notice. They will observe and note the genuine effort and consistency in ways you would never imagine. When people know that you're legit, they'll want to work with you and invite you to their spaces because they understand genuine allies are rare and the real ones are worth the time and investment.
To not do the work or to believe that you are somehow immune or exempt is hubris, hypocrisy and inviting disaster.

I've seen this happen time after time after time after time after time.

Sooner or later, Your corruption will come to light.

Best case scenario, you'll be exposed as the charlatan you are. Worst case scenario, you'll be exposed as the charlatan you are by someone like me. I can assure you, it will not end well..........for you.

3) Your Methods & Motives Must Be On Point

There's the old saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. There's also a popular expression in SJ circles that intent isn't magic, Pagan and Wiccan beliefs notwithstanding. 

Intent isn't magic, and yet it totally is. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons doesn't negate one's corruption.

Too often white fauxial justice blowhards use social justice issues as a weapon to do harm to minorities. We've witnessed this with the likes of Dan Savage and other queer white supremacists.

Oh sure, those gay rights activists are "saying the right things" and taking "the right actions" but they were using SJ to reinforce racial oppression of blacks as Arsenio Hall so rightfully called them out on.

Still not convinced? Here's another example, Michael Vick. Make no mistake, I personally believe he committed a crime and deserved to serve time for his actions. However, the man has served his time, apologized for his mistakes, paid restitution, and has taken it upon himself over the  last few years to actively work to educate others on not following his example. Nothing else can be asked of him and yet countless whites are still gnashing teeth and sending him death threats. These same white folks who blatantly give passes to the likes of Roman Polanski, Sean Penn, Paula Deen, and Woody Allen. Which begs the question, what's the real intent at play here? What are these people really mad about?

So when marginalized people see this level of goalpost shifting coming from privileged groups, they will steer clear because they don't want to risk being struck and poisoned by these not-so-subtle vipers.

And speaking of vipers and other snakes:

Couldn't resist. Sorry not sorry.

Intent isn't magic and yet it totally is. If your intent is to be a good ally, you'll listen to understand, learn and strive to do better. If your intent is to be a good person, you will have no qualms about humbling yourself, taking ownership of your mistakes, learning from them and doing everything in your power to right the wrong and fix the situation.

This goes back to the previous point in that if your intentions are noble and you're genuinely trying to do good, others will be drawn to you even if you screw up from time to time (as we all do) because you are trying, you are working and you are learning.  This leads to trust, relationships and sometimes rare opportunities.

4) Have Something Unique To Say And Say It Uniquely

Generally speaking before I write a post which tackles a heavy or controversial topic, I ask myself three questions: 

-Does this need to be said?
-Does this need to be said by me?
-Does this need to be said me right now?

You would be surprised how those three simple questions keep me out of scolding water and keeps my size 14 boot out of my mouth. If the answer to all three questions is a resounding Daniel Bryan YES! chant, then I'll ask one final question:

-What truth/perspective needs to be said that hasn't already been said by others who are discussing this very issue?

Blogging over the years, I've developed a very distinct voice. As it has been explained to me by a number of my readers,  my writings reflect a very snarky, cerebral, pragmatic, sarcastic dry wit.

Not surprising considering my influences range from the likes of Malcolm X, Joss Whedon, Margaret Cho, President Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and Paul Mooney.

Suffice it to say, when I write on a topic, it will be in a very unique fashion.

Another directive I've established for myself over the years is that whenever I write, be it about equal rights or speculative fiction such as my upcoming novel West of Sunset due out on April 30 (shameless plug is shameless), I have three goals in mind which I refer to as E-Cubed. I write to enlighten, entertain and empower.

I write to enlighten the masses about the issue I'm addressing. I write it in an entertaining fashion so I don't get bored writing it and you don't get bored reading it. And keeping it 100, I have to mock and make light of racism and homophobia, not because they aren't serious issues because they are, but otherwise I'd be headed for the nearest ledge. I also write to provide solutions, experiences and resources to empower my fellow minorities so they can come out on top in their own respective journeys.

So much so, that readers will link, cross-post and invite others to view your work. Positive word of mouth is one of the best ways to build an audience and a network. It's not random happenstance that eight pieces I've penned to date have gone viral. Those writings connected with people on a very deep level.

