Social Justice Usage
Source: “Dirsupting the Discourse,” racialequitytools.org (pdf).
The right frames nearly everything in a neat “us” and “them” and, more often than not, the dividing line is the color line. And they have centuries of stereotypes on their side. Their frames are like an old song that’s hard not to hum once the music starts. Winning hearts and minds on a wide range of social justice issues requires that we disrupt these centuries of programming with a few old songs of our own.
And it will take more than trying to code our language behind vague “values” like equality, opportunity or fairness. It is easy to get people, even people with whom we often disagree, to agree that equality and opportunity is good. Disrupting the dominant frames on race, deservingness and competency means focusing on two main questions: Why are things the way they are? And how can they be different? The answers to these questions distinguish our “opportunity talk” from the opposition.
New Discourses Commentary
One of the central occupations of Critical Theory and Critical Social Justice is “disruption,” along with “dismantling.” What it means by “disrupting” is disrupting the systems of power, dominance, and oppression that it believes characterize our current system (broadly, the liberal order and Enlightenment rationalism—see also, science, truth, meritocracy, individualism, and objectivity). The underlying and cornerstone presupposition of Critical Theory is that the existing system is wholly corrupted by (largely hidden) systemic forces of oppression like racism, sexism, misogyny, white supremacy, heteronomativity, transphobia, fascism, and so on, and that their operation has to be identified and disrupted in order to free oppressed people (thus all people) from them (see also, liberation and revolution). It bears drawing out explicitly that Critical Theory incorrectly assumes these problematics both exist in a systemic form and characterize society and that their methods and their methods alone can possibly get rid of them and the harms and violence they cause.
Disruption is a proximate but not final goal for Critical Theories. It is what one is expected to do to interrupt that which creates, maintains, or legitimates systems of oppression in the moment (again, as Critical Theorists see things). For example, if someone using their freedom of speech and peaceable assembly to say things that Critical Theorists assess uphold systems of power, disruption would involve taking steps to silence, deplatform, call out, or cancel that speech, assembly, and/or speakers. If a man holds open a door for a woman, the woman yelling at him for this gesture disrupts his patriarchal and misogynistic assumptions that women are the weaker sex (this assumption need not be reflective of reality at all to be made and asserted as the truth of the matter—see also, false consciousness).
Disruption has a handful of goals to the Critical Theorist (who is, by definition, also a radical activist). First, it interrupts what is actually happening, say by silencing or shaming someone in the moment. Second, it calls attention (“makes oppression visible”—see also, consciousness raising) to the allegedly oppressive dynamic. Third, it invokes an implicit narrative that the person doing the disrupting is (nobly and bravely) occupying the role of the oppressed or someone standing on their behalf (see also, allyship and solidarity) while suggesting that that which is being disrupted is somehow oppressive. These three goals are listed in increasing order of importance to the Critical Theorist using disruption as a technique.
Allyship; Call out; Cancel; Consciousness raising; Critical; Critical Theory; Dismantle; Dominance; Enlightenment; False consciousness; Fascism; Freedom of speech; Harm; Hegemony; Heteronormativity; Individualism; Legitimate; Liberal; Liberation; Man; Meritocracy; Misogyny; Narrative; Objectivity; Oppression; Patriarchy; Power (systemic); Problematic; Racism (systemic); Radical; Reality; Revolution; Science; Sexism (systemic); Silence; Social Justice; Solidarity; Theory; Tolerance; Transphobia; Truth; Violence; White supremacy; Woman
Revision date: 12/15/20