Social Justice Usage
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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, pp. 68–69.
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 third related ideology supporting the dominant group’s right to its position is individualism—the belief that we are each unique and outside the forces of socialization. Under individualism, group memberships are irrelevant and the social groups to which we belong don’t provide us with any more or fewer benefits. The ideology of individualism explains measurable gaps between dominant and minoritized groups (such as in education, health, income, and net worth) as the result of individual strengths or weaknesses. Therefore, those at the top are there because they are the best, brightest, and hardest working.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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. 5.[Critical] movements initially advocated for a type of liberal humanism (individualism, freedom, and peace) but quickly turned to a rejection of liberal humanism. The ideal of individual autonomy that underlies liberal humanism (the idea that people are free to make independent rational decisions that determine their own fate) was viewed as a mechanism for keeping the marginalized in their place by obscuring larger structural systems of inequality. In other words, it fooled people into believing that they had more freedom and choice than societal structures actually allow.
New Discourses Commentary
Social Justice is set up for the advancement of identity politics, which requires centering human experience entirely in group identity (and, frankly, stoking grievances within them). This requires it to reject both the biggest and smallest measures of humanity: the universality of human experience and the atomic individualism that defines each of us as we actually are, in favor of something in between. Universalism and individualism are the two aspects of humanity that liberalism speaks to, and since the critical methods of Social Justice are explicitly anti-liberal, Social Justice rejects these as white, western, masculine ideologies by which dominant groups can justify their privilege (thus keep it) and maintain and rationalize their oppression of marginalized and minoritized groups. (Of note, liberalism is one of the systems that critical theories were developed to criticize.)
Individualism is vigorously resisted by Social Justice, which understands people wholly (or, at least, almost wholly) in terms of their intersecting group identities, which in turn define their positionality, which means their relationships to systemic power in society via their demographic identity group membership. One is not to be understood as an individual except in terms of how one is an individual member of a particular group, whose experiences of systemic dominance and oppression are Theorized as being roughly homogenous (see also, authentic). “Remember,” Sensoy and DiAngelo tell us (p. 142), “that it isn’t actually possible to see everyone as an individual and thus treat them as one. From a critical social justice perspective we understand that we are all socialized to see people from groups other than our own in particular and often problematic ways.” The luxury to think of oneself as an individual is therefore understood as something only people from dominant groups are able to do while everyone else is constantly forced to navigate the difficulties caused by their marginalized group identity.
Ultimately, no one will ever be viewed as an individual under Social Justice. This runs contrarily to what some people believe, as they note that the logical endpoint of finer and finer intersectional analyses will result in individuals eventually. That misunderstands the group-identity-based mindset of Social Justice. Rather than understanding people as individuals, even if intersected down to a unique level of identity, every person will still always be understood as the intersecting collection of group identities that they belong to, as Social Justice sees it. This is an important distinction because it still removes individual agency from people and forces them to engage constantly (and in increasingly difficult ways) with their positionalities.
In practice, this rejection of individualism manifests in three primary ways. First, members of dominant groups (white, male, straight) are lumped together and treated according to their dominant identities, which are assumed to be privileged (see also, internalized dominance). Most people would consider this racist, sexist, or otherwise, but Theory has avoided that by making racism, sexism, and other bigotries functions of systemic power that cannot be applied “upstream” (see also, punching up and strategic racism). Members of Theoretically dominant groups cannot be seen as individuals because that would allow them to avoid responsibility for or engaging with their alleged participation in and complicity with the systemic power structures that they intrinsically benefit from (see also, antiracism and good white).
Second, members of oppressed groups are lumped together and treated as potential authorities on the relevant experiences of oppression. Some would consider this to be essentializing, but Theory has worked to avoid that charge through doctrines of authenticity and strategic resistance (see also, blackness, indigeneity, and strategic essentialism).
Third, members of oppressed groups who do not agree with Theory are not viewed as authentic members of those groups but instead as people laboring under some misapprehensions about their experiences or from cynical and self-serving motives, which disqualifies the validity of their opinions (see also, internalized oppression, internalized racism, internalized misogyny, false consciousness, race traitor, gender traitor, acting white, white adjacent, male approval, white approval, and straight passing). This feature results in statements from Social Justice advocates such as “he may have sex with men, but he isn’t gay” in reference to an openly gay politician who is married to a man, “straight black men are the white people of black people,” and other accusations of black people who “act white” not really being black. Obviously, the point of this aspect of Theory is to disempower the voices it claims to speak for (that is, those of women and minorities) when the relevant people don’t feel spoken for by Theory. This is part of a broader corrective to the insistence in Social Justice that we all must shut up and listen to marginalized voices that applies in cases when those voices don’t corroborate Theory. We are, in fact, only to listen to them when they agree with Theory, which results in some people having observed that Social Justice has allowed black people nothing more than the opportunity to trade one set of masters for another.
Acting white; Antiracism; Authentic; Blackness; Complicity; Critical theory; Dominance; Essentializing; False consciousness; Gender traitor; Good white; Identity; Identity politics; Ideology; Indigeneity; Internalized dominance; Internalized misogyny; Internalized oppression; Internalized racism; Intersectionality; Liberalism; Lived experience; Male approval; Marginalization; Minoritize; Oppression; Position; Privilege; Punching up; Racism (systemic); Sexism (systemic); Shut up and listen; Social Justice; Straight passing; Strategic essentialism; Strategic racism; Strategic resistance; Systemic power; Theory; Universalism (ideology); Voices; White; White approval
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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, pp. 141–142.
Yet, as we have argued, the way we act in the world is based on how we perceive the world. Our worldviews are not neutral; they are shaped by particular ideas about how the world is or ought to be. For example, if you believe that we are all unique human beings, that our group memberships are irrelevant, and that the best remedy for injustice is to attempt to see everyone as an individual, then that perspective will be visible in everything you teach and how you teach it.
If, on the other hand, you believe that our group memberships are important, that different groups have different levels of access to resources, that this inequitable access is shaped by institutional forces, and that we have agency to positively influence those institutions for the betterment of everyone, then that too will be evident in everything you teach.
Although it does take ongoing study and practice before a social justice framework will fundamentally shape your work, to decide not to take on this commitment does not mean you are being neutral. Indeed, to decide not to take on this commitment is to actively support and reproduce the inequitable status quo. When we have developed a critical social justice consciousness, it is evident in all we do and no longer seen as “outside our job description.”
Revision date: 2/4/20