On having two identities and marginalization

“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” – Mark Zuckerberg

This is a line from an article written about the ways that Facebook is slowly and subtly destroying our free will. It’s very good and if you have time you should read it but I want to talk about this quote from Zuckerberg because it shows the mind of a person who has never had to hide parts of their identity just to exist safely in the world. This quote reeks of unexamined privilege and it is from one of the people who stands at the forefront of ushering the world into a new, connected age.

This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to be something they were not, something less than their whole selves in order to get and keep a job. This is a person who has never been afraid of the type of ridicule that could lead to violence for simply being 100% of who they were. This is the statement of a person who has never had to pretend to renounce their own identity in order to survive in the greater culture.

This is a statement of cis hetero white man. You don’t need to know that it was Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Facebook himself, who said this to know that a white many said this. It is dripping with the privilege of safety and the knowledge that who you are in the world will always be accepted and treated with respect.

There’s nothing wrong with being a cis hetero white man but the world looks a lot different when you aren’t one. The difference in relationships between co-workers and other friends is, for him, the difference in wearing a tie or t-shirt to work. It is a surface difference. It is not the difference in appearing as a woman before your coworkers when they know you primarily as a man. It is not the difference of using your first initial only or going by your more ambiguous middle name so that people don’t realize that you’re a woman of color and reject your application outright.

White boy Mark has never had to do those things so he doesn’t understand how people who have had to do those things use his platform and perceive the future. It’s not a space where everyone is free to be who they are because all of these lines between people have been broken down.

Instead it is a place with less ways to form walls of protection. Although being online has allowed many people to find and build community, many marginalized groups have also become more open to abusive attacks from those that seek to continue to oppress and intimidate them. When Zuckerberg and other social media mavens speak of their imagined future, they focus on the first part because they have no real concept that the second issue is such a widespread concern for so many people.

In no statement has it been so blatantly clear that the creator of Facebook has limited understanding of the world outside of his own viewpoint then in that statement. When you exist at some intersection of marginalization, it doesn’t matter which one, you automatically must operate in much of the world as less of yourself, simply because the world was not built for you. If you want to survive, making concessions until you have the strength to fight the status quo.

That’s not what this quote is suggesting, that you fight. It is assuming that how you are will be fine for everyone you meet. That there is no reason to parse relationships between people, that everyone can be “friends” because in the homogeneous culture of Silicon Valley, this is possible. It is a utopia because it is built for and by group of people to support exactly who they are and what they want.

In that world, there are no reasons why anyone would need to present a different face to the world, we’re all just people right? But the world doesn’t see all people the same and everyone isn’t a friend, whether you’ve added them on Facebook or not.

The future can be a wonderful place to exist in. There are many exciting things happening in the realm of technology but while moving forward we must remember that those same biases that excited are still coming with us until they are dealt with. It’s not enough to say, everyone should just be excellent to one another (Rufus never showed up for anyone in this timeline), you must accept that people are still living under oppression and marginalization and that hiding is a survival mechanism.

Having two identities isn’t a lack of integrity. It’s a way to survive in a world that is often hostile to people who exist outside of the ideal of our society. Instead of fighting against an honest survival mechanism, why not call out the people who feel they have nothing to fear and use their social privilege to bully and harass people who are just trying to live?

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Why You Should Stop Saying IRL

Where your friends live piechart from Facebook

“In Real Life” shortened to IRL is a term that has become common on the internet to describe events that happen offline. “She’s one of my IRL friends,” is something you may read and not give a second thought to but if you value your community online you should stop using that phrase. It devalues your relationships and helps promote the idea that the bonds we form with our online friends aren’t as “real” or important as those that we can physically touch. I have replaced IRL with “in the wild” because IRL is ableist and judgmental.

The major difference between your online and offline interactions is that offline, you have less control over who you meet. You can’t control who you see walking down the street or the coffee shop. Whereas online, you can pick and choose your interactions in a variety of ways. You don’t have to go to every forum, you don’t have to respond to every message. Offline, it’s a jungle out there hence, in the wild.

