Social Justice Usage
A political construction created to concentrate power with white people and legitimize dominance over non-white people.
Source: https://www.brandeis.edu/diversity/resources/definitions.html; Lawrence, K., & Keleher, T. (Eds.). “Chronic disparity: Strong and pervasive evidence of racial inequalities.” Proceedings from Race and Public Policy Conference 2004, pp. 1–6. Berkeley, CA.
A misleading and deceptively appealing classification of human beings created by White people originally from Europe which assigns human worth and social status using the White racial identity as the archetype of humanity for the purpose of creating and maintaining privilege, power, and systems of oppression.
New Discourses Commentary
As Social Justice sees it, race is a social construction and a political contrivance that was made by white people to serve the interests of white people (see also, whiteness), particularly the domination, marginalization, exclusion, and oppression of people of color. That is, in Social Justice, race is an invention of white people made so as to perpetrate racism. In Social Justice thought, race is therefore urgently in need of being fought with antiracism and of deconstruction by critical methods, especially critical race Theory (see also, critical theory and postmodern). While this is unlikely to be the definition of race that you’re familiar with or how you think about the concept, there is, to be fair, a fair amount to unpack here.
First, the idea that race, as we currently understand it, is socially constructed is largely but not wholly true (see also, social constructivism). Variations in traits that we associate with racial categories are fundamentally biological, although the typical racial categories like “black,” “white,” and “Hispanic” or “Latin” do not provide sufficient information to accurately portray the underlying genetic populations that are, often clumsily, described by these racial terms. In this sense, “race” is a social construction, and it is one that deviates significantly from both biology and history.
Second, there is some truth to the claim that “race” as a set of social constructions was constructed by white European people beginning roughly in the fifteenth century (see also, Eurocentrism), and that much of the reason for this construction was to give apparent justification to inhumane behaviors like enslavement of Africans, colonial occupation (see also, colonialism and orientalism), imperial conquest (see also, imperialism), and the associated genocides of indigenous populations (see also, postcolonial theory). There is also some truth to the claim that Europeans with a “white” racial identity constructed these simplistic categories specifically to morally justify their own advantage, which was, in truth, mostly scientific and technological, and in some ways perhaps cultural (see also, cultural relativism), not “racially” genetic. This didn’t prevent an unjustified and racist/sexist widespread belief in white, Western male superiority, however.
Thus, it seems like the Social Justice view of race might have more going for it than many of its terminological experiments, as there is much to concede to them here. The issue with this understanding of race is that while they do have a point, their point is considerably out of date and subjected to highly interpretive methods and assumptions under critical theory. The purpose of socially constructed racial categories, however inaccurate these categories may be, has not been the moral justification of white domination, colonialism, or African slavery in quite some time. In other words, the Social Justice deconstruction project aims to “deconstruct” something that liberal society mostly dismantled and turned away from decades ago. In fact, as can be read throughout the Critical Social Justice literature, especially through the 1980s and into the mid 1990s, critical race Theorists, working in the name of Social Justice and, more specifically, identity politics, deliberately aimed to restore the social and cultural significance to racial categories that liberalism (like lived at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement) had significantly but not completely eroded.
For example, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is one of the progenitors of critical race Theory and the originator of intersectionality, wrote about this in her famous 1991 paper “Mapping the Margins.” There, she indicated the failures of liberalism for being able to achieve racial equity because of its refusal to put identity first and engage the social significance of racial categories. Her rationale can be read further in a book, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, that she edited a few years later with Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas. There, on p. xv, they observe, “Affirmative action requires the use of race as a socially significant category of perception and representation, but the deepest elements of mainstream civil rights ideology had come to identify such race-consciousness as racism itself” (see also, equity, representation, ideology, and racism.)
The black feminist bell hooks was similarly vocal in the call to put racial identity first, and the field of “whiteness studies” came into existence soon after. It’s goal is to identify, study, and increase the salience of the white racial identity (so that it might be challenged, problematized, disrupted, and dismantled). The reader would be forgiven for believing that moves like this, by hooks, Crenshaw, and other black feminists and critical race Theorists, did more to reinvigorate a dying platform for racism than take productive steps to resolve its problems.
Under critical theories of race (and intersectionality), race is always a salient variable in the social reality and routine social interactions of people in Western (and other) societies. Indeed, a critical consciousness (wokeness) is one that is aware of the relevance of race and racism in all interactions, however hidden or subtle. Intersectionality as a practice requires cultivating and maintaining this awareness and “interrogating” its relevance in all situations (see also, positionality).
Race is deemed to be a subject that people of color inherently want to talk about (though not too much, and not when they don’t – see also emotional labor and epistemic exploitation) but that white people, by virtue of their privileged status, lack the epistemic and emotional tools to grapple with or face (see also, racial stress, racial stamina, white comfort, white equilibrium, complicity and white complicity, white fragility, white ignorance, white innocence, good white, internalized dominance, and white talk). Thus, one of the purposes of Critical Social Justice—especially critical race Theory, intersectionality, and critical whiteness studies—is to attempt to force white people to engage with the “realities” of their white privilege, whiteness, anti-blackness, and white supremacy, which Theory believes are ordinary and permanent features for them.
It is of some value to point out that, as this is unlikely to be the full understanding of “race” that most are familiar with, “race” is yet another Trojan Horse term in Social Justice—one that has high moral valence attached to it but means something significantly different than one the hearer expects. While some of the relevant history, or even the accurate claims to the social construction of racial categories, is likely to be known to many laypeople outside of Social Justice, its status as a deliberate, enduring, indeed permanent political contrivance produced by white people specifically so they can participate in (structural) racism against others is unlikely to match what most people have in mind.
Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Black feminism; Colonialism; Complicity; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical theory; Critical race Theory; Cultural relativism; Deconstruction; Dismantle; Disrupt; Dominance; Emotional labor; Epistemic exploitation; Equity; Eurocentrism; Exclusion; Genocide; Good white; Identity; Identity-first; Identity politics; Ideology; Imperialism; Indigeneity; Internalized dominance; Interrogate; Intersectionality; Liberalism; Marginalization; Oppression; Orientalism; People of color; Position; Postcolonial Theory; Postmodern; Problematize; Racial stress; Racial stamina; Racism (systemic); Representation; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Systemic power; Theory; Western; White; White comfort; White complicity; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White supremacy; White talk; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Delgado, Richard. Critical Race Theory (Third Edition). NYU Press, Kindle Edition, pp. 20–21.
This hypothetical question poses an issue that squarely divides critical race theory thinkers—indeed, civil rights activists in general. One camp, which we may call ‘idealists,’ holds that racism and discrimination are matters of thinking, mental categorization, attitude, and discourse. Race is a social construction, not a biological reality, they reason. Hence we may unmake it and deprive it of much of its sting by changing the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts, and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous, and American than others. A contrasting school—the “realists” or economic determinists—holds that though attitudes and words are important, racism is much more than a collection of unfavorable impressions of members of other groups. For realists, racism is a means by which society allocates privilege and status. Racial hierarchies determine who gets tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools, and invitations to parties in people’s homes.
Source: Kendi, Ibram X. How To Be an Antiracist. Random House. Kindle Edition, p. 37.
What a powerful construction race is—powerful enough to consume us. And it comes for us early. But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.
Revision date: 2/5/20