Social Justice Usage
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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. 146.
The racist/not-racist binary illustrates the role that ideology plays in holding oppression in place, and the ideology of individualism in particular. Individualism is a storyline or narrative that creates, communicates, reproduces, and reinforces the concept that each of us is a unique individual and that our group memberships, such as our race, class, or gender are not important or relevant to our opportunities. This narrative causes a problematic tension because the legitimacy of our institutions depends upon the concept that all citizens are equal. At the same time, we each occupy distinct race, gender, class, and other positions that profoundly shape our life chances in ways that are not natural, voluntary, or random; opportunity is not equally distributed across race, class, and gender.
New Discourses Commentary
Narrative refers to a kind of story, particularly one that advances a political or ideological agenda. It’s probably easiest to think of a narrative as what gives political “spin” its spin. Under the thought of Critical Social Justice, narratives are the ways that dominant groups can advance their (ideological and political) interests through what amounts to tricking themselves and others into accepting the systems of power that are believed to maintain the status quo, thus their own dominance (see also, false consciousness, internalized dominance, internalized oppression, meritocracy, individualism, objectivity, positivism, universalism, melting pot, equality, human nature, and common sense). One of the more obvious features of “narrative” is that narrative is not “truth.”
Members of marginalized and oppressed groups (see also, minoritized groups) are also able to use narrative, including to advance their own interests, but because of Critical Social Justice beliefs about the dynamics of systemic power and privilege—thus dominance and oppression (which is the fundamental dynamic of human/social reality in Critical Social Justice thought and Theory)—the narratives of minoritized group members, when authentic, are considered counter-narratives that can deconstruct, dismantle, disrupt, or subvert dominance by offering alternatives to its narratives, especially ones that challenge or expose its biases (see also, counterstory). Dominant groups are believed to systematically exclude, ignore, and marginalize these counter-narratives in order to maintain their own power. (NB: A narrative emerging from a minoritized group is only considered “authentic” when it agrees with, supports, or forwards Theory – see also, authentic.)
In one sense, it would be accurate to say that in Critical Social Justice thought, narratives are where truth lives, but at the same time it would be correct to say that they see narrative as the proper replacement for truth. This seems contradictory until one understands how Critical Social Justice Theory sees reality and related ideas like knowledge and truth, which is not in the usual way and owes a great deal to postmodern thought, especially the Theories of French postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault. Under this line of thought, knowledge (thus truth) is merely a cultural or social construct that exists inside of or is a particular kind of narrative (those with the authority of knowledge or that legitimate that authority), one that may not correspond to reality at all but that is authenticated (thus treated as true) by the powerful within that culture. Narratives, then, become the context in which truths are true. Narratives are what’s “true for me” for groups. Narratives define “realities.”
Narratives are also split into two main types in the very Manichaean worldview of Critical Social Justice: dominant and marginalized. Dominant narratives are believed to be created and maintained by the powerful and define the ideologies of society, which then control society through hegemony (see also, Neo-Marxism). That is, most people accept the dominant narratives as valid and truth-setting, and they therefore gain massive political and social power. People are brought to accept these narratives through a process of socialization, where society and the people in it constantly teach and reinforce these narratives so that they’re considered what’s true about the world (see also, status quo). Marginalized narratives are those that dominant groups in society (and those who have been socialized into the dominant perspective) reject as fringe in some way. In the thought of Critical Social Justice, when what is marginalized is the “lived experience,” “knowledges,” or “ways of knowing” of minoritized groups, it is a severe injustice that is always considered to be due to an unfair application of power, e.g., hegemonic power, and nothing at all to do with methodological rigor or validity (see also, epistemic injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence). (Indeed, methodological rigor and validity would be seen as part of dominant narratives that exclude ways of knowing, etc., that do not value them.)
By way of example, a statement that most of us would agree with like “science is the best way to determine what’s true about reality” would be considered a narrative (in fact, one that is positivist and perhaps even scientistic). In fact, it would be considered both one narrative among many (e.g., “cultural traditions tell us what’s true about reality” would be another) and one that has been unjustly privileged by white, Western men in a Eurocentric context. This narrative would be accepted as “natural,” “valid,” or “justified” by white, Western men in that context because it is their context (this is a feature of internalized dominance) and it is believed to be forced upon others, either through white, Western, masculinist, Eurocentric dominance or the inescapable influence of hegemony (this is called internalized oppression, in general, and a type of epistemic oppression, but it is sometimes considered a form of colonialism – see also, decoloniality). Thus, dominant narratives are seen as tools created and used by dominant groups to marginalize and oppress potential alternatives.
The descent into a certain centrality of narratives in Critical Social Justice thought has been exacerbated by having adopted a great deal of postmodern philosophy, as noted above. Two lines of postmodern thought stand out in this regard. One is the idea of Jean-François Lyotard that certain narratives are so big that they operate as kinds of cultural mythologies, which he referred to as “metanarratives.” Lyotard defined postmodernism in general and “simplifying in the extreme” as a (radical) skepticism of metanarratives and thus preference for local narratives or mini-narratives. These local narratives are the kinds of competing narratives that would see science as just one among many, although Lyotard also specifically and wrongly named science as one of the metanarratives that we should be profoundly and radically skeptical of. This view of narratives pervades Critical Social Justice thought and Theory.
