Who gets the authority?

Everyone’s a little bit racist. Unfortunately, this includes people who are subject to the effects of racism. Everyone exists in a social context that immerses them in cultural knowledge, which often contains prejudices against others and one’s own group. This isn’t limited to racism either, but applies to all marginalized people.

Yet an important concept in social justice circles is that marginalized people are the best authority on their own experiences. How do we reconcile this with the idea that many marginalized people don’t have access to social justice analysis, and can only speak to their own experience, and that sometimes prejudices become defense mechanisms. Continue reading

Problematic Social Justice Norms (probably pt 1)

I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about the dynamics of social justice spaces. Like any culture, certain patterns of communication form within these spaces, and certain norms and taboos as well.

In describing this and anything related to social justice, I feel the need to define everything I say and use many disclaimers. This too, can impede communication. It can benefit it by making sure I am mindful to explain the words I use and by keeping me accountable to those who have gone before me. This is good, but the fact that I am afraid to challenge these norms, even though I want very much to advance marginalized people reduce stigma and discrimination and break down systemic problems, is proof of their power to exclude and silence. I know I am not flawless and might be wrong here. But I’m not afraid of being wrong, as I am of how people will respond. Will they help me learn? Or will they accuse me of betrayal, hurt me and cast me out? This is the choice I do not want to impose on anyone else.

I’m concerned about how this affects the ability of different people to participate in dialogues. I see a tremendous lack of accessibility when it comes to creating spaces for marginalized people in groups dedicated to a huge population, and for people who don’t enter into these spaces already knowing the norms and jargon.

This is a barrier to communication. Continue reading

Starting Points

content: reflecting on valuing people in social justice spaces and how this informs my guidelines for participation.

Everyone wants to feel like “the good guy”, but to genuinely commit yourself to working towards social justice, you can’t try to be the hero.

There are people who devote their entire lives, their career and personal time to improving the world. They can make great contributions, and still be oppressive. They might have a certain area that they don’t understand as well, and make misguided comments. They might be strong advocates for one group with a great prejudice against another. They may not have been exposed to a particular idea, or been born before a particular movement.

What does it mean to give someone celebrity status in social justice spaces?  It means that they get support and benefits that they are trying to reap for their entire community.  I want to benefit my communities, and recognition and access would be amazing, but I never want to do it at the cost of others like me.  I am very fortunate to be able to have and (I hope) maintain this platform. Continue reading