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When people hear terms like “social justice,” “racism,” “intersectionality” and “equity,” they often have an individualized definition of those terms. The following are definitions compiled from various sources. When writing our statement, we have used these definitions.
Kingdom: A worldview determined by Scripture that changes everything about the way that we live
Critical Theory: A Marxist and activist worldview popularized by the Frankfurt School that views systems of power as exploitative and oppressive to the everyday citizen. Critical Theory seeks to both identify and overthrow systems of power seen as problematic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Problematic: Something that is potentially upholding, producing, reproducing, justifying, or legitimating any form of systemic dominance or oppression such as racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism/disablism, fatphobia, homophobia, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, transphobia, or the inequitable status quo. This is often done through critical methods including highly interpretive and subjective ones that look for problematics where there aren’t any. This is known as “problematizing” – finding ways the system is imperfect and making noise about them, reasonable or not.
Truth (Critical Theory): Socially validated statements about reality produced by power structures within a culture. Knowledge that is reflective of the values and interests of those who produce it. “Truths” are socially constructed by the systems of power (and the powerful within them) in society and then used to dominate, particularly in the attempt to maintain their power and exclusive status. (1, 2, 3)
1) A critical approach to social justice refers to specific theoretical perspectives that recognize that society is stratified (i.e., divided and unequal) in significant and far-reaching ways along social group lines that include race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Critical social justice recognizes inequality as deeply embedded in the fabric of society (i.e., as structural), and actively seeks to change this.
The definition we apply is rooted in a critical theoretical approach. While this approach refers to a broad range of fields, there are some important shared principles:
All people are individuals, but they are also members of social groups.
These social groups are valued unequally in society.
Social groups that are valued more highly have greater access to the resources of a society.
Social injustice is real, exists today, and results in unequal access to resources between groups of people.
Those who claim to be for social justice must be engaged in self-reflection about their own socialization into these groups (their “positionality”) and must strategically act from that awareness in ways that challenge social injustice.
This action requires a commitment to an ongoing and lifelong process. (1)
2) An analysis of how power, privilege, and oppression impact our experience of our social identities. “Full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable” and all members of a space, community, or institution, or society are “physically and psychologically safe and secure.” (2)
3) “Social justice is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are psychologically and physically safe and secure.” (3)
4) “Social justice” is the ultimate “Trojan Horse” term, where it seems to mean one (good) thing as most people understand it—social justice, a more fair and equal society—but actually means something else.T his is because the phrase “social justice” means something that most people in society can get behind—more fairness, equality, and egalitarianism and less bigotry, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and the like. There are very few people today who would say they don’t seek social justice, and any disagreements are about how to achieve it and what it would look like.
“Social Justice,” here intentionally capitalized, means something more specific. As can be seen above, it means “social justice” based on Critical Theory, or “Critical Social Justice.” Fundamentally, Social Justice divides the world into two groups, the first is the oppressor, the second is the oppressed. In the doctrine of Social Justice, a person may only be oppressed or an oppressor. This is a worldview that aggressively pursues the social, cultural, institutional, and political installation and enforcement of a very specific and radical understanding of social justice as derived from various Critical Theories (critical race theory, postcolonial theory, queer theory, gender studies, fat studies, disability studies, media studies, critical pedagogy, postmodern, cultural Marxism, post-Marxism, Marxian, New Left, and Neo-Marxism).
As such, they do not necessarily seek to achieve “social justice” in the broad sense or the sense that many people would assume of the term. Instead, they seek to empower and enforce their particular worldview that teaches that all of society is divided into two groups: the oppressed and the oppressor.
Social Justice seeks equity or equality not for individuals but for groups. All of society must be reshaped to ensure equality of outcomes – not equal opportunities – for oppressed groups. Social Justice requires a lifelong commitment to a process of “engaging positionality.” Anyone who does not embrace the doctrine of Social Justice does not embrace any form of justice and therefore sides with the oppressor. (4)
Critical Race Theory:
1) Critical race theory (CRT), the view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color.
CRT recognizes that racism is ingrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege. (1, 2)
2) First, racism is normal. Racism is an invisible norm, and white culture and whiteness is the standard by which other races are measured. Racism is the way that society works. Critical Race Theory holds that “racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society,” thus the question in Critical Race Theory is not “did racism take place?” but “how did racism manifest in this situation?” Thus, racism is relevant to all interactions and everything else that happens according to Critical Race Theory, and it is everyone’s duty to investigate, expose, and disrupt this racism once identified.
