Social Justice Usage
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books. Kindle Edition, pp. 2–3.
In the field of critical whiteness studies, for instance, questions of complicity are especially notable in the academic discourse around social justice education. Here we find a claim about complicity that is addressed to all white people regardless of and despite of their good intentions.
What I refer to as “the white complicity claim” maintains that white people, through the practices of whiteness and by benefiting from white privilege, contribute to the maintenance of systemic racial injustice. However, the claim also implies responsibility in its assumption that the failure to acknowledge such complicity will thwart whites in their efforts to dismantle unjust racial systems and, more specifically, will contribute to the perpetuation of racial injustice.
Recognizing that one is complicit, according to the claim, is a necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition of challenging systemic racial oppression. Most significantly, since the white complicity claim presumes that racism is often perpetuated through well-intended white people, being morally good may not facilitate and may even frustrate the recognition of such responsibility… .
What is of specific interest about white complicity is the claim that white people can reproduce and maintain racist practices even when, and especially when, they believe themselves to be morally good.
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, p. 140.
The white complicity claim maintains that all whites are complicit in systemic racial injustice and this claim sometimes takes the form of “all whites are racist.” When white complicity takes the latter configuration what is implied is not that all whites are racially prejudiced but rather that all whites participate in and, often unwittingly, maintain the racist system of which they are part and from which they benefit.
New Discourses Commentary
Complicity is an issue of central concern in Social Justice, probably for a variety of reasons. One of these is that its methods are critical, and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School was ultimately dedicated on one front to attempting to understand the rise of fascism, including some parsing of the complicity of German citizens during the rise of the Nazis. As the Theory of Social Justice has deep roots in critical theories, thus Critical Theory (see also, Marxism, Marxian, cultural Marxism, New Left, post-Marxism, and Neo-Marxism, and also, postmodern), an interest in the issue of complicity in what it deems to be societal failures is of high concern for it. (See also, complicity.)
Social Justice, as it has developed under critical race Theory in particular (including intersectionality, critical race pedagogy, and critical whiteness studies), has been particularly concerned with the complicity of good white people in the maintenance of systemic racism. Of note, “good white” is a relatively formal term of its own within the Social Justice lexicon (see also, good white), though sometimes “white progressive,” “middle-class white progressive,” “white liberal,” or some such variation is used. In brief, it refers to white people who see themselves as allies to people of color (see also, solidarity) and thus (completely mistakenly, according to Theory) do not see themselves as racist (see examples below). Social Justice is very concerned with the ways that good whites are complicit in racism to the point that it spends a great deal of time and effort Theorizing upon the issue, perhaps trying to answer the question “How does it feel to be a white problem?” (see also, white talk).
Thus, white complicity is the idea that all white people, regardless of their intentions, are complicit in racism and white supremacy and thus bear some responsibility for it. This responsibility and complicity would extend also to all “white adjacent” members of minoritized groups as well and probably those who are acting white or otherwise upholding the norms of whiteness, though the concept of white complicity, in specific, refers to the intrinsic guilt and responsibility for white supremacy and racism that all white people—especially including “good whites” (see also, conservative)—bear and tend to avoid confronting and engaging (see also, antiracism, white fragility, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, white ignorance, and willful ignorance).
Critical theories of Social Justice demand acknowledgement of white complicity as a first step—as Applebaum notes (above), a “necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition of challenging systemic racial oppression.” This complicity arises from the nature of white privilege, which white people benefit from whether they want to or not, and because living in a white-dominant society (which produces and guarantees white privilege) carries with it unavoidable socialization into what Theory considers “white supremacy” (see also, racial contract, white solidarity, and internalized dominance.)
Critical race and whiteness educators, including Robin DiAngelo (author of White Fragility) instruct us about this, speaking from the Truth According to Social Justice: “All members of society are socialized to participate in the system of racism, albeit in varied social locations. All white people benefit from racism regardless of intentions.” This is the basis for how white complicity comes about. Theory tells us, everyone is involved, and white people automatically benefit from that de facto involvement. That’s the basis for their complicity in the racist system.
They also tell us what should be done. “No one chose to be socialized into into racism so no one is bad, but no one is neutral,” they say. “To not act against racism is to support racism. Racism must be continually identified, analyzed and challenged. No one is ever done.” That is to say that white complicity carries a responsibility to identify, analyze, and challenge the system of racism and one’s participation in it, continually, and you’re never done. This program is known in Social Justice as the foundation of “antiracism” (see also, wokeness, critical consciousness, false consciousness, and consciousness raising). This is also considered difficult and something that white people—especially good white people—tend to do wrong, thus perpetuating racism further (see also, colortalk, aversive racism, white fragility, and white talk).
