I do see what you’re saying. And I hope a lot more people see it, because it matters. I also think that there’s a tendency in most forms of problem analysis to throw out the baby with the bathwater, though. I see some of that operating in the traditional activist circles you chastise, and I see some of it also happening here.
There’s a reason for the academic theory we talk about… it’s there to help us understand the subtle parts of how people are getting hurt. The ways which are undercurrents; strong, but hard to perceive or explain easily, so that they keep happening and nobody knows why. The point of academic social justice language is to put words to that ‘why’ so that we can start dismantling not just the stuff which kills people in obvious ways, but that which kills people in less obvious ones.
Is it sometimes misused to exclude and other and look down on people? Yes; we’re human. And it shouldn’t be. Unequivocally, you’re correct about that. But that doesn’t mean it has no valid part to play in the struggle — it just means we have to be careful to use it in the ways it’s good for people, and not in ways which compound the problems.
There’s a reason for the safe spaces and trigger warnings… they’re there to allow people who are tired to death of being constantly bombarded with things which hurt them and drain them, a little bit of recovery time so they can get out there and fight some more. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just a way of being kind to each other, and mindful of not hurting others unnecessarily. It’s also got nothing to do with freedom of speech, which is a matter of the government’s interference with what people say — not with an individual or group of individuals setting limits on the behavior they’ll tolerate in their social circles. I will defend to the death your, or anyone else’s, right to speak offensively; but that doesn’t mean I have an obligation to host it on my website, or tolerate it in my living room.
Is the concept sometimes misused, and expanded into areas which are public or semi-public, such as speech codes at state-run universities? Yes; we’re human. And it shouldn’t be. You’re correct about that, too. But that doesn’t mean there is no room in activism for safe spaces — it just means we have to be careful to use them in ways which are good for people and not in ways which compound problems.
The line drawn underneath all of the work we do amounts to, “Treat people kindly… no matter which people.” Kindness includes learning to understand; to the extent we are not doing that, we are failing as activists and as people. Kindness includes protecting people’s freedoms whether or not we like or agree with them; to the extent we are not doing that, we are failing as activists and as people. But kindness also includes learning as much as we can about what system-wide problems exist, even when they’re masked and hidden, so that we can try to take them apart… so that the people who are “just trying to survive,” and “just trying to make their voices heard” can have more than that someday. Kindness also includes caring enough about each other to speak gently, in ways which won’t reinforce the pain caused by people who *don’t* care.
That these concepts can be misapplied is grounds for self-criticism, and I thank you for yours; the movement needs such voices, and the reflection which should follow them. But it does not mean the concepts themselves have no place among us.