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A Pocket Guide to Resistance Writing from a Place of Privilege

In a time when headlines of injustice are more constant than ever, there is simply no shortage of social issues to resist through your writing. Whether you’re sharing your own story, advocating for new policy, or reacting to whatever fucked up thing is on the news, writing for change is no small act of protest, but a powerful choice.

But before you start writing your manifesto to change the world, consider these tips to become a conscious resistance writer when approaching social issues from a place of privilege. You’ll make a more lasting change and piss off a lot fewer people along the way, promise.

#1: You Can’t Solve it All

The first step to resistance writing is acknowledging that you cannot solve nor write about every issue you care about. Sometimes trying to process and write about every topic we deem fucked up feels like saying yes to every social function on a Saturday when you know damn well you’re going to go out for two drinks and are curling up to The Office before midnight.

It can be overwhelming. Your opinions and passions feel like they’re shouting at each other, and it’s hard to decide what to make “your cause.” But at the end of the day, your best work will come once you choose what weighs heaviest on your mind. Narrow in on it this issue, research the hell out of it, discuss it with people inside and outside of this fight, and let someone else write about the rest.

#2: Know Yourself First

So you’ve said yes to writing to make a difference? Great! But also, chill for a second. When I was a social work student, I wrote a ridiculous amount of essays on social inequities and ways I could make any sort of positive change. I would be ferociously researching criminal justice reform that sometimes I forgot to ask myself, “How does this issue actually affect me?”

More often than not, the injustices I care to write about never impact my daily life. This is ok, but first requires writers to recognize our stance and biases within the resistance. So I asked some hard questions before writing: How am I both connected and disconnected to this issue I’m writing about? What will I never fully understand? What the fuck do I know, anyway?!

Gif of Ygritte from Game of Thrones saying "You know nothing, Jon Snow."

The importance of knowing myself in relation to my resistance writing became clear when reflecting on my ethnicity. I’m Mexican-American but look preeeetty white. Not a total gringa but I walk through the world passing as a person who doesn’t get told to learn English or get followed by security in stores. And all of this affects my position in writing about topics like immigration, race relations, or education systems failing students of color.

Because no matter the ways my Mexican background has affected my family and position in life, my light skin, fluent English, and citizenship all allow me to dodge racial discrimination and sit on the outside of oppression. By including my truths, point of view, and privileges within my research and resistance writing only makes my work more powerful and honest.

#3: Amplify, Don’t Paraphrase

If you do find yourself writing about an issue that is incredibly important but only know it exists through others’ experiences, then here lies the crux of resistance writing and allyship: We must amplify the voices of the oppressed, not paraphrase their lives.

To amplify these voices, then resistance writers must first STFU and listen to those directly affected. But Alex, I don’t know anyone who has been a victim of gun violence?

Search for local organizations already fighting this fight, go to their events! Search for memoirs about experiencing oppression, read them carefully! Before you put your pen to paper, remember that the voices affected by injustice are primary, and your take on it is secondary.

You might feel uncomfortable when what you thought you knew becomes challenged. Your writing or understanding of an issue might get critiqued. Remember, if you are writing for change with any sort of platform, then you are in a position of power, no matter what size. Resistance writers are charged with transferring the benefits of their privilege to those who lack it, to pass the mic and raise the voices of the oppressed, not to summarize their experiences.

#4: There Will Be No Capes

Are you contributing to the greater good? Yes! Will you receive a gold medal for it? Absolutely not! Even when you’ve written the most heartfelt, badass, or game-changing piece of work, your writing is for the benefit of the ~movement, for the people!

Sure, you might be doing a hell of a lot more than your ignorant older brother, but making a conscious, responsible move to start challenging oppression doesn’t make you a savior or a saint. Removing the glory from your resistance writing will bring more awareness to your work and relationships, create more honest change, and make you a better ally.

#5: Take Care of Yourself, Regardless

As any form of advocacy, the energy it takes to process the world’s woes and to wait for change can be incredibly exhausting. While we must embrace the difficult emotions that come from resistance writing, setting aside time to care for ourselves is equally important. Recharge in the ways that work for you. Go for that long walk, read a corny romance novel, drink a glass of wine, play with a puppy.

Lastly, let shit go. You’ll encounter lots of assholes, whether virtual or IRL, that will continue to spew hate in an already messed up society. You might get cursed out and accused you know nothing about what you’re writing about. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but allow yourself time to grow in your writing and be compassionate with yourself along the way.

Now go reflect, listen, stick it to the man, and write! We’re all in this together.

Alexandra Hansen

Alexandra Hansen

Alexandra is usually daydreaming in Chicago but loves to take her notebook, headphones, and camera to new cities and countries when she can. She really loves writing about the intersections of music, culture, and what the world would look like with a little more compassion.

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