Full disclosure: Pascale is a Toronto based activist and writer, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
It was the third class of my intro to journalism class in my first year. It was one of those classes that relied solely on participation marks and the quizzes taken at the end of the class, so everyone showed up just to sleep in the theatre-style seats.
Three weeks into my undergrad career, and I was already frustrated with the lack of critical classes we were offered. Where are the classes that talk about race, class, gender and sexuality in journalism? Instead we were spoon-fed and regurgitated the same politics that is seen in mainstream journalism, without the analysis.
Mainstream journalism is filled with half-truths that are much easier to digest. Mainstream journalism only shows one side.
In this class, every week the professor brought in a guest speaker, and this week’s guest was a journalist recounting an interview she had done for an article. In the middle of her story, she began to mock the accent of the East Asian person she had interviewed. While some of the class giggled, I was mortified. I couldn’t believe the lack of awareness and better judgement that this journalist displayed. I was even more mortified to see our professor laughing along.
One brave student raised her hand and asked the guest not mock the accent, which closely resembled that of her mom, family and community. The student called out the racist undertones, and felt like it was a personal attack on herself and her family. Before the guest lecturer could even respond, our professor took the mic, and said, “Obviously this isn’t racist, please don’t be a social justice warrior.”
I walked out of the class at that moment and never returned.
obviously this isn’t racist, please don’t be a social justice warrior
That was the first time I’d ever heard the term “social justice warrior.” That was the first moment I heard someone trying to put another down for standing up for what they believed in.
This term is more often thrown at people advocating for feminism or against racism. As I started to invest in social justice, specifically fighting against anti-black racism, the term warrior justice got thrown at me regularly. I know and realize the term “social justice warrior” is an attempt to silence me. It comes from people who are too lazy, unmotivated or simply unwilling to change oppressive behaviours and languages that often target the most marginalized in our societies.
From my understanding, the term social justice warrior thinks that the things we are talking about are solely theoretical. When we talk about rape culture for instance, the unaware think it’s an irrational fear inside our minds to disown or call out men. When we talk about these issues they think it’s merely just a political conversation. Rather, when we talk about rape culture it’s about my individual life and experiences being shaped by misogyny since childhood — the reality of living a life fearful of violence happening not only to myself but also my three sisters, my mom and everyone I know.
This goes for varied topics of oppression. When we call out the use of a derogatory word or term, that is us, the marginalized, standing up for our dignity and our right to exist without an attack on our personhood.
The term social justice warrior is an attempt to devalue me, and anyone that carries the hope of creating an equitable world.
The term “warrior” however is the perfect word to describe us. To be able to live in a state of consciousness takes a warrior. To be able to fight for yourself and your community takes a warrior — but to be both able and willing to make your oppressor see the ways in which they are oppressing you takes so much more than a warrior: it takes an activist.