I am unabashedly a social justice warrior, or SJW. That term, especially on the internet, is used derogatorily and is meant to somehow belittle those who try to fight against ignorance wherever it exists. And trust me, it exists everywhere.
There is sometimes a real problem within the SJW-internet-Tumblr-white-feminist movement of focusing on seemingly unimportant issues and being exclusive in their concepts of what communities to uplift. But regardless of imperfect activism, all SJWs are the target of a lot of internet fire.
This summer it felt like a rising issue and rising internet meme, were the concepts of trigger warnings and safe spaces. Two things that are meant to allow people of varying identities, and their intersections, to feel respected and valid in larger communities like a campus or a city.
Of course, any kind of space that isn’t made for white cis-men is a threat to white cis-men. The other side of the internet rushed to say that safe spaces denied free speech and stifled discourse, especially on college campuses.
Before I go deep into why we need things like safe spaces and trigger warnings, let me unpack the “free speech” argument.
When you complain about your freedom of speech being violated because you have to use gender-neutral pronouns, or be conscious of race in an interaction or not make a sexist joke, you are essentially saying your right to be an asshole is more important than another person’s right to feel comfortable occupying spaces.
The reason we put trigger warnings on things like articles and other content is because real people suffer from real trauma in this world which can directly affect them for very long periods of time. It’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it doesn’t just happen to war veterans and rape survivors. To deny the function and importance of trigger warnings is to deny people that their pain is real.
As far as safe spaces go, to me, they foster more discourse and diversity on campus which is way more important than you being able to fly a confederate flag in your window. When we let queer people, people of color, immigrants and the disabled know their thoughts are respected then they are more able to share from their perspectives which gives discussions more depth than they would have otherwise.
So before you roll your eyes about someone requesting to be referred to as singular they or them, or get made when someone calls you out for a micro-aggression or you see a flyer for a women’s only book club, really think about why your existence is so much more valuable than other peoples. I promise you it isn’t.