Second, racism is constructed and expanded by social groups (communities, groups, teams, friendships). Inclusion (see below) is the only way to bring about true Social Justice.
Third, the unique perspective and voice of people of color as victims of oppression in racial matters and their personal stories is a legitimate primary learning tool. Minority status brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism. Those who are in the majority are disqualified to speak on the experiences, issues and perspectives of those in the minority.
Fourth, we must utilize discourses (see definition) to analyze race relationships.
Fifth, racism is systemic. Meaning that all current economic, social, and institutional actions and beliefs systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privilege, resources, and power between white people and people of color. Racism is ingrained in the fabric of society. An individual racist need not exist for racism to be pervasive. Racism is hidden below the surface and everywhere. Therefore, all acts of racism are not to be understood as isolated incidents by individuals or institutions but as specific manifestations of a pervasive system that defines society. (This is why justice is not achieved by finding a police officer guilty; the system must be remade instead.)
The laws and policies that exist in society are also rooted in a racist history and are also politically motivated. These rules of society are primarily created to advance the interests of dominant racial groups. Dominant racial groups (whites) are incapable of righteous actions on race and only undo racism when it benefits them; when their interests “converge” with the interests of people of color. (1, 2, 3, 4)
3) A theory rooted in Critical Theory that teaches the concept of “race” was created by white people for the expressed purpose of oppressing non-white people. CRT advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion of those considered oppressed.
Diversity – All forms of age, ethnicity, class, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, as well as religious status, gender expression, educational background, geographical location, income, marital status, parental status, and work experiences must be embraced and celebrated – not just tolerated. Categories of difference are not always fixed but also can be fluid, individual rights to self-identification must be respected, and no one culture is intrinsically superior to another.
Equity – Where equality is a system in which each individual is offered the same opportunities regardless of circumstance, equity distributes resources based on needs. We live in a disproportionate society, and equity tries to correct its imbalance by creating more opportunities for people who have historically had less access. Equity means that we should not strive for equal opportunities, but equal outcomes for all people regardless of opportunity. The terms “equity” and “equality” may be used interchangeably by social theorists, but equality is only equality if there are equal outcomes.
Inclusion – All individuals and groups should feel supported, respected and valued. Nothing that offends, might offend, or could be construed as being potentially offensive to any member of any marginalized group can be tolerated. Speech and expression must be controlled and restricted. Often those who are privileged or in the majority must be excluded to allow for those who are marginalized to create spaces free from oppressive influences. Thus, “inclusion” in CRT means restricted speech and sometimes physical exclusion of those who are oppressive, privileged or otherwise offensive to those who are marginalized (1, 2, 3, 4)
One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism. (1)
Antiracism does not merely mean “against racism.” It reflects the core tenet of Critical Race Theory that racism is ordinary and pervades every facet of society. Racists are both active and passive. An active racist works to perpetuate racial prejudice and discrimination against non-white people. A passive racist fails to notice their own racism – or the racism of others – and fails to properly address racism.
Antiracism requires adopting the worldview of Critical Race Theory. The way to be an anti-racist is to notice and identify the racism that is in everyone, everywhere, all the time. Even when it is not readily apparent. An antiracist problematizes racism and works to dismantle the system of racism, because a system itself can be racist even if there are no racists within the system. An antiracist is an activist who applies CRT and seeks to dismantle the racist fabric of modern society. (2)
1) A set of normative privileges granted to white-skinned individuals and groups which is “invisible” to those privileged by it. (1)
2) A socially created “racial” group who historically and currently receive the benefits of racism in the United States. The category includes all the different ethnic groups of European origin, regardless of differences in their histories, ethnicities, or cultures.(2)
3) Although many Whites feel that being White has no meaning, this feeling is unique to White people and is a key part of what it means to be White; to see one’s race as having no meaning is a privilege only Whites are afforded. To claim to be “just human” and thus outside of race is one of the most powerful and pervasive manifestations of Whiteness.(3)
4) Some White people do not identify as White for the same reason they identify as not-racist: to avoid reckoning with the ways that Whiteness—even as a construction and mirage—has informed their notions of America and identity and offered them privilege, the primary one being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal. It is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America. It is a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White. (4)
5) A socially constructed system of power that is ultimately self-interested, whether by intention or merely by the corrupting influence of privilege, that defines and maintains white dominance and the oppression of people of color. Whiteness is believed to be the foundation of the dominant oppressive force in society that CRT exists to unmake.
