Social Justice Usage
The notion that an organization or system is welcoming to new populations and/or identities. This new presence is not merely tolerated but expected to contribute meaningfully into the system in a positive, mutually beneficial way. Inclusive processes and practices are ones that strive to bring groups together to make decisions in collaborative, mutual, equitable ways.
New Discourses Commentary
Inclusion, in the general sense of the word, means to welcome everybody (in context: into a particular space). That is, to be inclusive is not to exclude anybody. Inclusion, in a Critical Social Justice sense, refers to something subtly different that extends that idea in a particular way. It means to create a welcoming environment specifically for groups considered marginalized, and this entails the exclusion of anything that could feel unwelcoming to any identity groups (see also, safe space). This is because everything in Critical Social Justice must be understood in terms of systemic power dynamics that it Theorizes characterize all of social, if not material, reality.
Thus, inclusion is an expansive concept that could apply to silencing certain ideas like conservatism, meritocracy, or support for freedom of speech, usually in the name of safety and preventing the “trauma” or “violence” that such ideas could inflict upon progressives who see them as ideologies that perpetuate systemic harm. It could be used to prevent specific terminology like “ladies and gentlemen” (see also, man, woman, and binary), which Theory insists carries an unjust assumption that everybody is one or the other (which is thus not inclusive to gender minorities like queer, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, or trans people). It could be applied to exclude certain symbols like “MAGA” hats (which are Theorized to support systemic racism, systemic sexism, misogyny, heteronormativity, and so on) or specific sounds like clapping (which can trigger people with PTSD, under a rubric of ableism). In all cases, either the safety (mostly, but not always only, psychological – see also, violence) of the people involved in the space or their right to have a space free from oppression is cited as the reason for the exclusive limitations done in the name of inclusion.
On some occasions, to be inclusive of members of marginalized groups, inclusion has been used to justify excluding people considered privileged, like men, straight people, and white people, or to limit their numbers, seat them at the back of a gathering, or ask them to listen silently (see also, shut up and listen and progressive stack). This need to exclude certain people in the name of inclusion follows from the Critical Social Justice Theory insistence that one of the features of systemic power and privilege is that all spaces are spaces in which the dominant groups’ cultures are welcomed and other cultures are excluded (by means of the hegemony of dominant culture). Thus, segregated “black only” spaces, for example, are considered a necessary corrective to whiteness and a form of desegregating those spaces, according to the Theory of Critical Social Justice.
In this sense, “inclusion,” in the Critical Social Justice usage, always implies restrictions on speech.
An inclusive environment cannot, by the Critical Social Justice definition, tolerate any speech (including symbolic displays or representation) that offends, might offend, or could be construed as being potentially offensive to any member of any marginalized group. If it did, that would be exclusionary to members of that group and would multiply or perpetuate their oppression. Of note, this offense need not be experienced by anyone but could merely exist in a potential state, thus leaving speech in an “inclusive” space subject to problematization, or it could be experienced as offense by proxy, in which a member of a “dominant group” indicates that she is offended on behalf of a (perhaps entirely hypothetical) marginalized person who might at some point enter the inclusive space (see also, allyship). That is, under Social Justice, “inclusion” means restricted speech and sometimes physical exclusion.
Because Social Justice always interprets everything through a lens of systemic power dynamics, this status is unidirectional and thus never applies to members of dominant groups, who can be made to feel as unwelcome or offended as possible, up to and including through explicitly derogatory speech and physically prohibiting their attendance.
Inclusion is usually presented in a suite alongside other concepts that it is supposed to help or enhance. Thus we often hear of “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)” or “justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI)” as a core program of Social Justice activism and application. Most universities, many corporations, many organizations, and some governmental agencies now have offices or officers of “diversity and inclusion,” who are, in effect, administrative Critical Social Justice police.
Inclusion also needs to be understood epistemically to understand how Critical Social Justice uses the term. The epistemological thought of Critical Social Justice insists that the ideas, discourses, ideologies, knowledges, and ways of knowing of dominant groups in society intentionally or implicitly exclude others of these that come from marginalized, minoritized, or oppressed groups (see also, master’s tools). This is considered a fundamental form of oppression that prevents minoritized groups even from being able to speak up on their own behalf unless on biased terms set by those with dominance in society (see also, epistemic injustice, epistemic justice, epistemic oppression, epistemic violence, silence; and subaltern).
As a result, inclusion also requires including the “knowledges” and “ways of knowing” of minoritized groups, particularly those based in the “lived experience” of oppression (see also, standpoint epistemology, realities, and positionality). These are to be seen not just as equally valid as knowledge produced, say, by the sciences (see also, objectivity and positivism, and also, cultural relativism), but as superior because they are less problematically biased and disruptive, rather than supportive, of hegemony, the status quo, and systems of oppression (see also, problematize). Of course, this means the demand for epistemic inclusion generally results in calling “knowledge” or “truth” that which is neither, which will virtually always backfire in the end.
See also – Exclusion.
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Revision date: 5/18/20