How is it that the old adage goes? “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I’m pretty sure that most people have heard this or at least some version of it. I know a lot of people who will condemn public figures, random people on the subway, work colleagues, etc. for their wrongdoings, but these same people will often keep quiet when it’s their own friend or family member doing the wrong.
Why? Because they make allowances for the people that they care about! Most people do; I certainly have done. I find that it’s harder to say something the closer you are to the person, especially in the cases of significant others / immediate family members, because you love and respect these people a lot. But that doesn’t mean that they’re perfect! Or that the things that they do wrong get a free pass. For example, my ex-boyfriend would say things like “I know that when girls wear short skirts and tight tops they aren’t asking to be raped, but aren’t they kind of asking guys to stare at them? I mean, what do they expect to happen? If they don’t want to be looked at why don’t they wear something else?” I disagreed (a lot, on the inside) but only put up a half-hearted defense, not wanting to start an argument, and wrote it off as just a bit of ignorance. Well, just a bit of ignorance is still ignorance. It’s not okay. Looking back I can hardly believe that I let that one go.
When I say or do ignorant things, I want to know! Like (years ago) when I used to use the word “gay” as a synonym for “bad” – and my friend called me out on it. I would NEVER say that now. But who knows, maybe if she hadn’t brought it to my attention, I wouldn’t have realized how offensive it was on my own. I wasn’t trying to be offensive, but I was participating in a huge systemic oppression against gay people – which is so against what I actually believe! It’s entirely possible that your person saying x bad thing doesn’t realize that damage that they are doing in saying it – I didn’t.
I also know that speaking up is scary. It took me a little while to be brave enough to stand up and say something when people I respect do something that I think is wrong. Such things become immediately serious-with-a-capital-s, and it can be extra hard to throw a spanner in the works during fun times. And, of course, speaking up can start arguments… But it’s worth it! Nobody said that it would be easy, right. And it feels damn good when somebody who you have stood up to before comes up to you and says “thanks” or “wow I hadn’t really thought about that before” or even “I respect you for always standing up for what you believe in”. (All true stories!) And you’ll find that another cool thing happens when you stand up for what you believe in: you begin to be surrounded by more like-minded people. And it feels much more achievable and much less like bashing your head against a wall when you’re not the only one!
I’m not necessarily saying go full-police on what everybody says all the time, but at least pick something that you care about and stand up for it. For me, that’s sexism. For you it might be animal rights, I don’t know. But being complicit in these things isn’t going to change anything. So stand up for what you believe in! You might just effect some real change.