"I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept."
These famous words, spoken by Dr. Angela Davis, made for the perfect senior quote my final semester of high school. I was so grateful to have found this quote just in time for senior year, a year of many changes, both personal and political. For my senior quote, I knew I wanted to use a quotation that reflected my worldview without dipping into the territory of cliché. So, I chose this one, which, to me, represented my desire to, like many to my classmates, invoke change. I knew mine was a bit serious in comparison to the other quotes, but I found myself surprised when someone said that my quote was stupid and made me look like an SJW (short for Social Justice Warrior) for picking the senior quote that I did.
The low-down on the term SJW, or Social Justice Warrior, is essentially as unflattering as it sounds. According to our good friend, the Urban Dictionary, a Social Justice Warrior is "A person who uses the fight for civil rights as an excuse to be rude, condescending, and sometimes violent for the purpose of relieving their frustrations or validating their sense of unwarranted moral superiority."
Although being called an SJW is often a relatively harmless joke (as it was in this instance), I couldn't help but wonder why something only vaguely allusive to social justice even brought up the term. In light of the tumultuous political environment of the time, this seemed odd. Why would it seem silly to quote a famous activist? I now realize that it is not only in spite of, bit because of the time we live in that resembling an "SJW" is more irritating than ever. In a political era in which we are, for better or for worse, forced to take a stance, the "SJW" flavoring of certain interactions or statements is intensified. We feel compelled to vocalize our beliefs with more bluntness than we used to.
Although I hardly think my senior quote qualified as SJW behavior, I realize now that my peers' opinions of it could have easily been colored by other actions of mine. I admit it-- I did engage in some mild SJW behavior in high school, particularly on social media (i.e. arguing about politics with relatives with relative ease). And though, for the vast majority of the time, I didn't voice my opinions obnoxiously, inappropriately, or out of self-indulgence, it only took a few SJW slips to put a dent in my credibility and respectability.
It's become clear that there are two sides to inadvertent SJW-ing. On one hand, many individuals truly aren't tolerant of social justice related conversations, which results in falsely accusing any average Joe with an opinion of being an SJW. On the other hand, however, some individuals may project their voices with tones of pretentiousness or patronization despite having good intentions. This results in falsely portraying one's self, and by extension, other like-minded individuals, as SJW kin.
At the end of the day, it's apparent that some of us argue our beliefs, however noble, out of a perceived social obligation rather than out of true passion and altruism. When this happens, our intended activism becomes flimsy, inauthentic, and ineffective. Everyone's task, then, is not only to respect those who defend and voice their beliefs but to understand for ourselves where we draw the line between progression and self-indulgence. It's only then that we can expect others to take our opinions seriously and stop labeling genuinely valid arguments (or just senior quotes) as SJW material.
So, whether you're the giver or recipient of the old SJW attitude, let's all agree to speak to one another respectfully, deliberately, and rationally. Maybe then we'll finally put the term SJW to rest.