No place for fundamentalism in social justice advocacy

You live and learn. No one learns everything they need to know about life in a day. It is human nature to live, make mistakes, be ignorant and then learn, do better, still make mistakes and then, learn again. This is why the approach of imparting social justice knowledge through fundamentalism is not very helpful and often toxic and repelling.

It is important to recognize the fact that to come to knowledge, there is a process, there is no instancy. So, the approach of shaming everyone who does not necessarily agree with an ideology or a movement, in an effort to bring about social change does more harm than good. Of course, activists do not need to accommodate every idea or everyone and this is the powerful thing about activism. You defend people and societies assertively, in spite of insult, criticism and sometimes, possible harm. However, activists must be careful to make room to listen to those voices that want to know, that believe that there is good in what you are advocating for but need more enlightenment. This is so because some people do not just disagree with ideas because they are naive but because they do not have enough information, because they grew up within ideologies that are different from what should now be the norm.

The good news is that there are people willingly to learn why certain ideologies are putting societies backward. So, they need an open space where they can express their ‘ignorance’ politely and freely and then be more enlightened.

Do you ever read the works of certain social justice advocates and feel somewhat belittled, categorized unfairly as not willing to contribute to change? Well, no one should be made to feel that way. Social justice advocates have to be able to present themselves, their mandate, in a way that encourages people to come up and question them and even give constructive criticism. A simple example of fundamentalism is when an activist seems to respond to hate with hate, whether or not that was the intention. Also, think reverse racism – as a more narrow example.

It is very easy to be distracted by anger from all the bad news circulating form society to society, that activists begin to seem too angry and unapproachable. Speaking from my own experience, I have written and spoken out of anger at times, in ways that though my argument may have been right, I just may have scared off a few people with my facial expression or the tone of my voice – whether orally or in writing. Luckily, I have people who can tell me – I think you were right but that approach was unnecessarily too harsh.

Fundamentalism does not make people immediately drop their differing ideologies to follow yours, rather it takes them aback. The approach seems scary and certainly, they do not want to turn into people with temperaments, people who give no room to newcomers, the adapters. As my sister, Ebele, once told me and I am paraphrasing – A lot of troubles in the world are caused by fundamentalism.

So, it is problematic to approach social/world transformation through fundamentalism. It is like feeding fire with more fuel.

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