It's also the case of hard work and preparation meeting opportunity.

5) Make Your Message A Universal One

It's very difficult to have a universal discussion when we all come from different walks of life. It's even more difficult when you're trying to explain the dynamics of a marginalization to someone who has never lived that experience.

One thing that often trips up many social justice advocates is that they will often advanced level anti-oppression rhetoric for people who are not involved in SJ. Needless to say this leads to a failure to communicate.

We all know (or should know) that racism is defined as prejudice + power. What this means is that because people of color are still treated as 3/5 subhumans in our culture, PoCs do not have the power to oppress caucasians, no matter how much Faux News would have you believe about Pres. Obama.

When SJ advocates use racism, they use it in the context of racial oppression and because PoCs do not have the power to racially oppress, it is often explained that PoCs can't be racist, i.e. racially oppressive.

But say that to most white folks and you get a response like, "OH EM GEE, ARE YOU SAYING THAT BLACK PEOPLE CAN'T BE RACIST. THAT'S RACIST RIGHT THERE. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

To avoid this foolishness, I may personally use the terms racial oppression and racism separately in order to avoid giving white folks the opportunity to derail and feign obtuseness.
When the issue arises about whether or not PoCs can be racist, I explain that if you're meaning racism in terms of prejudice, then yes we are all capable of prejudice but in terms racial oppression that is white privilege.

Privilege is another topic that seems to be a trigger for many whites. Mention that they have white privilege and you get crap like, "ARE YOU SAYING THAT I'M PRIVILEGED BECAUSE I'M WHITE? BUT I'M NOT SHOWERED WITH DIAMONDS AND PEARLS AND JET RIDES ALL OVER THE WORLD!"

This is usually the time I remind them that not 20 minutes prior they were quoting Dave Chapelle or Chris Rock's routine pertaining to racism and white privilege and they understood those issues then so playing confused and skeptical now just confirms that they are full of crap.

But for those who genuinely don't understand the dynamics of privilege, I share this article that was written by my good buddy Renee Martin.

This article explains privilege in a manner that anyone, be they involved in SJ circles or not, can understand and appreciate.

Going back to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, she eloquently breaks down tough political issues in a verbiage that most people can comprehend and appreciate. She also manages to do so without being patronizing.

The better people understand your message, the better they can appreciate it and promote it by sharing it with others.

6) Be The Solution

As you might've guessed by now, I'm very selective about the people I associate and collaborate with. Not all SJ warriors are created equal and not everyone is in the fight for the right reasons. A prime example would be something I saw too often during my Livejournal days. Whenever drama popped off in fandom or whenever a sci-fi writer showed their ass, everyone and their grandmother came out of the woodwork to comment, gossip and troll for the latest intel on whatever saga was transpiring at the time. Basically it was the online SJ MMORPG equivalent of Gossip Girl, only without the redeeming qualities that the Upper Eastside would bring.

Yet when it was time to do something positive and uplifting that can aid and empower minorities devoid of any scandal, suddenly 90 percent of those so called SJ warriors and tumblrinas were nowhere to be found.

There are popular online SJ authorities (and you'll know which ones by their track records) who go picking fights and stirring drama, not because they genuinely care about combating misogyny or racism or what have you, but because they're working to be internet famous and they thrive on the conflict. This is something they have in common with many other white bigots.

When Racefail 2.0 went down some years back, there were white spec fic authors who were claiming that black sci-fi fans were made possible by the interwebz and some other foolishness. While others had brilliantly and rightfully put them on blast and called them out on their bigotry, I realized there was another dynamic at play. These literary Klansmen were thriving on the attention.  Adoration or hatred, it didn't matter as long as the minorities'  world revolved around these white supremacists, that's all they cared about.

Peeping this game from the jump, I decided to flip the script. When I organized the Shatter the Silence event and launched the Fen of Color-United forum in response to the racist incidents, I did so with two objectives in mind: 1) Put the focus back on PoCs and to celebrate who we are and to uplift and empower one another. 2) To subtly but effectively remind white supremacists everywhere they were irrelevant and we don't need them. It's not coincidence that the acronym for Fen of Color-United is FOC-U. And of course white bigots tried to derail and sabotage the event. They failed, miserably and in a most humiliating fashion. I had a lot of great people watching my back and supporting me and some of the reasons for that are the aforementioned steps to build a network.

