Social Justice Usage
Source: Mills, Charles. The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press, 1997. p. 122.
The “Racial Contract” explodes this picture as mythical, identifying it as itself an artifact of the Racial Contract in the second, de facto phase of white supremacy. Thus—in the standard array of metaphors of perceptual/conceptual revolution—it effects a gestalt shift, reversing figure and ground, switching paradigms, inverting “norm” and “deviation,” to emphasize that non-white racial exclusion from personhood was the actual norm. Racism, racial self-identification, and race thinking are then not in the least “surprising,” “anomalous,” “puzzling,” incongruent with Enlightenment European humanism, but required by the Racial Contract as part of the terms for the European appropriation of the world.
New Discourses Commentary
Exclusion is excluding something, and in that sense, it is the opposite of inclusion. Just like how the idea of “inclusion” has a usual meaning and then a more specific one within the Theory and activism of Critical Social Justice, the term “exclusion” also has a specific meaning within Theory that vaguely resembles, but clearly distorts, the usual meaning of the term.
This specific view holds that “exclusion” is the process by which certain groups and their ways of thinking are marginalized. In Critical Social Justice, there are two primary concerns where exclusion is relevant: exclusion of identity groups (thus people and their voices) and exclusion of perspectives, knowledge(s), and ways of knowing. These two uses of the term are related to one another rather profoundly, as in Critical Social Justice, one’s identity is taken as a core component of the relevance of one’s understanding of the world (see also, realities, reality, knowledge(s), and truth, and also, positionality, ways of knowing, lived experience, and standpoint epistemology). Thus, exclusion of groups or of ideas associated (by Theory) with those groups are two sides of the same coin.
With regard to the exclusion of ideas, the prevailing belief in the epistemological Theory of Critical Social Justice is that certain ideas and ways of thinking are hegemonic, which means that they are backed by systemic power, supported by dominant discourses, and maintained by dominant ideologies. Other ideas and ways of knowing, thinking, or being in the world are excluded from the hegemony maintained by those “dominant” modes of thought and being.
Theory holds that dominance carries the effects of promoting the interests of the dominant groups (see also, value-free, science, liberalism, objectivity, meritocracy, universalism, and individualism) and of leading members of both dominant groups and marginalized, minoritized, or oppressed groups to believe that these interests are the right interests, natural, universal, or correct (see also, false consciousness, internalized dominance, and internalized oppression). Those in dominant social positions, according to Theory, therefore tend to exclude other knowledges and other ways of knowing that fall outside of the dominant paradigms (see also, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence, and also, master’s tools, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, and white ignorance), especially when those knowledges and ways of knowing would be disruptive to the existing status quo, systems of power, or ideologies that serve the interests of those in dominant social positions. This is usually theorized to happen outside of the awareness (or even capacity for awareness) of the members of the dominant groups, as an intrinsic part of occupying a dominant social position (privilege) is the willful ignorance of internalized dominance.
Critical Social Justice is completely fixated on the idea that knowledge is merely a socially constructed product of a culture. This is a rather extreme feature of what is called social constructivism. Truth and falsity are set aside, and determinations of which ideas are considered valid is made by this project entirely into a political activity. This understanding of the world in Theory arises largely due to the combination of critical theory and the postmodern influence of Michel Foucault (see also, biopower) and, also to some degree, Jean-François Lyotard, who was profoundly skeptical of and confused about science.
Foucault’s Theorizing, particularly, is relevant because it was his contention that to discuss whether or not ideas that are considered true correspond to reality is to miss the point. For Foucault, the point where knowledge(s) are concerned is that the decision-making process in establishing truths is necessarily social, thus political (see also, objectivity, science, and positivism). Thus, following Foucault, even if true statements really are true (in the sense of having a faithful correspondence to reality), they were still arrived at by political means and still get applied in political ways (see also, power-knowledge). This renders the ideas themselves objects of political power that can be challenged epistemologically by other assertions of political power, and their correspondence to reality is reduced to being irrelevant to this discussion. Obviously, this has profound implications for settling differences of opinion or belief when and where it is imbibed.
Critical Social Justice has imbibed of this view deeply and thus believes that ideas are included or excluded as “knowledge(s)” wholly as political decisions. The relevant politics, to Theory, always work in the attempt to serve the interests of those who are or have been dominant in society (see also, power and privilege). For this reason, Critical Social Justice adherents often claim that their ideas are being unjustly excluded even when they’re just bad or demonstrably false. The necessary corrective to this alleged injustice is given to be critical theory, which adherents maintain would expose the epistemic injustices involved and question the underlying assumptions and hidden biases that cause them.
