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, 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.
One is the myth of meritocracy. Meritocracy is a system in which people’s achievements are attributed solely to their own efforts, abilities, or merits. Meritocracy posits that starting points don’t matter and that the son of a day-laborer has as much chance of “making it” as the son of Bill Gates, as long as they work hard. Canada and the United States are presented in dominant culture as meritocratic systems. From this perspective, those who don’t succeed are simply not as capable or don’t try as hard as those who do.
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.
New Discourses Commentary
Social Justice does not like the idea of meritocracy, so, as you can see, it immediately strawmans the concept and insists that it tends to be used in terms of a wholly meritocratic society rather than one in which it is recognized that merit is relevant, if not highly relevant, to generating success (especially relative success, given one’s starting positions). It also assumes that people who advocate meritocracy believe it has already been fully achieved rather than something they still strive for. It then insists that meritocracy is an ideology that dominant groups employ to (falsely) justify their privilege and thus attempt to maintain it.
The problem Social Justice has with the idea of merit is that one’s advantages in society aren’t unfair if one has earned them (or, to some degree, inherited them from a family that did). This can make them difficult to problematize or construe as a systemic injustice that needs redressing and reparation (see also, equity).
As Social Justice Theory sees it, the “ideology” of meritocracy enables dominant groups to maintain “willful ignorance” about the contribution of their privilege to their success and thus avoid developing a critical consciousness about it (see also, white comfort, white equilibrium, and white innocence). This leads them to reject Social Justice prescriptions for redistribution of various resources under policies of equity, and resistance as such is usually understood to be reasonable because it is unfair to take was fairly earned. Thus, Social Justice Theorizes meritocracy as an illusion, an ideological myth propagated and believed by members of dominant groups so that they can justify their dominance and rationalize their marginalization and oppression of other groups. The ideology of meritocracy allows dominant group members to put the responsibility for any relative lack of success on the individuals involved rather than on the system that Social Justice believes was rigged against people in certain groups (see also, individualism and responsibilize).
The goal of casting meritocracy as an ideology promoted by and for dominant group interests is to undermine belief in the role that merit plays in success, thus allowing Social Justice to make two of its core claims. First, it can claim that success wasn’t genuinely earned by any member of a dominant group so much as it was the result of privilege that hasn’t been sufficiently considered, acknowledged, and (perhaps) problematized. Second, it can claim that any failure that occurs within the members of minoritized groups had nothing to do with their effort, preparation, ingenuity, industriousness, or other markers of ability or merit. That is, their failures aren’t their fault and thus aren’t justly experienced. The system is credited with the unfair success of members of dominant groups and the unfair failures of members of minoritized groups.
This kind of trick is common within Social Justice thought: characterizing a concept as its most extreme interpretation and setting it against the opposite extreme, which is cast as being more socially just. That is, it (seemingly intentionally) misunderstands ideas so as to present a false choice between something extremely chauvinistic and something comparatively just (even if ridiculous). It then accuses people in the “dominant” (read: disagreeing) groups of maintaining an extreme position that they usually do not hold as a means of attempting to make their position look absurd, extreme, or evil. (See also, biological essentialism and sex essentialism.)
Biological essentialism; Critical consciousness; Dominance; Equality/Equal opportunity (ideology); Equity; Human nature (ideology); Ideology; Individualism (ideology); Injustice; Justice; Marginalization; Minoritize; Oppression; Privilege; Problematize; Responsibilize; Sex essentialism; Social Justice; System, the; Systemic power; Theory; White comfort; White equilibrium; White innocence; Willful ignorance
Revision date: 2/5/20