Personal responsibilities against normalisation

20 November 2016

“You cannot take what you have not given, and you must give yourself. You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

One of our great strengths is our ability to adapt to almost any situation, no matter how unusual it might seem at the start.

Current broader-level political and policy concerns aside, this worries me. There have been multiple calls reminding us that we mustn’t normalise this, that we shouldn’t forget that this is the opposite of progress, and many of these developments should shock us. In John Oliver’s first episode post-US election, he makes this clear. This election cycle, and the new President-elect, are not normal- “he is a human ‘what is wrong with this picture’”, as he puts it.

I agree wholeheartedly, but I worry for how long we can remember that. From all intents and purposes, it appears as though this will be going on for the next 4 years, and I worry that this behaviour will trickle down into everyday life far too quickly.

This worry reminds me of a conversation I had in late 2011. I was in Tripoli, Libya, just after Gaddafi had been captured and killed. I asked a Libyan man about what had changed since the fall of the regime. He told me that, after 42 years in power, Gaddafi’s influence had filtered down on a micro level within society.

“There are mini-dictators in every office, and in every family. It’s all we know.”

Admittedly, a power structure held in place for 42 years is far from the four we expect (= we hope!!) the next President-elect to be present, but it’s enough for significant behaviour changes to be noticed already. Racists and white supremacists have already been emboldened, seeing their bigoted behaviour legitimised on an institutional level. Numbers of hate crimes have risen already.

But the changes that are coming will not all be about extreme behaviour. What about the smaller, but just as notable, changes? Staying conscious that hate crime is not normal seems easier to me than remembering and calling out the smaller things, the microaggressions, the “casual racism” that I fear we’ll be seeing more and more often.

This is why I’m writing - not for readers, but for me, myself, to remind me that I have a responsibility to be calling out that kind of behaviour, and I should not be putting up with it. I’ve already seen far too many men behave in wholly inacceptable ways, to get away with it entirely unscathed, or worse - further strengthened. And why? Because we all make excuses for them, “but they’re academically very intelligent” - or in deference to their position of influence - “they control funds” or “they know lots of important people”, for example.

And so - enough. I’m done. Knowingly making excuses and putting up with that kind of behaviour is complicity in the bad behaviour itself. I’m in the privileged position where I can say that I refuse to work with people who display the tiniest echoes of the misogynistic, sexist, racist, bigoted behaviour that we’re seeing legitimised by men who are about to be in the highest ranks of office in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to try to help them see the error of their ways - to an extent, I’ll continue to point them to resources to gain more self-awareness and learn how to correct their behaviour. If they refuse, though, I won’t do this forever. I know from experience that educating people like this can be exhausting though, and I hope that people in equally or more privileged positions can help on educating them, too.

We’re facing many, many challenges right now around the world. Some are macro, broad, political and policy changes that will have trickle down effects on many of the most vulnerable communities. In the face of these, I’m still thinking and reflecting about how best to make sure my professional work and my own activism help address them. I’m grateful for the guidance on this offered by organisations I work with, like Data & Society’s post, on our renewed sense of purpose, and Global Voices’ reminder that the past few days in the US is “only the latest example of a challenge several of us have been facing for some time.”

On a personal level, though, my responsibility seems clear, and I want to be clear about where I stand. As a colleague said to me recently - now is not the time for silence.


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