There is this strange belief that what happens online is somehow less important than what happens in a face to face, physical setting. That somehow there’s a magical force field that keeps people from forming complex relationships with true feelings just because there are screens involved. Primarily it’s because the ubiquitous nature of digital communications has happened at lightning speed and humanity just hasn’t caught up to the change.

To be fair, it’s not a perfect medium for communication. Most of the nuances in our communication is nonverbal and that tends not to come off in a digital landscape but that’s not the largest problem in communication via digital means. The larger problem is that people simply don’t treat it as a way to really connect with people.

This is evident in the slew of reports like this one that indicate that people lead double lives online. That their online world is a perfect representation of what they think they should be instead of who they are. This idea that you “shouldn’t put your personal business on Facebook” leads to people creating online personas that share their names and faces but none of their hardships.

Which is, in a way, fair.

Our social media profiles are populated by close friends and causal acquaintances. Just like in the wild. You know a mix of people, some of which you will share the fact that you’re struggling with a medical issue or fears about the future but most of which you’ll just talk about your kids finishing the school year or vacation plans.

That doesn’t mean that what you see isn’t real life. It’s just the front facing portion of their life. Just like when you go to the grocery store and the cashier asks about your day, you don’t tell them you’re worried about the results of your HIV test even if that’s what’s currently on your mind. You tell your friends that. The problem isn’t that these front facing profiles exist, the problem comes when there isn’t an outlet for the reality.

It’s not that people lead a Pinterest perfect life, it’s that they don’t have an outlet for their everyday lives. Think of the perfect housewife who drinks or the prom queen with bulimia. People hiding who they are has been happening forever and is a function of being a social human. People need other people that they can relax around, friends that they can truly be themselves around. For some people, their friends exist online.

This happens for a variety of reasons. It happens because some people are incredibly introverted and just can’t deal with people for very long. It happens because someone may live in a place where not many people share their interests. It happens because someone may be disabled and simply cannot get out of the house much. Or they get out a lot and have people all over the planet they want to keep in communication with.

No matter what the reason for building these online friendships, they are real friendships. What happens online in the communities and forums that you find yourself in is your real life. The private messages where people confide in you or the groups where you may find yourself giving advice are real. The people on the other side of that screen are real. Your feelings for them and their feelings for you are real.

Not everyone you meet online is going to be your best friend. That’s true in the same way that not everyone you meet in the wild is going to be your best friend or even a good friend. It’s true that people lie and manipulate others online but it’s also true that they do that in the wild. People are going to be awful to other people no matter where you go. Whether it’s face to face or not. The internet didn’t make them that way, they are just that way.

By dismissing these relationships we are telling people that the feelings they feel don’t matter. We are falling into extremely ableist ideals because we are pushing a form of interaction that not everyone can participate in due to disability and limitations. We are ignoring the complex realities of many people and pushing everyone into the same box.

By saying that online relationships aren’t just as important we’re dismissing the needs of people who can’t be their true selves for safety reasons, we are telling them that it’s more important that they form unsafe connections with their neighbors than turning to a safe online community where they can be themselves.

By saying that they don’t matter you are telling the harrowed young mother that the group of people who talked her through her 3 AM feeding trouble and were there when she was in the deep pits of PPD are less important and meaningful than the friend she knows from work who hasn’t spoken to her since she had the baby.

The online world isn’t just geeks arguing over the more nuanced possibilities in their fandoms or teenagers sending each other snapchats. It is a varied and rich environment filled with all kinds of people. Some of them are silly and some of them are serious. Just like your everyday life.

The biggest indicator of whether an online relationship is real and meaningful is how you feel about it. If you go online and post with the idea that it doesn’t matter or that people who take the time to message you or comment don’t really care, then you will not form those bonds. This isn’t happening because your online interactions don’t matter, it’s because you don’t value them. You cannot build meaningful relationships if one half doesn’t care. This is true in the wild and it’s true online.

In short, if you want to make friends, you must first be a friend yourself.

I have online friends who have supported me through thick and thin. I have friends in the wild who have done the same. All of these people are my real friends. Everything that happens online and off is my real life. It all matters.