Activism Overload: Tell Us How To Help

It is super important to me to help others and to care about everyone in the world as my family.

It can be really hard to know how to do that, though.

I guess I am starting to understand the people who complain about political correctness and how stifling it is. It can be really exhausting when you want to help, you’re trying to help, but no matter what you do or say, someone is going to yell at you and tell you that you’re offending them.

Something happens and you hear about it on Facebook or Jon Stewart and people expect you to get up in arms about it. Be outraged. Why aren’t more people upset? And your newsfeed fills with articles about whatever it is and how people aren’t caring enough and they’d rather read celebrity gossip and get outraged about that. (For the record, I read both. Reading celebrity gossip doesn’t mean you’re not also reading about human rights violations).

These articles never tell you what you can do about it, they always just complain about how no one is caring about this thing even though we are all reading dozens of articles about it and those articles always end up just saying that we don’t care enough.

But you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do. Tweet about it? Sign petitions on Facebook? Do those things make a difference? Is the leader of the country where bad stuff is happening going to go to Twitter and see a bunch of hippie Americans complaining about it and say, “Gee, I guess I shouldn’t do that.”

Well, maybe yes. So you try to do your part. You make noise, you “raise awareness” whatever that means. You tweet and you call for action from someone who actually can do something. You make hashtags trend. People tell you that’s a victory.

A few days later there’s a backlash of articles about how the west  or white people or men or whoever cares about the wrong issues, is outraged about the wrong things, is not listening to those they are trying to be allies for.

The same people who told you that you need to get outraged and make noise then call you out for not being outraged in the correct way.

And eventually you just don’t know what to do and you give up.

I find myself in that exhausted, given-up state a whole lot.

When a new outrage breaks, I wonder how long until we hear another side to the story, as there always seems to be one.

I want to help but there’s two problems:

  • Not being given any action step that I can do to effect change
  • Getting yelled at for helping in the wrong way when I try to figure out an action to take

There’s a lot of issues out there and a lot of things to get outraged about. It’s very difficult to take a stand on all of them.

So you might not hear me speaking out against atrocities but that doesn’t mean I don’t care or am not paying attention. I only speak out about something if I am very, very, very certain that I understand all the facts, the implications, the history and that doesn’t happen very often.

I try to help and support my fellow humans the best that I can and I do that by things like donating to Rang De or Kiva, bringing food for canned food drives, meditating, and trying to help the people around me.

Does it help? Is it enough? I don’t know.

I’m always open to suggestions on how I can do more.

Hindu American Foundation says we can help by donating to them and their advocacy work:

I don’t want to silence anyone. I don’t want to make things all about me. I honestly want to help and I know I’m not the only one who really wants to help and is put off and separated from whatever cause it is by people complaining about me and/or people like me. You can’t help feeling like: Really? You’re complaining about that? You’re complaining about your allies? No chance are you going to effect change with your enemies if you’re busy belittling your allies, right?

But then if we say, “Tell me how you want me to help” what we get told is that it isn’t their job to educate us. Learn about it on your own, care about it because it is worth caring about. And we do. We do our best to learn about it and to advocate for it and then we get yelled at for doing it wrong.

“I thought you wanted me to defend you. You asked for me to make noise and defend your rights.”
“Why doesn’t the west care?” quickly turns into “Why do white people always think they need to rescue everyone?

So yeah, it’s really hard to get people on board for a cause when you’ll be yelled at for joining it incorrectly. I know it certainly makes me want to completely shut down and not care about anything. I’m not saying my feelings are right here, just explaining that this is what I’m feeling.

If you want something to change, please tell your allies what you need or want from them.

Another suggestion of a real action step that can be taken


What Is My Duty In Injustice?

Why We Must Help

Volunteering When White



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  • Ragtimelil

    Well said.

  • Sabina

    Yes. Very much so.
    A lot of my friends have been sharing that Teju Cole article about how all of our activism is misguided and is actually helping to reinforce a corrupt status quo rather than helping people we want to help. He calls for awareness, and for us to research and truly understand the implications of everything we’re doing, because simply donating money to what sounds like a good cause could actually be doing harm. This is a valid point- however, I felt hopeless and sad when I read it, and similar articles, because I don’t trust any political information I read. I know that everything is biased and most of it has a sinister agenda- and if it doesn’t, I have no way of knowing how to differentiate that from everything else. I felt defeated in the idea that I could ever help anyone other than the people in my immediate social circle, given my good intentions could so easily be thwarted.

    I think that the people who say “It’s not our job to educate you” have a point too- in that, it gets EXHAUSTING (for example) to have to, over and over again, tell people why sexism is a thing and why rape culture is a thing and why it’s bad [to pick an example of something I actually know enough about to ‘educate’ anyone]. Especially because some people don’t actually want to know/learn, but just want to troll, play “devil’s advocate,” or get off on ruining somebody’s day. Sometimes, I feel willing to devote time and energy to educating people, and I’ll do my best to answer their questions. Sometimes I don’t. But not everyone is as sharp as Teju Cole would like us all to be. I know I’m not nearly smart or discerning or savvy enough to detect and deflect politically impure motivations, or even to know how to begin to untangle it all.

    Basically, I think that people willing to educate allies should create or compile resources that would enable an uneducated, interested person to educate themselves on their own time. I’ve seen this done before, with (for example) the Feminism 101 blog. I understand not wanting to spend time or energy educating potential trolls/”devil’s advocates” (or even sincere people who just want to know, because even there, it takes time and energy)- but shouting at people for not knowing something, when they ask questions, helps exactly no one.

    • Ambaa

      Yeah. Brad just showed me this adorable commercial about a guy helping everyone around him and I said, “I feel like I try to do that and then I get told that whatever small way I try to help is actually the worst possible thing I could do and is undermining everything good and causing so much more harm so I just shut down and do nothing.” Sigh.

  • badtooth

    ambaa, you should go read muslimah in progress. I think that’s the one. not quite the same but similar thoughts from her.
    so what problem are you trying to solve? the 6 year-old girl raped in india the other day. nothing you can do. Israeli/Palestine, nothing you can do. the Nigerian girls kidnapped by boko haram? don’t worry malala is on the case. and because she is not white, it won’t be another example of ‘white savior complex’. the central American kids? you can donate stuff to the organizations that are helping. or if you really want to help. see if they are looking for foster homes. I think they are sending a bunch to Maryland, or at least trying.
    but what does that one hippie bumper sticker say: think globally act locally
    what am I saying, you hate bumper sticker.

  • badtooth

    just remembered.

    • Ambaa

      Oh yes! I used to do that one. I forgot about it. Will have to get back to it!

  • Kitty Davenport

    My Grandfather was an Irish Catholic and raised me to not tithe money to the Church but to instead give 5% of my waking time to helping others. Social media can make us feel really crappy. So much information about so much horror we simply can not do anything about! So in those moments I remember my Grandfather. I find something I care about passionately and I volunteer. I have been very ill the last few years so now I simply putter about in the community garden I started and spend 4 hours a week volunteering on a suicide prevention hotline for Vets. I think if we do our best, and we really care it is safe to ignore those who would lambast us for caring. They do not matter. Your connection with helping others in need, the real assistance you give, that energy and love you share are what matter.

    • Ambaa

      That is a great idea!

  • I agree with you: the best thing we can do to help people is asking them if, when and how they want to receive help.