I should be writing a proper post. I had a proper post planned – it was about Sherlock, and how none of the emotional moments in it worked for me because Steven Moffat just does not understand that you’ve got to put money into the emotional bank in order for those big moments to pay off. I probably still will write that post.
Instead, I want to write about something almost as contentious.
I want to write about Twitter. Specifically, Bookish Twitter and how these days I can stomach it less and less.
There are two important points to be made before I get into this. One of which is that I am a person with a lot of privileges: I’m an educated white cisgender lady. The other, is that at 24, I’m definitely at the older end of the spectrum of book bloggers. And I didn’t even realise what that meant until I started watching how 19-year-olds act on the internet.
All that said, I see a lot of young white girls online who have taken up the gauntlet for bookish diversity and allyship, and rather than expressing that by reviewing books, posting articles and using their own following to bring attention to marginalised voices, they seem to spend the vast majority of their time bullying other users.
And I don’t think bullying is too strong of a word. Time and again, I see tweets linking to the twitter, goodreads and other social media accounts of people who’ve written – sometimes, yes, legitimately bad – things, always with the headline of how TERRIBLE this internet stranger is and how NO ONE SHOULD FOLLOW THEM. The effect of this is, to my view, twofold:
First, it’s just straight up a shitty thing to do. It’s bullying. It doesn’t take into account any possibility of lost nuance, or even that perhaps one dumb tweet isn’t representative of a person’s heart. Also, if this past election in the US, and the whole Brexit disaster in my own country that preceded it have shown us anything, it’s that spewing hatred at each other is not the most effective means of getting a message across. Yes, some people are legitimately heinous and to be avoided, but a lot are just teenagers who don’t know any better (and, to be frank, aren’t going to learn from someone just telling them they suck).
Second, I just don’t know why people always make the choice to uplift the voice of the racist, homophobic, etc stranger on Twitter. Spreading hatred around really doesn’t help anybody long term.
Okay, now that’s over with, my main point: Being an ally involves more than attacking strangers on Twitter.
Yes, it does mean having difficult conversations.
You know what is absolutely fucking terrible for difficult conversations? A website that only lets you think in 140 characters.
And, to be clear, the definition of a difficult conversation isn’t telling someone who wrote something insensitive about gender to go fuck themselves, or that they are stupid, or that no one should follow them on Twitter. A difficult conversation is what happens when a person is open, and willing to understand the opposing viewpoint enough to effectively challenge it.
I don’t see this. All I see on Twitter is people who would rather attack someone than actually talk to them.
All I see is people who would rather talk about ‘the marginalised’ than actually listen to them. It is deeply troubling to me that many of the most prominent voices in the bookish diversity conversation are white.
Listening is the other important part of being an ally. I found a really great article on Salon a while back that put it perfectly. The author writes: ‘Refrain from centring yourself in a movement that deserves your support but is not about you and about which you are not an authority.’ Or, as I would put it, bluntly, but from the kindest place in my heart: SHUT UP.
FINALLY: Keep in mind that everyone is still learning. Especially in this community, where a bunch of you are teens. Always be willing to question your assumptions, view your motivations critically and check your privileges, but also be mindful that to do so is hard, and we’re all in the (I am starting the think never ending?) process of figuring it out.
ACTUALLY FINALLY: watch this video. It’s such a valuable resource for anyone looking to communicate with people via Twitter, but the questions it presents are also helpful to ask yourself in daily life as well.
I have Mike McHargue’s four questions pinned to my desk top. I try to keep them in mind whenever I’m communicating with people on the internet.
ACTUALLY ACTUALLY FINALLY: Talking about this is scary, because you don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing, or make a problem worse, or be insensitive. I get it. But I think it’s a discussion that needs to be had, because bookish Twitter has become a very toxic environment.