Social Justice Usage
Source: Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 68.
The belief that your group has the right to its position [is an ideology of the dominant that maintains dominance]. Ideology is a powerful way to support the dominant group’s position. There are several key interrelated ideologies that rationalize the concentration of dominant group members at the top of society and their right to rule. …
A second related ideology is that of equal opportunity. This is the idea that in today’s world, people are no longer prejudiced, social injustice is in the past, and everyone has the same opportunities (further, many dominant group members believe that society has moved in the opposite direction and unfairly privileges minoritized groups through “special” rights and programs). Occasionally there may be isolated cases where there are injustices, but these injustices are explained away with the “bootstraps” myth—that anyone can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” or improve their lot in life by working harder and having the right attitude.
Source: Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 74.
All the dominant ideologies in society support willful ignorance. The ideologies of meritocracy, equal opportunity, individualism, and human nature we described above play a powerful role in denying the “current” and insisting that society is just.
New Discourses Commentary
Most people would probably assume that Social Justice is primarily interested in equality and in creating a fair society in which everyone gets equal opportunity. They would be sorely mistaken. In the Theory of Critical Social Justice, equality and equal opportunity are myths; ideological lies told by dominant groups in society to justify their own privilege and to rationalize the oppression of others while allowing them to mistakenly believe they have more opportunity than they do. Equality and equal opportunity are goals and ideals of liberalism, which Critical Social Justice sees as “a mechanism for keeping the marginalized in their place by obscuring larger structural systems of inequality … [that] fool[s] people into believing that they [have] more freedom and choice than societal structures actually allow” (Sensoy and DiAngelo, Is Everyone Really Equal? p. 5).
Critical Social Justice, at the level of Theory, is not interested in equality or in equal opportunity. (Activists are often less clear on the concept than this and often claim to be interested in equality, often accurately, due to a relatively poor understanding of Theory. In this case, Theory has fooled progressives, many of whom genuinely are liberals, into its service, even though they would disagree with it if they knew what it is really doing.) It’s interested in a different, seemingly related concept called equity. Where equality means that citizens A and B are equal or are given the same access to opportunities, equity means adjusting the shares so that citizens A and B are made equal (see also, communism, Marxian, neo-Marxism, and cultural Marxism).
The reason for this not-too-subtle difference in aims—replacing equality with equity—is because under the view of Critical Social Justice, it is not possible to give citizens A and B equal opportunity merely by granting them equal access to opportunity anytime there is a systemic power difference between them (see also, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and fatphobia). This occurs, according to Theory, anytime there is any difference in identity or, with less emphasis, economic class (see also, Marxism and classism). The critical view is that the existence of systemic power automatically unlevels the playing field (and the “knowing field”—see also knowledge(s), ways of knowing, knower, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence), thus rendering equality of opportunity impossible without equitable adjustments and equality of access. In other words, equity is a necessary precondition required to achieve equality. (It is in this sense that Social Justice is sometimes defined as being interested in “group rights.”)
The preceding explanation seems like a fairly good progressive-liberal argument for equity, and, frankly, it is—if we first suppose the truth of the claims of systemic injustices. The problem is that whatever the realities of those systemic injustices in contemporary society, the Theory of Social Justice commits at least three mortal sins that makes following its equity recommendations ill-advised.
First, Social Justice oversimplifies the highly complex (as it has it) nature of systemic power based on identity, particularly by bulldozing its nuances and cramming it into an essentializing program that links culture, status, social capital, authenticity of experience, mindset, etc., to demographic identity—and this is in turn defined by very crude socially constructed categories. These are all understood in cartoonish caricatures rooted in grievance and victimhood that refuse to admit any dissent or substantive disagreement, which are instead billed as types of false consciousness or cynical self-interest (see also, internalized oppression, internalized racism, internalized sexism, internalized ableism, internalized transphobia, acting white, and white adjacent, and also, white approval, male approval, patriarchal reward, and neoliberal reward).
Second, and consequently, Social Justice tends to exaggerate the influence of systemic power dynamics in society. Not only does it do this on its own and by speaking over and for any members of minoritized groups it claims to represent but whose experience and beliefs are different, but it also does this by casting progress as largely a myth (again, one used by the dominant to suppress radical activism and identity politics and keep the oppressed in oppression—see also, metanarrative). One gets an almost uncanny sense of this while reading much of the literature; many Theorists plainly believe that society has seen little progress in issues of “social justice” in the last several decades or even centuries. At times, this isn’t merely an uncanny sense but an explicit declaration (see also, interest convergence, revisionism, mask, and 1619 Project).
Third, Social Justice’s claims about systemic power have to be doubted because it commits the most egregious sin possible where it comes to making authoritative claims about reality: it rejects criticism. One of the busiest projects within Theory is Theorizing ways to discredit or ignore any criticism of it that isn’t already consistent with Theory itself. (Being a critical theory, the Theory of Social Justice does criticize itself, but only in ways that are already consistent with theory, say by problematizing itself, but not by questioning its own fundamental assumptions—see also critical.) Any project that seeks to make claims about reality can be dismissed as easily as it is asserted once it is discovered that it busies itself with rejecting outside criticism.
The list of concepts that Social Justice employs to avoid engagement with criticism is positively voluminous, not least including that it casts competing ideas like equality as ideological tools made by dominance to preserve and perpetuate dominance. These include (but are by no means limited to) privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, and white fragility, in addition to the suite of “internalized X” accusations used to discount disagreement from members of minoritized groups.
In summary, this point about equity versus equality is one of the reasons that we tend to say that we’re against Social Justice because we’re for social justice. The ideology, methods, and ethics of Critical Social Justice constitute a problem that prevents us from making a better, more fair society.
1619 Project; Ableism; Acting white; Active ignorance; Authentic; Classism; Communism; Critical; Critical Theory; Cultural Marxism; Dominance; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equity; Essentialize; False consciousness; Fatphobia; Homophobia; Human nature; Identity; Identity politics; Ideology; Individualism; Interest convergence; Internalized ableism; Internalized misogyny; Internalized oppression; Internalized racism; Internalized sexism; Internalized transphobia; Knower; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Lived experience; Male approval; Marginalize; Marxian; Marxism; Mask; Meritocracy; Metanarrative; Minoritize; Neoliberal reward; Neo-Marxism; Oppression; Patriarchal reward; Pernicious ignorance; Power (systemic); Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Progressive; Racism (systemic); Radical; Revisionism; Sexism (systemic); Social Justice; Structural; System, the; Theory; Transphobia; Truth; Universalism; Victimhood; Ways of knowing; White adjacent; White approval; White fragility; Willful ignorance
Revision date: 7/13/20