Together? Whatever: In Praise of “Slacktivism”

Published on July 2, 2015 by   ·   1 Comment

Now I’m all for the righteous anger bit, but I swear there are some queers out there who work overtime at being constantly angry, belligerent, displeased, and generally unlikeable.

Whatever 03Enter Charles White, writing for The Tab.  As most queers were taking a moment to celebrate the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality (even those of us who are indifferent or even highly critical of the institution of marriage itself), White was (I assume) hunched over his keyboard, muttering to himself  as he penned a vitriolic and barely readable blog post called, “If you’re straight you need to stop using rainbow profile pics.”  I know I’ve provided the link here, but if you don’t follow it, or you do and find you can’t finish it, I won’t blame you.

White’s beef with heteros and their rainbow profiles is that it’s temporary and will eventually give way to the user’s typical stream of filtered selfies and posed profile pics sans rainbow colors.  He says that unless you are out “in the trenches” you somehow haven’t earned the right to apply a rainbow filter to your photo.  He says,

Call me a cynic, but how long do you really think these pictures will stay up?  In a few days, they’re bound to disappear – one by one, Rainbow filters will be replaced by Instagram Valencia again.

Straight people can rest assured they’ve done their job.  Everything around the world is great so, sit back, relax and change your profile picture back again.

Whatever 06Are you fucking kidding me?  First of all, I hope White isn’t laboring under the delusion that a Facebook profile picture is going to be pivotal in effecting great social change if only we stick with it long enough.  It’s a picture on a social media site, and people were changing it to the rainbow filter to show some support.  Will they change it back?  Yes.  But so will the queer folks.  We have our own Instagram Valencia photos we want to post for the word to like.  It’s a temporary show of support at a specific cultural moment, and you don’t need to have any specific sexuality “street cred” to take part.

He also charges that rainbow profile pics (by straight folks) are a form of “slacktivism” and calls them “nonsense and an offensive simplification of reality.”  Well, meow!  And if that weren’t enough, he gets really grandiose: “Are you going to keep that banner up till every single queer in the world is liberated?” Really, queen?  No, straight folks aren’t going to keep these up until every single queer in the world is liberated…and neither are the queers!  I’m enjoying my rainbow pic now, but I have some fabulous new pics from a shoot with Miranda Roen that will be edited and ready to go very soon, so my rainbow pic has its own expiration date.

Does White really believe that sort of “absolutely everything or nothing” mindset is really how we gage our allies?  Does someone have to be willing to die for a cause to support it?

I think that “slacktivism,” as he calls it, actually has a very important place in contemporary movements for social change.  And here’s why:

Whatever 05I sign a lot of petitions on and similar sites.  I know that these petitions can and do help to effect social change in very specific circumstances, and I feel like it’s the least I can do.  Like, literally the least.  Because while I’m willing to sign them, I don’t often share them on my social media sites.  Why?  Is it because I don’t really want to support the worthy causes that I am signing onto?  Nope.  It’s because if I share something of that nature on my newsfeed, I do so because I am more passionate about it.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the other petitions; I just place them lower on my list of social priorities.  If I shared every single petition I signed, my Facebook would slowly morph into an endless stream of social maladies.  A couple of things would happen: I would start to lose followers (which means a smaller and smaller pool of people to see the social concerns I was posting) and the issues that I was really passionate about would get lost in the deluge of social ills (making the effort that I was putting in on those issues less effective).

I’m proud to say that I’m a slacktivist.  I don’t have the time or resources or, frankly, the motivation to go chain myself to a fence at Monsanto to protest pesticides.  But will I sign a petition aimed at effecting change related to pesticides to help address the death of honeybees and their colonies, a petition that can be presented to lawmakers who are in a position to effect real change around that issue?  Don’t mind if I do!  I’m really sorry if you are offended by my apparent lack of concern for the honeybee, but I’ll sign your petition anyway.  That’s what we slacktivists do.  We’ll support your passions, even if we don’t share them.

Let’s face it: the world we live in can be an ugly, brutal, unfair, dangerous, and occasionally downright shitty place to live.  Even if I devoted every second of every day, stopping only to eat and sleep at the most bare minimum levels to ensure my survival, I couldn’t commit 100% of that time to every single social problem that I care about and that deserves my attention.  It’s impossible.  The ugly truth is that there will always need to be a prioritization around how we spend our time and resources.

Whatever 04That’s the upside of slacktivism: it gives people something tangible that they can do to show support within their level of comfort and with the resources they’ve allotted.  Changing a Facebook profile pic to show support for marriage equality isn’t going to revolutionize the world, and it isn’t going to liberate every queer on the planet, but it is a show of support.  And isn’t that small gesture better than no gesture at all?  For some, it might be a starting place; maybe after the rainbow profile pics, they might start posting queer-friendly articles or petitions that can help effect change.  Maybe changing their profile pic will ignite a spark that leads to more commitment to queer issues down the road.

And maybe not.  Maybe it is a trend or a fad, as White accusingly portrays it.  And that’s ok.  Because in that moment, even if that person wasn’t a die hard supporter of all things dyed-in-the-wool-queer and if they aren’t willing to take a bullet for the cause, they did something.

“Are you willing to wait for global freedom before you change it?  Not that we need you.  Queers don’t need your patroni[z]ing ally bullshit.”

Actually, queen of the high horse parade, we do.  Queers need allies, and we need to be allies to people within our communities who are not exactly like us (though this isn’t really the time to talk about the racism, biphobia, and transphobia that often go unaddressed under our rainbow umbrellas).  And, as Brooke Sopelsa points out in this post, we need to give our allies room to make mistakes, to ask questions, and to not always have the same level of commitment we do.  If we are only able to show support for those causes for which we are a part of the community affected and to which we are 100% committed, then I have some news for Mr. White: the world is only going to become a darker, scarier place.  Because once we divide people up into those causes that they are the most committed to and the most passionate about, we are going to see how little support each of those causes actually has.

In order to create change, we need people who are involved at many different levels of interest and commitment.  We need the bullet-takers and we need the people who just sign a petition or change a profile pic for a week or two and then move on.  We need every scrap of energy and support we can muster. And so instead of putting our energies into creating nasty little diatribes about how people aren’t supporting us enough, maybe that energy could be focused against those who actually, tangibly want to do us harm.

Whatever 02

But, whatever.  My commitment to arguing with short-sighted queers like Charles White just ran out.  Time to get back to those petitions…

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Readers Comments (1)
  1. Eloise says:

     fvriAmatife Action is racism.  Why should wealthy people of color such as Charlie Sheen or President Obama be able to put their children ahead of poor white and Asian applicants?

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