According to Theory, white people—especially good white people—will not want to do this or not see the need for this engagement (see also, white innocence, white ignorance, colorblind, and equality). “The racial status quo is comfortable for most whites. Therefore, anything that maintains white comfort is suspect,” DiAngelo and others tell us (see also, white silence and white equilibrium). This is because Theory sees part of whiteness to assume that it is natural for whiteness to be superior (see also, anti-blackness and ideology). They then go on, “Resistance is a predictable reaction to anti-racist education and must be explicitly and strategically addressed,” thus making sure that disagreement with Theory will not be brokered (see also, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, white fragility, racial stress, racial stamina, and white woman tears).
In practice, white complicity is a way that Critical Social Justice Theorists and Woke activists can very successfully manipulate white people into feeling guilty and responsible for racism and white supremacy by minimizing the cognitive and affective distance between, say, non-racist and anti-racist (in the usual sense) white progressive liberals and actual white supremacists and racists like we might find in the Ku Klux Klan. The point of this is to induce vulnerability that can then leave them more susceptible to indoctrination in woke/critical Social Justice ideology. It explicitly targets “good whites” for two fairly obvious reasons: first, it won’t work on anyone else, and second, the Theory is probably significantly the tortured venting of psychological projection.
Active ignorance; Ally/Allyship; Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Colorblind; Complicity; Consciousness raising; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Cultural Marxism; Dominance; Equality; False consciousness; Fascism; Frankfurt School; Good white; Ideology; Internalized dominance; Intersectionality; Liberalism; Marxian; Marxism; Minoritize; Nazi; Neo-Marxism; New Left; Norm; Oppression; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Post-Marxism; Postmodern; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Progressive; Racial contract; Racial stress; Racial stamina; Racism (systemic); Social Justice; Socialization; Solidarity; Theory; White; White adjacent; White comfort; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White silence; White solidarity; White supremacy; White talk; White woman tears; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Source: DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 4–5.
None of the white people whose actions I describe in this book would identify as racist. In fact, they would most likely identify as racially progressive and vehemently deny any complicity with racism. Yet all their responses illustrate white fragility and how it holds racism in place. These responses spur the daily frustrations and indignities people of color endure from white people who see themselves as open-minded and thus not racist. This book is intended for us, white progressives who so often—despite our conscious intentions—make life so difficult for people of color. I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color. I define a white progressive as anyone who thinks he or she is not racist, or is less racist, or is in the “choir,” or already “gets it.” White progressives can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure other people see us as having arrived. None of our energy will be going into what we need to be doing for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, p. 148.
That white people are implicated in an unjust racial system from which they gain systemic benefit and that they reinscribe (most often unwittingly) existing power relations even despite their best intentions cannot be accounted for in the interesting yet inadequate group-based notions of responsibility that are offered by May and Kutz. Nor can most philosophical scholarship on culpable ignorance explain why white people are responsible for their role in maintaining white ignorance. Most importantly, these approaches cannot expose for interrogation how denials of complicity can be supported by white moral sensibilities or how whiteness can be reinscribed even when good intentions to challenge racism are present.
Source: Bailey, Alison. “‘White Talk’ as a Barrier to Understanding the Problem with Whiteness.” In George Yancy (ed.), White Self-Criticality beyond Anti-racism: How Does It Feel to Be a White Problem? Lexington Books, 2014. pp. 37–57, p. 38
What Alice McIntyre calls “white talk” is a predictable set of discursive patterns that white folks habitually deploy when asked directly about the connections between white privilege and institutional racism. I used to believe that white talk was a welcomed response to the request that I examine my whiteness. I routinely (and very sincerely) made many of the above declarations. Sometimes, in moments of defensiveness, I still do. I used to imagine that my remarks would be interpreted as expressions of solidarity, compassion, friendliness, and support. I thought that by pointing to my goodness that people of color would feel safe around me, and see me as a trustworthy ally, one of the good ones, an exception. I was wrong. It’s so much more complicated.
Source: Bailey, Alison. “‘White Talk’ as a Barrier to Understanding the Problem with Whiteness.” In George Yancy (ed.), White Self-Criticality beyond Anti-racism: How Does It Feel to Be a White Problem? Lexington Books, 2014, pp. 37–57, p. 41.
White talk is the lingua franca of race talk among white folks. It’s a privilege-exercising discourse that usually springs from our lips without notice. White people habitually fall into white talk as a strategy for steering clear of entertaining the possibility that many of our actions, utterances, and thoughts contribute to the perpetuation of racial injustices and that we bear some responsibility for these. As Alice McIntyre argues, white talk “serves to insulate white people from examining our individual and collective role(s) in the perpetuation of racism. It is the result of whites talking uncritically with/to other whites, all the while resisting critique and massaging each others’ racist attitudes, beliefs and actions.” White talk is a family of verbal strategies that whites regularly deploy to excuse us “from the difficult and almost paralyzing task of engaging [our] own whiteness.” We use white talk to derail conversations on race, to dismiss counterarguments, to retreat into silence, to interrupt speakers and topics, and to collude with other whites in creating a ‘culture of niceness’ that makes it difficult to critique the white world. White fear and anxiety drive these conversational detours, dismissals, and denials.
Revision date: 2/7/20