A lot of talk goes around the net about SJWs. Social Justice Warriors. And for the most part, it’s used as an insult, though I can’t really understand why. I proudly proclaim my status as an SJW, and am constantly working to become a better one.
If you don’t know, an SJW is someone who works to spread justice for everyone. Equal rights, freedom, liberty, et cetera. When it’s used as an insult, the term SJW normally refers to someone who is hostile about their beliefs, and who goes on lengthy diatribes or goes to an extreme in the matter. There’s a less-insulting term (Social Justice Advocate) that goes around for the more level-headed people out there (because trust me, there are some nutters in the social justice world, just like there are everywhere else), but really, it’s just a name. And unfortunately, there’s a fight to be had for social justice everywhere.
And that includes in the SF/F community. SJWs are something I’d say we need more of, both in the convention circuit and in the online communities. In the world, really, but let’s keep our focus on something smaller. No point in getting too overwhelmed.
You see, the SJWs are the people who combat for change. It’s the flag we fight under. Against racism, against misogyny and misandry, against homophobia and transphobia, against religious discrimination. SJWs speak up, and that’s important, because if you want people to feel safe, you want people to feel comfortable joining our SF/F family, they need to know that there are people there willing to stand up for them and their right to be there. No matter how precocious you are, if you think you’re up against thousands of people at a convention or in an online group or forum, you’re going to at least hesitate, and often leave that group behind.
Which is exactly what we don’t want to happen.
It’s not hard to step up, but it’s also one of the hardest things you can do, sometimes. If you see somebody being harassed in the halls of the con hotel, go and stop it. Not physically, of course, but step in. More often than not, the antagonist will stop what they’re doing when someone else gets involved, especially someone self-confident enough to charge into it like that. If they don’t stop, then just take yourself and the victim out of the situation. If it’s physical, alert security.
What if it’s not outright harassment, but just someone who doesn’t know better? Educate them. The SF/F community are a fairly intelligent lot, after all. But a lot of people don’t always know what’s going on, since it’s part of another community. Just last year, we had an issue where someone used a word from an older piece of sci-fi. A word which is nowadays offensive. Most of the people didn’t realize why it was an issue, didn’t know that word is used as a trans* slur. But once that was explained? Problem done and solved. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
What about the internet, though? It can get a little prickly with the internet, because there’s not much that can happen. If you can get into an altercation in person, there are direct consequences. Expulsion from the premises, banned from the convention, arrest, if it’s really bad. But online? The most that can happen is that an admin or moderator blocks that user… who can then go and make another account and get right back to it. If it’s bad enough, the authorities can get involved, but it’s often not worth it to people.
That doesn’t mean your SJW self is defenseless. Message the person being harassed and talk to them, try to make them feel better. Point out small offenses to the offender, point out larger offenses to the admin/moderator (it’s not necessarily permanent, but it can still be effective). The most important thing again is to just step up. Even just having one person there that gets it will make it so much easier for someone else to join an online group, or an-in person group.
I would also recommend some reading material for this, though it’s by no means necessary: The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook by Sam Killerman. It’s focus is on QUILTBAG+ issues, and it might well open you up to things you didn’t think about. It certainly did for me.
I wish I could say that this will eventually solve the issue of QUILTBAG+ prejudice. But the fact that there is still racial prejudice after so many years proves that, at the very least, it’s going to take a long time. But if nobody stands up because it’s not going to work, then it really won’t work. And if you help just one person, you should consider it a victory for social justice.
So take up the cause and help the world mingle. You won’t be sorry.
Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, where he writes science fiction and fantasy from inside a single-wide. He is the author of Tartaros, The Park, and The King Jester Trilogy (Zirkua Fantastic, The Jester Prince, and A Fool’s War, coming in 2015). He has also written several short stories, featured in Apocrypha & Abstractions, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, and other various anthologies and publications. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he enjoys singing, cooking, playing trombone, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time. More information can be found at Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics.