Social Justice Usage
Source: Gertz, Genie, and Patrick Boudreault. The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia. SAGE, 2016, p. 983.
As per the genocide definitions in the UN Convention on Deaf Genocide, both adults and children all over the world suffer cultural and linguistic genocide almost every day.
Source: Rothblum, Esther, and Sondra Solovay. The Fat Studies Reader. New York University Press, 2009, p. 4.
From 1973 to 1977 in Los Angeles, the Fat Underground group asserted that fat women are powerful, take up space, and are feared for their strength and sensuality. Members included Aldebaran (Sara Fishman), Reanne Fagan, Sheri Fram, Gudrun Fonfa, Judy Freespirit, Lynn Mabel-Lois (Lynn McAfee), and Ariana Manow, among others. They viewed the effort to eradicate fat people via weight loss as a form of genocide perpetrated by the medical profession. The Fat Underground was influenced both by feminism and by radical therapy, a type of treatment that put the focus of change on society, not on individuals. In the words of Gudrun Fonfa, “By refuting the dogma of the diet industry and rejecting the aesthetics of the patriarchal culture, [we made] activists out of each individual fat woman who liberated herself from a lifetime of humiliation.”
New Discourses Commentary
One of the more peculiar and paranoid concepts (and fears) in the Theory and activism of Critical Social Justice is the idea of genocide. The usual definition of “genocide” is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially if they have something in common like belonging to a single ethnic group, religion, nation, or race. Critical Social Justice does not appear to be more or less concerned with that horror, which we might call a literal genocide, than most people are. The sole exception to this is their lack of concern for literal genocides that do not serve their narratives, even while they are taking place in reality, and their heightened concern for literal genocides, overwhelmingly from history, that advance it. This is, of course, the primary way in which Theory uses the term, referencing literal genocides that are politically actionable to their narrative (and explaining why other literal genocides are something different), often in a storytelling motif that arouses emotional resonance before attempting to make an exaggerated point about the state of oppression and marginalization that exists in today’s world.
What they are far more concerned with than almost anyone else is a specialized meaning of “genocide” that they—and nearly they alone—use. It is a meaning that arises from a peculiar and almost obsessive view on identity politics. In the Theory and activism of Critical Social Justice, “genocide” frequently refers to the destruction by any means at all of a (politically relevant) identity group, especially a politically relevant identity group that can be understood as being marginalized, minoritized, or oppressed by systemic power, presently or historically. This destruction need involve zero deaths and could be the result of people no longer seeing themselves as a politicized identity or being removed from the circumstances in which that identity is relevant (e.g., by curing a condition like hearing loss).
This is difficult to understand, and one’s mind may, at this point, immediately jump to an identity category like race and think that only a literal genocide could possibly qualify for the kind of destruction necessary to merit this use of the term. This is incorrect. As races, being socially constructed, are not seen in Theory as having any relationship to biology or, for that matter, physical reality, and are instead seen as political categories, one could “genocide” a race, in Theory, like blacks, simply by declaring race to be irrelevant.  (A savvy reader here will realize, then, that the elimination of racism through anything that looks like integrationist strategies or genuine colorblindness might be construed as a genocide and thus vigorously rejected and resisted, including with violence, by advocates of Critical Social Justice.) This is generally in keeping with the view in Critical Social Justice that identity groups and their cultures, not individuals, are the relevant object of interest, and those groups and cultures are inherently political (see also, identity).
The above, of course, sounds utterly insane, but, even if it is unrealistic, it is consistent with the way that the Theory of Critical Social Justice uses the term “genocide” in other cases. For example, weight-loss campaigns, especially in the sense of being nationally pushed anti-obesity efforts, are sometimes likened to fat genocides by fat studies. Certainly, if a magic pill were invented that safely kept everyone at their body’s ideal weight, this would be vigorously problematized for medicalizing fatness, believing there is such a thing as an ideal weight, and creating a fat genocide that erases the fat political identity. The reason is that even though every single person involved would still be alive, healthy, and living their best life, there would be no more fat people. This would lead to there being no more fat political identity and no more fatphobia (fat oppression) and thus no more fat culture or fat knowledges (see also, standpoint epistemology). The political identity and culture of fatness would be destroyed, and according to the Theory of Critical Social Justice, this can be understood as a “genocide.” (This appears to have originated with the radical shock activism of an activist group styling itself the Fat Underground, presumably named after the Weather Underground.)
Similarly, at least in Theory, complete normalization and acceptance of LGBTQ (and queerness in general) could be considered a queer genocide within more extreme and paranoid wings of queer Theory. The reason is the approximately the same. If all sex, gender, and sexual identities were completely accepted and normalized (the nominal goal of queer Theory), then there would be no possibility for a queer identity that actively resists normativities. Though every individual could have survived such a transition and come out better for it, it would still obliterate an entire (counter)culture and would thus constitute a genocide. Though not specifically framed in these terms, this mindset is why the queer Theory movement vigorously resisted, and still resists, gay marriage equality, which “normalizes” homosexuality and thus removes its utility for radical identity politicking.
Again, this can be hard to believe, and yet it is sometimes literally argued in the case of disability studies. Medical technology can, in some cases, potentially render certain disabilities (like deafness) curable or non-existent. The capital-D (identity-first) “Deaf” community recognizes itself as having a unique culture and much relevant knowledge(s), traditions, and wisdom, and rendering all people fully capable of hearing would erase that culture from existence, so the argument goes, which is thus a kind of genocide.
Of course, a kernel of legitimacy exists here that gives more credence to the term in that, for example, all congenital disabilities could be prevented through either genetic manipulation of embryos or abortion. That is sometimes argued from within Theory, though it is more common to hear it argued from anti-abortion/pro-life activists who are resoundingly criticized by those advocating Theory. Far more commonly within Theory, though, even the capacity to cure existing disabilities is often framed within disability studies as a potential genocide of that identity group and the culture that forms within its communities. This is used, in practice, to discourage some disabled people from seeking remedies to their disabilities through guilt and shame, as though wanting to not be disabled is a form of betrayal (with auto-genocidal intent).
How this bizarre understanding of the term “genocide” came to be is, apart from the aspect of identity politics running utterly amok, apparently a peculiar perversion of some of the later philosophies of the French postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault. In particular, Foucault developed a concept known as “biopower,” which generally refers to the capacity for knowledge produced by the sciences to order society. Foucault’s earlier works are, of course, quite skeptical about the role of the sciences and the effects scientific knowledge has when combined with power (see also, power-knowledge), but biopower was a consideration that arose in the same vein as his earlier explorations about sovereign power leading to disciplinary power leading to biopower, which he came near the end of his life (in a series of lectures dedicated to the topic) to see as a largely positive evolution of how power is applied to control societies. Only in one regard did Foucault criticize the negative side of biopower: in its ability to produce genocides when misapplied by maniacal regimes like under the Nazis and Stalin. It is likely that this particular concern mutated along with the understanding of biopower that is nearly ubiquitous in critical theory fields like queer Theory, fat studies, and disability studies.
Perhaps of some note, it is most likely that this use of the term genocide became standard within Critical Social Justice via postcolonial Theory, which is clearly concerned with both physical and cultural genocides of the targets of colonialism. Being largely postmodern in orientation, Theory would be content to blur boundaries between the horrors of legitimate historical genocides and far less consequential (meaning: genuinely progressive) social or medical advances. In this regard, it is considered a high crime by Critical Social Justice to attempt to force Western culture or knowledge(s) upon other cultures (see also, Islamophobia), and the “destruction” of some cultural identity, including by merely mingling with Western ideals that it willfully adopts for itself, could be construed as a genocide under Theory.