While white people are alleged to be automatically complicit in whiteness by virtue of the accidents of their birth, whiteness is not something that is limited to white people only. People of color can also subscribe to, support, maintain, or legitimize whiteness by adopting “white supremacist” attitudes that “white” ways of doing things. Such people of color might be accused of any of the following for supporting (or merely failing to criticize) whiteness in a systemic sense: white supremacy, white adjacency, acting white, being a race traitor, being a model minority, internalized racism, internalized dominance, being a conservative (of the status quo), or suffering from some other form of false consciousness or self-serving reward seeking such as seeking white approval.
White people – and people of color, in their own ways – are expected to take up a lifelong commitment to an “ongoing process” of antiracism work as a result of their inherent complicity in whiteness. This entails engaging in a critical examination of the ways in which one is complicit in, benefiting from, supporting, maintaining, legitimizing, or failing to criticize whiteness in all of its manifestations. (5)
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” // Peggy McIntosh
The unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. (1, 2, 3)
When I use the term “white supremacy,” I do not use it to refer to extreme hate groups. I use the term to capture the pervasiveness, magnitude, and normalcy of white dominance and assumed superiority.(1)
Critical Social Justice does not (always) use the definition for “white supremacy” that most of us think goes with this term, which would evoke images of Neo-Nazis and the KKK. Indeed, Robin DiAngelo (along with Özlem Sensoy) specify repeatedly that they are not using that common-parlance definition and mean something else entirely, namely white power and privilege. White supremacy means any belief, behavior, or system that supports, promotes, or enhances white privilege. All white people as well as those who disagree with CRT and Critical Social Justice are considered white supremacists. (2)
All whites are complicit in systemic racial injustice; this sometimes takes the form of the mantra “all whites are racist.”...It implies 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 a part, and from which they benefit. White people, through the practices of whiteness and by benefiting from white privilege, contribute to the maintenance of systemic racial injustice. (1)
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. (2)
White equilibrium is a cocoon of racial comfort, centrality, superiority, entitlement, racial apathy, and obliviousness, all rooted in an identity of being good people free of racism. (1)
The belief system that allows white people to remain comfortably ignorant. A comfortable state for white people given to them by white privilege that seems to reduce their racial stress.
The purpose of the concept of white equilibrium is to insist that living with white privilege has rendered the range of racial awareness or “racial stress” that white people can endure very narrow. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that white people will not take it well when Social Justice and antiracism concepts are applied to them. Not because these concepts are wrong or unjust, but because of the privilege white people are socialized into and don’t know how to live without. As a result, white equilibrium is something that white people work together to maintain for themselves as an identity group. (2)
The state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves [in white people]. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. Racial stress results from an interruption to what is racially familiar.(1)
The inability and unwillingness of white people to talk about race due to the grip that whiteness, white supremacy, white privilege, white complicity and white equilibrium exert on them (knowingly or unknowingly). White fragility means that white people lack the “racial stamina” to endure the “racial stress” of being called a racist or being accused of being complicit in a system of white supremacy. White fragility manifests when white people, after being so accused, exhibit negative emotional reactions, argue, disagree, remain silent, or go away—rather than “engaging” fully, by which is meant agreeing and adopting the critical race mentality on these issues. (2)
1) Our experiences of the social world are shaped by our ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and numerous other facets of social stratification. Some social locations afford privilege (e.g., being white) while others are oppressive (e.g., being poor). These various aspects of social inequality do not operate independently of each other; they interact to create interrelated systems of oppression and domination. The concept of intersectionality refers to how these various aspects of social location “intersect” to mutually constitute individuals’ lived experiences. (1)
2) Intersectionality is about the multiple layers of oppression minorities suffer. All forms of oppression by all forms of identity are linked into each other. Race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexual orientation and other forms of oppression combine to establish a person’s “position” in society. A person must be aware of how the various groups they belong to intersect to both provide them privilege and create oppression. The more a person’s oppression intersects, the more they must be included according to Critical Race Theory. (1, 2. 3)
[Myth] “If we are oppressed in one social group membership, we can’t be privileged in another.” Remember that we occupy multiple social groups. One may be oppressed as a female but elevated as white; oppressed as a person with a disability but elevated as male; and so on. Consider the oppression of sexism. While all women experience sexism, they experience it differently based on its interaction with their other social group identities.
