OPINION | Modern activism is stained with classist practices

Classist+practices+in+activism

Emma Vaughters | Layout Editor

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

This past summer saw a massive resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and along with it, a growth in political engagement, specifically among young, voting-age individuals. Now more than ever, I see people post infographics and personal thoughts about issues of social justice. As I see more and more posts, however, I also see more people slip into classist rhetoric within their activism. 

The climate change movement is especially guilty of perpetuating exclusionary forms of activism. One of the biggest individual actions that people are expected to take in terms of combating climate change is incorporating sustainable products into their daily routine. That means choosing to substitute plastic straws for metal ones or buying sneakers made from recycled material. 

The average American right now can’t afford to transition to a sustainable lifestyle, even if they care deeply about the effects of consumerism on our environment. It’s not just money, either. Sustainable lifestyle practices, for example cultivating your own garden or visiting farmers markets, require significant time and energy that not everyone has to spare. 

My issue with these practices, of course, isn’t that people choose sustainable options over others. The problem arises when people expect everyone to follow the same sustainable practices as them without considering their privilege. 

Another of the largest classist tenets of activism, especially among college students, is the use of inaccessible language and information. 

Social media posts will focus on issues of critical race theory, the privilege of cis-heteronormativity, the prison-industrial complex and many more topics related to systems of oppression. Oftentimes, people will say that reading theory is a necessary step for people to take in their activism. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEy9GwunyvY/

The discussions and theories that accompany these problem areas are absolutely necessary, but as I scroll through Instagram and Twitter, I can’t help but acknowledge the lack of accessibility in such posts. 

As students of institutions like Tulane University, we’re lucky enough to access a wealth of knowledge, spanning several fields of academia. Our access to higher education consequently grants us access to information that is not as comprehensible to others. 

Using inaccessible language has two main classist aspects. For one, when activists talk about sociopolitical issues using specialized jargon and theories, they exclude anyone who doesn’t have access to that same knowledge and vocabulary. The second main issue with this type of language is that it assumes that those with formal education carry all relevant knowledge of activism. 

While social theories may convey crucial knowledge for activists, classist practices that prioritize theoretical knowledge overlook the importance of lived experiences. The very people othered by inaccessible activism carry critical information and perspectives that activist practices can greatly benefit from. It also overlooks the huge role of grassroots organizations and local initiatives in favor of elitist forms of activism. 

I’m not writing this in an attempt to bash young activists or invalidate their work. Insidious undertones of classism are often invisible to us, and though we probably don’t intend to perpetuate oppression, we do. I’ve been guilty of these missteps myself in the past, but the bottom line is that we need to do better. 

Of course, if you are able to, you should be taking whatever action possible towards making our world a better place. If for you that means buying sustainable products and poring over complex social theories, that’s great. What’s not okay is when we force those same steps on others who are not in the same positions of privilege or prevent them from engaging with us.

We’re all still learning, and we all still have a long way to go. Understanding how our activism can actually be exclusive is just one more step that we need to take.