A similar dynamic played out on an online sci-fi diversity forum I belong to last year. Disgusted with Geek Culture's bigotry from fandom and the media alike, I posted the two pics below to empower and celebrate my fellow PoCs and to inform racist white geeks that we can stand on our own separately without their approval. Let's just say those pics exposed more than a few Nazis on our forum. But more than that, I garnered some more fans and friends because they saw I was making a good faith effort to empower and love my fellow geeks of color.

7) Be Ready To Stand Alone

There's the old saying that if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. I would take it one step further in stating that if you want something done at all, you've got to do it yourself.

When it comes to most white fauxial justice warriors, I don't hold my breath. For most of them, they're more concerned about looking good rather than actually enacting any positive change.

An example, so many of them will put on a performance about how they wish there was media featuring a black Hermione Granger, or a gay Artemis Fowl.


Taking them up on that offer, I will point them to said media featuring those very marginalized protagonists.  

"Oh I'm sure I'll get around to checking it out," which is usually white-speak for "It'll be a cold day in hell before I give those coloreds my money."

Which, to be fair, is completely their choice, but why waste everyone's time with the grandstanding when everyone knows they're lyiing?

These are the same allies who are soooooo supportive of LGBTQs but don't see what was wrong with going to see Ender's Game in theaters after a nice lunch at Chik Fil-A.

These are also the same allies who have a phobia of participating in any initiative that's run and primarily dominated by PoCs.

As a lone alpha wolf, I strive to be independent and self-reliant. If something goes wrong, I try to have contingency plans for my contingency plans. I try to be like Batman in that regard, or more accurately my gay patronus, Midnighter.

You see doing the right thing is rarely the popular thing, even in social justice; especially in social justice. Speaking the truth is a quick way to get you hated. When this happens, people will abandon you and show their true colors.

Don't let it shake your resolve. Weather those storms and keep your eye on the prize. The elite few who do step up and stand with you during those times will be keepers, invaluable treasures who you will never want to part with. Quality over quantity for lack of better description. 

I may be a loner by nature, it doesn't mean I don't have a family of Ride or Dies.

8) Create Opportunities But Don't Be Opportunistic

Admittedly the line here can be a blurry one but there is a line just the same.  I've watch activists organize e-carnivals or diversity roundtables, invite people to participate and the organizer does little talking about actual diversity but uses the event solely to pimp out their new project.

In essence the organizers pull a bait and switch and trick unsuspecting folks to have a vanity session.

Another example, a month or so ago, one of my good buddies, a fellow author and LGBTQ activist had a birthday and with many of us being on Facebook, we all stopped by and posted memes and pics and wished her a happy birthday. Another writer, who my friend didn't know, came on to her page and plugged his new book to everyone on my friend's birthday post and then PMed my friend and tried to pressure her into promoting his work. While my friend is one of the sweetest ladies you'll ever meet, she's not one to be tested. It did not end well, for obnoxious writer dudebro.

Now let me be clear, I'm not saying don't get your hustle on. As a novelist, I understand and appreciate the need to work hard and do everything in your power to promote yourself and maximize any potential opportunity. I do this myself and I would be a hypocrite in decrying someone else's efforts in doing the same.

But there is a proper time and place and a right and wrong way to do things and this goes back to the previous point in that your methods and motives have to be on point. 

There's an old saying that you have to give respect to get respect. Anytime I come across media that has positive and respectful portrayals of minorities, I do everything possible to boost the signal on it. I've written blog posts where I make recommendations of web series, graphic novels, and tv shows that I think PoCs and LGBTQs will appreciate. Those may seem like simple blog posts but for minorities desperate to see their identities portrayed with RESPECT, those posts are priceless resources.

More than that, others have appreciated my efforts which in turn led to more word of mouth and my rep being boosted. This has led to chance meetings and friendships with some amazing supportive souls like Gail Simone and the late Perry Moore.

9) Intersectionality Is A Thing

As I mentioned earlier, I'm very selective about the people I collaborate with and when it comes to white social justice activists, I'm even more hesitant. One of the key reasons for that is intersectionality and many whites adamantly refuse to grasp why this is a thing.