So, in Critical Social Justice, a genocide is anything that can wipe out a culture or its knowledges (see also, epistemic violence), which are either traditional or gained primarily through lived experience, especially of oppression (see also, ways of knowing and standpoint epistemology). It is, in this sense, that Theory can be understood to be conservative in the extreme—it seeks to conserve every non-Western or “nondominant” culture in a pristine, unspoiled state and is willing to call any deviation from that state a “genocide” of the relevant culture. How a culture is “wiped out” is irrelevant to Theory and can include cures for medical issues like disabilities, weight-loss campaigns, social acceptance, cultural drift in a global world, or social integration while including absolutely zero injuries or deaths. Of course, this line of thought only applies to identity groups that are considered marginalized or oppressed by the underlying liberationist paradigm of Theory (see also, neo-Marxism). One would be forgiven, then, in wondering if Critical Social Justice is genuinely interested in achieving its aims or is just using them as a means to push its own power-grabbing politics (see also, diversity, equity, and inclusion) and to avoid fair and legitimate criticism.
Acting white; Anti-blackness; Biopower; Colonialism; Colorblindness; Community; Critical; Critical race Theory; Critical Theory; Disability studies; Diversity; Epistemic violence; Equity; Fat studies; Fatphobia; Foucauldian; Gender; Identity; Identity-first; Identity politics; Inclusion; Islamophobia; Knowledge(s); Liberal; Liberationism; Lived experience; Marginalization; Minoritize; Narrative; Nazi; Neo-Marxism; Normal; Normativity; Oppression; Postcolonial Theory; Postmodern; Power (systemic); Power-knowledge; Queer; Queer Theory; Race; Racism (systemic); Reality; Science; Sex; Sexuality; Social construction; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Theory; Violence; Ways of knowing; Western; White; White adjacent; White supremacy; Whiteness
Source: Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, second edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2017, p. 17.
We begin this text by acknowledging that we conduct our scholarship and teaching on the unceded ancestral territories of various Indigenous peoples, on what is today identified as Canada and the United States. It can be easy for us to dismiss how events from the past could matter to us here in the present. But studying the history of colonialism—the cultural, emotional, and physical genocide of peoples around the world—reminds us that to understand the injustices of today we must recognize their connection to injustices of the past. We offer our deepest respect to Elders both past and present.
Source: Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, second edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2017, p. 49.
Practicing thinking critically helps us see the role of ideology in the construction of knowledge about progress. It challenges the belief that knowledge is simply the result of a rational, objective, and value-neutral process, one that is removed from any political agenda. The notion of value-free (or objective) knowledge was central to rationalizing the colonization of other lands and peoples that began in the 15th century. For example, if we believe that Columbus was simply an explorer and trader, we reinforce the idea of discovery as outside of political and ideological interests. The promotion of this idea has allowed dominant culture to ignore the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the transatlantic slave trade that his “discoveries” set in motion. Of note, it would also be construable as a “black genocide” to extend the benefits of “whiteness” to all black people, i.e., by legally and socially extending “whiteness” to them, as happened with, say Italians and Irish immigrants in the United States and elsewhere in history. This point should be raised because Theory has been written explicitly to ensure that this cannot happen with black people, as one of the intrinsic properties ascribed to whiteness by critical race Theory is “anti-blackness.” The same could occur through a genuine “browning down” of America through interracial child-bearing couples. It’s worth raising this point particularly because the mirror image of it exists among the diametrically opposite identity-politicians of Social Justice advocates—genuine white supremacists, meaning ones we actually recognize as being racists. Real white supremacists genuinely fear this happening in reverse, spinning a narrative about a “white genocide” to be brought on by miscegenation, i.e., white people intermarrying and having children with brown and black people. The result of this absurd claim is a preposterous and hyperbolic shouting match between the two groups, who have more in common with each other than they have with any of the rest of us, wherein the white racists believe it and the Critical Social Justice types mock them for it. This is clearly a reprehensible way to think about race that denies both universal humanity and individualism, regardless of the justification for it.
Revision date: 8/6/20