Another influential postmodern philosopher in this regard—arguably overwhelmingly the most influential by several metrics and arguments—is Michel Foucault. Foucault shared this general suspicion of “metanarratives,” in particular science, though he didn’t write about them in this way. Instead, he wrote extensively about the cultural nature and social construction of knowledge, particularly in and by the sciences, and described “truth regimes” or “epistemes” as the relevant set of dominant narratives and discourses (ways things can be spoken about) that define what is considered knowledge or truth and how those statements are applied by, for, and through power. It is likely in this analysis that Lyotard’s profound skepticism of science (wrongly identified as a metanarrative) arose, along with his desire to focus on mini-narratives instead.
In practice, the focus upon narratives in the context of Critical Social Justice thought is that anything that comes from “dominant” sources is supported by “narratives” that should be seen merely as such and devalued, if not discredited, through critical methods (including critical theories, geneology, revisionism, problematizing, etc.) while anything that comes from “marginalized” sources is to be considered removed from criticism by any positionally dominant approach. Thus, for example, science has to make room for “traditional” mythologies and superstitions, but those, in turn, cannot be expected to rely upon, defer to, or be corrected by science. In this light, it is immediately straightforward to see that the advancement of “narrative” in Critical Social Justice is a power game being played on the field of knowledge and knowing.
Authentic; Bias; Colonialism; Common sense; Critical; Critical theory; Decoloniality; Deconstruction; Discourse; Dismantle; Disrupt; Dominance; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equality; Eurocentric; Exclusion; False consciousness; Foucauldian; Geneaology; Hegemony; Human nature; Ideology; Individualism; Injustice; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Knowledge(s); Legitimate; Lived experience; Marginalization; Melting pot; Meritocracy; Metanarrative; Minoritize; Neo-Marxism; Objectivity; Oppression; Other; Positionality; Positivism; Postmodern; Privilege; Problematize; Radical; Realities; Reality; Revisionism; Science; Social construct; Social Justice; Socialization; Status quo; Systemic power; Theory; Truth; Truth regime; Universalism; Ways of knowing; Western; White
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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. 198.
There are many political perspectives various people have taken on the issues of inequality addressed in this book. These perspectives can be thought of as ranging on a continuum from nature to nurture. Nature arguments claim that inequality is natural or biological and thus will always be with us (positivism). Nurture arguments claim that inequality is constructed by society and thus can be changed (constructivism). While this book takes a constructivist stance, we recognize the difficulty of ever fully separating nature from nurture. Thus the question we offer when developing your own perspective is: “Who or what does this narrative serve?” Assuming that the person raising this dismissal recognizes that people do in fact occupy different class positions but is dismissing the explanation that this is due to classism (rather than to personal merit), we would ask: “Whose interests are served by the ideology of meritocracy? The owning class? The middle class? The working class?”
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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, pp. 28–29.
When confronted with evidence of inequality that challenges our identities, we often respond with resistance; we want to deflect this unsettling information and protect a worldview that is more familiar and comforting. This is especially true if we believe in justice and see ourselves as living a life that supports it. Forms that resistance takes include silence, withdrawal, immobilizing guilt, feeling overly hopeless or overly hopeful, rejection, anger, sarcasm, and argumentation. These reactions are not surprising because mainstream narratives reinforce the idea that society overall is fair, and that all we need to overcome injustice is to be nice and treat everyone the same. Yet while comforting, these platitudes are woefully out of sync with scholarly research about how society is structured. The deeply held beliefs that inform our emotional responses make studying and teaching from a critical 28stance very difficult.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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. 115.
Consider the idea of inspiration itself. Why are stories about people with disabilities so inspirational to able-bodied people? Notice how they can only be inspirational if the person is presented as overcoming the tragedy and suffering that the able-bodied believe to be inherent to having a disability. If we are telling a story of someone who cannot overcome their disability, then we draw our inspiration from their determination and courage to simply live. These narratives communicate and reinforce the idea that body diversity (anything beyond what is socially constructed as normal) is undesirable; a terrible and tragic medical condition that no one would ever choose and that, if possible, must at all costs be fixed. If the condition cannot be fixed, then it is perceived as a terrible waste of life. Thus the only way to “overcome” the condition is to “put a positive face on it” and struggle to be pleasant. If you have ever thought (or been reminded by others) how “fortunate” you were not to have a disability, consider what ideas about disabilities are being conveyed.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, 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, pp. 133–134.
Just as we might find ourselves laughing at a racist joke, we might find ourselves enjoying a film that reproduces sexism. Indeed, it’s likely that due to how normalized these narratives are, we won’t see them as sexist at all. Yet the more a narrative appeals to us (especially if we are women), the more important it is for us to be able to think critically about it so that we can resist its effects. Recall the concept of internalized oppression and that minoritized groups often collude with dominant ideology. Thus, no socially constructed text can or should be off-limits to a critical analysis, regardless of how popular or enjoyable it is.
If we add music videos to this popular-culture landscape, we can see that media is so extraordinarily consistent in its rigid gender divisions that it is virtually impossible to escape sexist messages. Our concerns here are not with sex per se, nor with a return to prudish mores, but with the relentless gender-based narratives of domination and subordination in popular culture. We are also concerned with the increasing sexualization of girls at earlier ages and the near total reduction of female value to their bodies. The messages conveyed to girls are that their value depends solely on how attractive they are to men and how well they can please them.
Revision date: 5/13/20