I've seen it time and time again. It's no secret that trans and queer PoCs face a higher rate of hate crimes than our white peers. Yet as we saw with cases like CeCe McDonald, Lawrence King, Duanna Johnson and countless others, white queers were nowhere to be found and couldn't be bothered to lift a finger.

But let a ban on gay marriage pass and rich white queers come out of the woodwork demanding and ordering people like me to protest their inability to register at Macy's. Then they don't understand why my reply to them is a grin and two middle fingers.

I could list the number of times white fauxminists have thrown women of color, PoCs and LGBTQs under the bus but there just isn't enough bandwidth on the world wide web.


Then these fauxial justice tumblrinas don't understand why many of us steer clear of them.

Intersectionality is a thing. More than that, intersectionality is nothing new. For instance, the late Coretta Scott King is rarely credited for being an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights. Her husband Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tackled racism, and classism, and unlike most whites didn’t try to conflate that latter to negate the former. 

Huey Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers, wrote a letter encouraging us all to not only embrace feminism and our LGBTQ siblings but to do some serious internal soul-searching and tackle our internalized misogyny and homophobia. 

Intersectionality is something Truth literally spoke on. Truth by way of Sojourner when she asked, Ain’t I A Woman? You see most PoCs aren’t fighting to reattain privilege and get a seat at the oppressor’s table like we see too often with privileged white activists. We are actually fighting for equality, not out of self interest but because it is the right thing to do.

I make it a priority to speak out on transphobia, misogyny just as much as I do any oppression that affects me directly.

I can't claim to love my black people if I'm not standing tall for my black women and black trans siblings. Any form of institutional oppression is priority one for me. I try my best to stand tall and take action.

After all, to quote Dr. King, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

The fact is where there's one ism, others are usually waiting in the wings.  Again, to quote Dr. King, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Anytime we don't make it a priority to shut an ism down, it sets a precedent that some people are better than others. 

When I stand tall and take action I try to be the ally I want to have. That's paid off for me over the years because it sends a message to others that I'm involved in equal rights and social justice because I want to be the change I wish to see in the world. This leads to others trusting me and wanting to connect and network with me. This also leads to me having the distinct honor and privilege of being invited to do guest posts for amazing people like this.

10) Game Recognizes Game, Real Respects Real

By now you've probably noticed there's been some universal themes reiterated throughout my points:

-Do the right thing for the right reasons
-Lead by example
-Walking the talk will attract the right people
-Have a unique voice
-Consistency is key
-Humility rises, hubris leads to a fall
-Work hard and be prepared for whenever opportunity strikes

The truth is, there was never any super secret marketing strategy or advertisement gimmick that garnered my following. In fact, I never intentionally set out to build an audience. I just worked hard, tried to do some good. I think the biggest reason my network grew is because, I always try to keep it 100. My limitations, I own them. My mistakes, I own them. My choices and actions, I own them. As a rule I treat my peers as equals, not inferiors. After all, you have to give respect to get respect. I don't say anything behind someone's back that I'm not willing or haven't already said to their face. One knows where I stand whether they agree with me or not. Not everyone agrees with everything I say or do. To be honest, I'd be worried if they did. However, as I've been told, they see me as someone making a good faith effort to do what he honestly believes is right.

When you're involved in social justice which is inundated with fakes more concerned with looking good than actually doing the right thing, someone who is genuine in working to bring about positive change is going to stand out like the proverbial lighthouse in the storm.

At least that's been my strategy and it's worked so far, for over  a decade.  ;-)

Dennis R. Upkins hails from Atlanta, Ga. A speculative fiction author, his writing credits include Stranger Than FictionHollowstone, and his upcoming title West of Sunset. Upkins regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in media and has been a regular contributor to Ars Marginal, Prism Comics, and Nashville Geek Life. You can follow him


Jo Lindsay Walton said...

"People (especially whites) who get involved in social justice generally do it for one of three reasons: a hobby (and when I say hobby I mean folks who view social justice in the same manner as Pokemon and Magic the Gathering where the Ultimate Prize is achieving Magical Speshul White Person status), or the person generally wants to do the right thing and is making an honest good faith effort to be the change they wish to see in the world. More often than not, it's usually the first two."

Is there something missing here?!

Dennis R. Upkins said...

Apologies. An extra word was deleted while editing. Fixed.