The experiences of a woman will vary greatly if she is heterosexual or a lesbian. Further, imagine this woman is heterosexual and has a disability. Perhaps she is living with a disability and is Muslim; or living with a disability and is Asian, Muslim, and a nonnative English speaker. In these ways, her experiences are determined not simply by her gender but also by her ability status and racial, religious, and sexual identity. Thus, we can be oppressed in one axis of life and still experience privilege in another. Intersectional analysis requires that we consider how these various social group identities interact with one another.
The social groups a person belongs to and how they intersect with each other to both elevate and oppress that individual. Categories of identity include race, sex, gender, sexuality, dis/ability status, fat status, age, class, national origin and indigeneity, religion and more. A person’s individuality is secondary to their intersectional group identity. Their group identity establishes their position in society (see positionality) and oppression/privilege is inescapable based on their status within the group. (1, 2. 3)
Positionality is the concept that our perspectives are based on our place in society. Positionality recognizes that where you stand in relation to others shapes what you can see and understand. For example, if I am considered to be an able-bodied person, my position in a society that devalues people with disabilities limits my understanding of the barriers that people with disabilities face. I simply won’t see these barriers, in large part because I don’t have to – society is structured to accommodate the way I use my body.
Where a person stands by virtue of their intersecting group identity and that identity’s relationships to the power structures within society. Each person’s intersectionality creates a certain position – of privilege or oppression for them – relative to the systems and structures of society. A person’s position is the sum total of their status as privileged or oppressed understood through intersectionality.
A person’s opinion and value to society is defined by their position relative to oppression. Before offering opinions or thoughts a person must describe their position and intersectionality to determine its value. A person who has more intersections of oppression is valued more than a person of privilege. A person’s qualifications to speak or write on particular issues are judged based on their positionality and what it allows.
A white, cisgender (gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth), heterosexual, able-bodied, thin, Christian, male is considered the most privileged and oppressive intersectional position in society. Therefore, such a person is prohibited from speaking on race, gender, sexuality, disability, fat status and religion.
Wherever a person possesses any form of privilege they must “engage positionality” and realize how they oppress others through their position in society. They must also “shut up and listen” to those whose position is oppressed. A person who is not transgender is not qualified to speak on the problematics of trans issues. A person who is not homosexual is not qualified to speak on the problematics of heteronormativity. A person who is a Christian is not qualified to speak on the problematics of religious oppression. A person who is able-bodied is not qualified to speak on the problematics of disability issues. And so on. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
The academic term for meaning that is communicated through language, in all of its forms. Discourses include myths, narratives, explanations, words, concepts, and ideology. Discourses are not universally shared among humans; they represent a particular cultural worldview and are shared among members of a given culture. Discourse is different from ideology because it refers to all of the ways in which we communicate ideology, including verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication, symbols, and representations.
Discourses are the ways that things are allowed to be discussed in culture based on the constructs of society. Discourses are how the way we communicate creates and perpetuates oppression and power imbalances between groups.
Discourses govern how we think, speak and what we accept as true.
The discourses underlying society today and governing how we think and speak and what we accept as true are understood to be white, white supremacist, patriarchal, Eurocentric, Western-centric, misogynistic, colonialist, imperialist, heterocentrist, cisnormative, ableist, fatphobic, and more. These all must be unmade and replaced, if possible, by means of cultural or social revolution. (1, 2, 3)
Internalized dominance refers to internalizing and acting out (often unintentionally) the constant messages circulating in the culture that you and your group are superior to the minoritized group and thus entitled to your higher position. Internalized dominance seeks to explain why members of groups considered oppressive would see their oppression as normal.
Rationalizing privilege as natural (“It’s just human nature—someone has to be on top.”)
Rationalizing privilege as earned (“I worked hard to get where I am.”)
Perceiving you and your group as the most qualified for and entitled to the best jobs (“She only got the position over me because she is Black.”)
Living one’s life segregated from the minoritized group yet feeling no loss or desire for connections with them (i.e., patterns of white flight rationalized as “I want my kids to grow up in a good neighborhood where they can play outside with their friends.”)
Lacking an interest in the perspectives of the minoritized group except in limited and controlled doses (i.e., during “ethnic authors” week or holidays such as Lunar New Year) or when it appears to benefit the dominant group (“I want my child to experience diversity.”)