Hey, folks. First of all, thanks for continuing to read what I write here, and thanks even more for sharing. I don’t say that enough. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do what I do lately, and I want to once-and-for-all answer a question I get asked an average of 1.6 times per day.
“Sam, why do you do what you do?” people say, but they are only saying half of what they’re thinking.
Depending on the context, they might be thinking, “Sam, if you’re straight, why do you work so much for gay equality?” Or “Sam, you’re a man, why do you work so much for women’s or trans people’s equality” Or “Sam, you’re White, why do you care about equality for people of color?” Or “Sam, you’re a huge dork, why don’t you do anything about that?” And on it goes.
My answer is different every time, because it’s hard for me to get down to the absolute root of it all. But let me provide some of the front-runner explanations for why I do what I do.
1. Because I love my neighbor
I bet you weren’t expecting me to go religious right out the gate (because I’m not a religious person), but it’s absolutely true. I genuinely love people — all people — just for being people. I love people I’ve never met so much that I get angry at them when they disappoint me. I love people I will never meet so much that I often lose sleep at night when I realize how much more I could be doing to make their lives, wherever they are, warmer, gentler, more positive, better.
You know what? I’m going to just say it, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. I love you. You. The person I’m addressing second-person singular right now, the person reading these words. Is it creepy? Sure. Should it be? Maybe, but I’d argue otherwise. Is that going to stop me? Nope.
And I feel that love most when it hurts my heart. I’m sure you can relate, thinking about someone you love in duress — it amplifies your emotions. This often happens when I read about people who are being attacked because of one aspect of their identity. And it makes me desperately want to live in a world where people can feel safe and included, regardless of their identity. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.
2. Because I return a car with a full tank of gas
Do you know what the life expectancy for a White man living in the US is? Because I don’t, but I’m guessing it’s a lot less than 4.5 billion years. That means that my time on this Earth is borrowed, at best, and my momma taught me that I should always return something in a better condition than it was lent to me.
If I borrow a friend’s car, before I give it back I’ll clean that beast as much as I can, top off the gas tank, and leave [hide] a little [average-sized] gas gift card to be found at a later day. I don’t do it because my friends expect it. They don’t. I don’t do it because I have to. I don’t. I do it because I want my time in their car to be a positive experience for both of us, even after it’s over. I also like hiding things.
I don’t know if I’ll ever create little miniatures of myself, but I do know that I’m going to leave a lot of dear-and-near loved ones behind when I pass. I want to make sure that when I go, I’ve cleaned up this beast of a world as much as I can, topped off the gas tank, and hidden a few gift cards to be appreciated in the future. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.
3. Because I know what it feels like to feel like nothing
I’m not privilege incarnate. I’ve felt the empty blows of marginalization, and clawed at the invisible walls separating the haves from the have-nots. As President Obama likes to say, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Only for one of us, not much has changed on that front.
It’s a terrible feeling, to feel like you’re nothing. Like you’re not enough. Like you’ll never amount to anything, or that you’re not allowed to. We’re amazing at ignoring it, repressing it, pushing it back, swallowing, shrugging, shouldering forward. But it’s there. Not White? Not a man? Not straight? Nondisabled? Not Christian? Not middle-to-upper class? Not college educated? Not good enough.
I don’t kid myself into thinking that what I do on this site and what I do when I speak at colleges unmarginalizes the marginalized. I don’t think that everyone who isn’t the things I listed in the last paragraph are feeling the effects of my deftly-typing fingers. But I know a few people, through emails and comments and Facebook messages, who have thanked me for helping them feel like they’re something. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.
4. Because I can help
In what I’m sure will be the most immodest sentence I’ll ever write, let me tell you what I’m really good at (alphabetically): asking questions, being patient, conceiving simple solutions to complex problems, counseling, designing, empathizing, explaining, learning, listening, motivating, not sleeping, public speaking, researching, teaching, tweaking (kidding, but it rhymed), visualizing data, working super hard, writing. And those are just the things I’ve relied on professionally this week. I am also wicked good at eating popcorn while laying down and watching Star Wars (I call that triple-tasking).
There are a ton of things I could do with those skills, you’re likely thinking. And I could probably make a ton more money if I did literally any one of those things, you weren’t likely thinking, but are now. But all of those things align perfectly with what I do now, and allow me to do things in this arena that are limited to people with all of those skills. Also, I left out the most important attribute of all.
I was riding through downtown Austin with my partner and I saw a PETA bumper sticker. I was having a rough day, and I vented, “I don’t understand how people can dedicate their lives to helping animals when there are so many people out there who desperately need help.” In her bluntly obvious why-didn’t-I-think-of-that wisdom, she replied, “Because they’re called to help animals, and animals need helping too.” She was right, and that’s when the last attribute of why I’m able to do what I do clicked into place: because I’m called to help oppressed people, and oppressed people need helping. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.
5. Because achieving social justice would help me, too
Five is a good round number, so I want to end with the item that is the most obvious to me, but apparently (due to the constant questioning) just me. Helping to make the world safer, more equitable, and more inclusive of all identities is incredibly beneficial to me, even with my super-privileged straight-ness, White-ness, and man-ness. And I’m not talking about some hokey-pokey altruistic you feel better I feel better hippie nonsense (at least not right now). I’m talking cold, hard, selfish, screw-you-I-want-my-cake-and-I’m-going-to-eat-it-too better.
I’m fighting for rights and access to be given to oppressed groups, I’m not fighting for them to be taken away from the groups in which I claim membership. A lot of people don’t seem to grasp this. Further, “leveling the playing field,” as it’s often described, won’t water down the competition, it’ll supercharge it. These ideas of “minority hires” and “a woman taking a man’s job” and “other similar bullshit” are silly. You’re silly. But I love you.
Do you think happening to be born White and man makes someone exclusively capable of effective big time decision-making, inventing important stuff, running this country and the Western world, and all around telling everyone else what to do? Well, I don’t. There’s a really good chance I’m going to develop cancer someday (everyone’s doing it — it’s the latest rage). I want everyone working on fixing that. Now. Before it pops up on my MRI scan and I find myself regretting sleeping with my cell phone on my chest so the alarm is sure to wake me up in the morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying White men are inept, I’m just saying I want to improve my odds as much as I can. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.
6. Because you let me
Again, I want say thank you. Thanks to all of my readers, all the schools that have booked me to perform my show, and to anyone else who has supported me. It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote the one-man play called It’s Pronounced Metrosexual and got this whole ball rolling. It’s been one heckuva year. I genuinely couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling life.
That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.