Those of us who experience routine social violence can’t afford to become enraged about it every single time. We also can’t afford to fight it every single time.
If you don’t experience social violence, this can be hard to understand. It can be easy to think we’re under-reacting and that we ought to be flying into a rage and reporting it. You might want to get furious on our behalf.
As furious as you think you’d be if that happened to you. The thing is, when it happens to you multiple times every day, you can’t always afford to make a big deal of it. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. It’s important to fight sometimes, but not always. There are other things to be getting on with.
So telling someone “wow, you should report that!” is not necessarily a helpful response.
Similarly, it also isn’t helpful to try to calm someone down or come up with lots of ways to interpret what happened as just an innocent misunderstanding.
Misunderstandings aren’t so benign when they happen to you several times a day and prevent you from doing what you need to do. Particularly when people become hostile when you tell them that they’re creating a problem, no matter how polite you are about it. Sometimes things really are that bad, and sometimes you’re not in a position to fix them.
Sometimes we don’t need help adjusting our perspective, or help filing a complaint. Sometimes what we need is to know that you are willing to listen to something that happened to us, and that you will believe us and understand.
Sometimes, you can’t make it better in that moment. Sometimes, we can’t make it better, and all we can do is survive it. We can’t fight every battle. And sometimes, the battles we don’t fight can take as heavy a toll on us as the battles we do fight. It is not easy to let things go when they are unjust and in which we’d really like to fix things. But, the only thing to do is see it as unjust *and* go on without fighting a battle then and there.
Just as no one should ever have to fight these battles alone, no one should have to be alone when they decide to sit out a particular battle. We need support every time this kind of thing happens, not only in instances in which we’re directly fighting.
If you want to be a good ally, don’t pressure people to fight every battle. Instead, stand with them consistently, when they chose to fight, and when they regard discretion as the better part of valor. Presume that they are capable of making those calls, listen respectfully, and offer support that is appropriate to the situation and consistent with the choice they are making about it.
Sometimes, in a situation, all you can do is listen, understand, and be someone who understands that they are being treated unjustly and that it isn’t their fault. It hurts not to be able to do more, but it’s important not to let that pain get in the way of offering the support, respect, and listening that can help some in that situation.
You can’t always fix things, either by fighting or by explaining things away. Sometimes there is no ready solution. But, you *can* always be a respectful ally.