Are you “part of the problem”? Yes, if you treat social justice as a zero-sum game.

This weekend, a facebook meme by Cop Block—a Facebook page calling for police accountability—went viral, receiving nearly 70,000 “likes” and 18,000 shares in 20 hours. The image responded to the now-famous video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” arguing that anyone who found the “10 hours” video more troubling than videos of police brutality is “part of the problem.”...then you are part of the problem

We’ve been seeing a lot of this type of discourse in social media lately. The viral FCKH8 advertisement “F-Bombs for Feminism” is a recent example: The FCKH8 video stated that those who felt outrage at their provocative decision to have young girls say “fuck” repeatedly should redirect their concern to the sexism and structural inequality girls and women still face in our society.

I find this kind of juxtaposition incredibly problematic. It creates false dichotomies—and false choices—while completely ignoring the fact that people can be concerned about multiple issues simultaneously. It reminds me of how some people react to my work on girls’ media and princess culture: “Why are you so concerned about girl culture when we have bigger things to worry about, like [insert other cause here]?”

When memes, viral videos, and words like these are bandied about, everyone needs to remember: The battle for social justice is neither a contest nor a zero-sum game. The problems in society do not need to compete against one another for popularity. The USA has a population of 316 million people! We really can work on more than one problem at a time, and individuals should feel free to working on the problem that best fits their experiences, skills, and expertise.

There’s no need to shame those who work on issues other than your own. They’re not detracting from your social justice work. If anything, they’re helping to raise the consciousness of more people, inspiring more political engagement—and that’s crucial. We’re all in this together. Don’t buy into people’s underhanded attempts to divide and conquer those who crusade for social justice!

As far as the Cop Block meme goes, my response is this: If you think the second scenario depicted somehow negates the legitimacy of the first, then you are part of the problem. Both of these problems should bother people, and both need to be addressed. Let’s bring a “win-win” mindset to social justice movements. Remember: improvements on one societal ill often pave the way for improvements on others.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Her book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is now available from retailers including Amazon.

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at 

10 Comments on “Are you “part of the problem”? Yes, if you treat social justice as a zero-sum game.

  1. I think you pointed out the problem that at least in the feminist movement (although I agree it exists in all social justice movements) keeps us from making progress is the inability to work together across race, class and gender lines – to find the intersections where our work for social justice meets and at least collaborate on these issues even when we don’t agree with others issues that are prominent on other groups social justice agenda. This “mine (issue) if bigger (more important) than yours” mentality needs to stop. Thanks for raising the important problem. Any additional thoughts on how to bring diverse movements together?

    • Thank you! I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any specific thoughts on bringing diverse movements together, but I’m not even certain that bringing them together is fully necessary. Just being supportive and refusing to throw shade at people who are fighting for a cause other than your own (which honestly I think the majority already do) is a step in the right direction.

  2. This ROCKS! Can we please stop pitting social justice issues (and those working on them) against each other? And another pet peeve of mine: If you’re not doing any of this work, for the love of God, please stop criticizing those of us who are!

  3. I agree with you Rebecca in that I do not see a need for all of these various groups to actually become one huge movement, but a general support of one another and mutual respect for the others aims would be hugely beneficial. In fact the sad and depressing message of this is an underlining of how divisive we can be, even when trying to champion change for the better! It’s as if the “If you’re not with me then you’re against me” idea sadly still permeates society to such an extent that we cannot see injustice unless it touches us personally.
    This type of incomparable comparison helps no-one; achieves nothing, except division.
    And as for the accusation…. well, what can you actually say to this kind of nonsense? It is staggering and deflects from the real perpetrators.

    • Boogie 53,
      You are so on point. (And you too, Rebecca!)
      This type of petty non sequitur meme misses the mark completely. The fact that we live in a world where actual images of a woman being sexually harassed while walking through a neighborhood in broad daylight and that of a policeman pounding away at a citizen exist…. THAT is the problem.
      Social causes can be categorized to no end and while no single individual can champion them all, it costs nothing to recognize and cheer on the efforts of other social justice groups. You can disagree with their approach and even criticize it, but to outright state that one is part of the problem because their cause is not YOUR cause of choice… that just reeks of scarcity mentality and it’s quite tiring.

  4. SJWs are the biggest problem, finding the problems where there is none and then trying to censor everybody…those white overprivileged rich suburban kids need to grow the fuck up and act like an adult.
    You may think saying “Hi” on the street is harassment but to the rest of the world it is just politeness…
    How come you didn’t talk about guy that walked Manhattan for 3 hours and got same amount of material for video? Same harassment coming from girls?

    Oh thats right, it is because you don’t give a rats ass about harassment.

  5. “There’s no need to shame those who work on issues other than your own.” Yes, thank you. In my mind, the problem of street harassment is clearly linked to the problem of police brutality. both create a pervasive sense of fear among an oppressed or targeted group of people. Both have the effect of making people feel unsafe in public spaces.

%d bloggers like this: