For Those Fighting Internet Trolls

This one is for the social justice warriors. The race and class warriors. The people who agonize every day over unfair politics that affect them in their marginalized status in society. The people who are tired of others saying that they are tired of hearing about race, class, gender, and sexuality. This one is for the people who encounter haters who try to silence them daily.

You’ve seen the haters. In the Internet world they are brutally referred to as trolls. Maybe they say inflammatory things, perhaps under an anonymous name, to make people angry and see how far they can take a petty Internet argument. Maybe they truly believe they are pursuing their own important cause, just like you.

To be clear, the issue is never the action of commenting itself. Everyone has a right to free speech, a right to an opinion, and a right to share it. The issue is that despite this supposed freedom of speech, these angry, confrontational people berate you to the core in an attempt to silence you through harassment. Oftentimes they are simply desperate to protect the values, the actions, and the systems that have greatly benefited them while oppressing many more in the process. And of course the winners are going to want to keep their prizes and not be reminded of their unfair advantages in the game.

Ironically, they say things such as “Life is not a zero-sum game” or “You’ve gotta play the cards you’re dealt.” But in reality, by spreading knowledge about social issues they aren’t making life a “zero-sum game” because that fact is already well-established by the very ways in which policy allocates resources to a select few and excludes all others. Life is not a simple game of chance. You are not dealt cards. You instead carry traits and characteristics, some out of your control, which may unfortunately still attract discrimination. Yes, even in 20-freaking-13.

Sometimes your opponents will try to get you to question your identity, to make you question if you are really part of an oppressed group. But haven’t we learned that this is the very goal of the oppressor—to make you feel as though you have called this all upon yourself? (Hint: It’s called blaming the victim, and it’s worked for centuries).

But the word victim-blaming definitely won’t be used. They will say your wounds are self-inflicted. They say things such as, “You are just looking for things to complain about. Can’t you just be happy with what society has provided you with? I mean, don’t you see how much everything has improved since the 1950s? Now you don’t have to sit at the back of the bus when you ride from your polluted, underfunded, crime-ridden, food-deserted environments. Why are you complaining?

Through it all, they tell you that you are just insecure and that if you were a better person—quiet, content, thankful—maybe the honorable groups of society would accept you into their exclusive social circles, despite your label as a social deviant.

But don’t let them tell you that by talking about your personal troubles, each of which reflects one of society’s endless issues, you are being offensive. Life is offensive. Don’t let them tell you that these injustices that you and people like you are experiencing are just popping up because you happen to be looking for them.

Many of us grew up in environments that were markedly different from those with greater access to resources. Some of us decided to make it our life goal to understand why we’re seen as so much less deserving of opportunities than anyone else, despite how hard we and our families worked. Now that you understand why, you need to pick and choose your battles because no matter how many theories you cite, no matter how much you try to empathize with people who disagree, and no matter how much time you take to calmly argue why history still matters, some closed-minded people will always be committed to misunderstanding you. These people might parade around labeling themselves as open-minded, but they are ironically unwilling to sit and listen to you before butting in with all the reasons why you are wrong and all the reasons why you should instead be grateful for whatever semblance of freedom you may have.

But do not feel as though your thoughts and energy are wasted on those who don’t care to hear you out. Understand that for every one person who brings you down there is another who is more than willing to sit down, shut up, and listen. Don’t forget to give those people some credit for wanting to learn. More importantly, there are many people around you who have been waiting to read and hear the very words that speak to their soul and empower them. When you’re in doubt, ask yourself who your intended audience is and who you think should hear your words the most. Above all, never stop questioning the hand that feeds you.