To summarize of this aspect of “exclusion,” the Theory of Critical Social Justice asserts that dominant “ways of knowing” and the “knowledges” produced by them are (a) socially constructed artifacts of cultures that are unaware of their own biases, (b) self-serving applications of political power (see also, episteme, power-knowledge, biopower, and Foucauldian), and (c) considered true only by virtue of the fact that those in dominant social positions benefit from believing and promoting their status as “truths” or “knowledge.” This combination of features has the effect of unjustly excluding alternatives, most especially the lived experience of oppression, as a valid way of knowing. In turn, this not only excludes ideas and methodologies (which cannot possibly be judged on their merits because merit is viewed as yet another bogus, oppressive ideology), but it also excludes people who use them by denying their “status as knowers” (see also, epistemic justice, research justice, linguistic justice, and citation justice).
The key element to understand is that Theory understands “exclusion” not so much as an intentional attempt to keep people out of things (as one would suspect) but as the result of certain cultures being valued more highly than others (see also, cultural relativism and impact versus intent). That is, Theory holds that “exclusion” is a cultural (or systemic) process and may have absolutely nothing to do with intentions. Thus, much of the Critical Social Justice epistemological literature focuses in on ways that supposedly antiracist “good whites” (see also, progressive) perpetuate (epistemic) racism and other exclusionary bigotries by maintaining the system even as they claim to oppose it (see also, aversive racism, colortalk, white fragility, and white talk). Members of minoritized groups are thereby marginalized by the (cultural, learning, institutional, social, epistemological, etc.) system itself and those who are complicit in maintaining it (see also, white complicity), not necessarily by some intentional attempt at segregation.
To understand the way that the concept of exclusion manifests in Critical Social Justice—and thus to properly understand the opposite idea of inclusion—it is absolutely necessary to understand that it is the culture/system that excludes, not necessarily any individual. It is in this way that we can make sense of the plethora of claims in Critical Social Justice activism (and also Theory) that just about everything excludes minoritized groups, “is so white,” “has a whiteness problem,” or is “unbearably white,” for example (mutatis mutandis for other features of identity, like being male, often under headings of sexism and especially misogyny). Whiteness itself, for example, is systemically racist (and anti-black), thus any existence or incursion of whiteness in anything makes it “exclusive” to blacks (see also, realities).
Thus, when we read that “hiking is so white” or that “jogging excludes blacks,” for example, what is usually argued is that some relatively inequitable proportion of black people participating in running is the result of the culture in running (as a sport or activity) being a predominantly white culture, and the whiteness of that culture itself excludes black people from wanting to participate in it by default (see also, cultural racism). That is, Theory would maintain that white people who hike or run, perhaps by being a majority, make the culture around running into a white culture, and because minoritized groups (like blacks) cannot effect the same, this is unjust. Theory would insist that black people, being forced to participate in yet another subculture that is predominantly white, will therefore be “excluded” from wanting to participate, even if no one is preventing their participation in any tangible way. The argument is that more black people would feel welcome to participate (“inclusion”) if the relevant subculture or affinity group were predominantly black instead (see also, whiteness, blackness, anti-blackness, and multiculturalism). (NB: Thus, white culture accepting black culture and coming to appreciate it turns black culture into white culture, which spreads the hegemony of whiteness while excluding blacks from their own culture, which is a problematic called “cultural appropriation.”)
This rather expansive and tendentious interpretation of exclusion—as the result of cultural forces—also makes some sense of the calls for segregation, in the name of desegregation. These appeals to intentionally exclude “dominant” groups to effect “inclusion” often crop up within Critical Social Justice activism. Specifically, the need for all-black (or all-one-identity or all-marginalized-identity) spaces (see also, safe space), in which members of dominant groups are willfully excluded, is considered a necessary act to achieve inclusion. Merely allowing members of dominant groups into those spaces, in addition to any direct issues it might cause (with more legitimacy to the claim), would perpetuate the cultural dominance of those groups and bring it even into spaces that had been ostensibly specifically set aside as refuges from it. Thus, allowing white students to congregate, hang out in, or even enter in the black student center on campus, for example, could all be interpreted as a means of excluding black people even from their own space, just like they are allegedly (according to Theory) excluded from broader society and relegated to its margins.
See also, inclusion.
Active ignorance; Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Aversive racism; Bias; Biopower; Blackness; Citation Justice; Colortalk; Complicity; Critical; Critical theory; Cultural appropriation; Cultural racism; Cultural relativism; Desegregation; Discourse; Disrupt; Dominance; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic justice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equity; False consciousness; Foucauldian; Good white; Hegemony; Identity; Impact versus intent; Inclusion; Individualism; Injustice; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Knower; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Linguistic justice; Lived experience; Marginalization; Master’s tools; Meritocracy; Minoritize; Misogyny; Multiculturalism; Objectivity; Oppression; Pernicious ignorance; Positionality; Positivism; Postmodern; Power (systemic); Power-knowledge; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Problematic; Progressive; Racism (systemic); Realities; Reality; Research justice; Safe space; Science; Segregation; Sexism (systemic); Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Space; Standpoint epistemology; Status quo; Subversion; System, the; Theory, Truth; Universalism; Value-free; Ways of knowing; White; White complicity; White fragility; White ignorance; White talk; Whiteness; Willful ignorance
Revision date: 8/3/20