Critical Questions of Social Justice Movements

I’m an ally. I’m an ally for LGBTQIA+ folk. An ally for #TransRights. For #MeToo. I support #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. In general, I ally with anyone fighting for equity and justice, and against intolerance and discrimination.

There are some critical questions I want to ask about many of these movements and organizations. Sometimes I see things that give me pause, that concern me. Actions taken or statements made which seem problematic or counterproductive. There are questions I want to ask.

But I shouldn’t ask them. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I believe I shouldn’t ask them.

I’ve always believed it’s good and healthy to ask critical questions of the world. I believe there’s great benefit in it.

I was raised in a very intellectual home. Both of my parents have Masters degrees in history; my father has an EdD and spent his career in higher education administration. My mother has the equivalent of a Masters in architecture. I spent my childhood surrounded by books on history, art history, philosophy. I immersed myself from a young age in my father’s science fiction collection and grew up wanting to be scientist and a philosopher. I grew up wanting to be a learned man. I was formed in an environment of inquiry and exploration and sincere critique.

I genuinely want what’s best for those fighting for equity and justice. I believe it’s crucial and beneficial to ask critical questions.

So why have I decided I shouldn’t ask them?

Because it’s not my role. As an ally, I’m not the best person to do it. It’s far more beneficial if people more central to the cause are the ones who ask the hard questions. It’s also an optics issue: regardless of my intent, it’s problematic for a middle class cisgender white man in America to play Devil’s Advocate with a social justice movement. As an ally, I have a responsibility to be aware of that.

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong. My questions are likely not as insightful, not as helpful, not as crucial as I think they are. I’m an outsider to these causes. I’m not a minority, I’m not a woman, I’m not trans or queer or gay. I have no lived experience of being the target of social injustice and intolerance. I don’t have enough perspective to know what’s actually critical to ask, what’s actually problematic within the movement.

I’m sure necessary critical questions are being asked. There are a lot of very smart people in these movements who know just as well as I do how to ask crucial questions. I’m not always going to be privy to that process. I’m not going to be included in every single thing that goes on within the movement. I don’t have any right to expect to be. My role as an ally is to trust.

I don’t have the right to expect answers. This is the true heart of the matter: I don’t have the right to ask members of marginalized groups to answer my curiosity. Social movements—the leaders and participants of those movements—have no obligation to answer to me. I don’t have the right to make this about my concerns or my perspective. It’s not about me.

Part of my responsibility as an ally is to accept that I will always be ignorant to some degree. I have to make peace with that. My job is to listen, to amplify, to learn, and to trust.

It’s not my role to question.

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