Question of the Week: September 18th, 2012

This is the Question of the Week, a way to stimulate conversation.  It occurs every other Tuesday.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “social justice”?

About Aydan

Aydan is an aromantic asexual biology grad student in the US. She blogs at Confessions of an Ist about asexuality, Christianity, environmentalism, and feminism.
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15 Responses to Question of the Week: September 18th, 2012

  1. Isaac says:

    The first thing that “social justice” comes to my mind is Catholic social teaching (Rerum Novarum and follow-ups).

  2. It puts me on edge, because the people I know who are fighting the hardest against prejudices they experience never identify as doing social justice, and are labeled “social justice warriors” by people who self-identify as anti-SJ. The way the phrase “social justice” has been distorted on Tumblr is appalling–because why would someone desire to identify as anti-JUSTICE (tantamount to anti-GOOD)? It’s frustrating that the bare facts that I write about my own experiences as a neuroatypical trans aromantic asexual person (the good and the bad), and that I try to be conscientious about not reinforcing prejudices that don’t target me (esp. racism), are so vilified on Tumblr.

  3. Siggy says:

    I think my first introduction to the phrase “social justice” was in my Catholic education, where it was contrasted with “charity”, a more short-term way to help the poor.

    These days, it makes me think of current events in the internet atheist community. There’s a perpetual dispute between people who want to fight social justice causes (like feminism and anti-racism), and people who want to stick to narrower goals. It’s a huge can of worms, and it makes disputes in the asexual community seem so tiny.

    • Siggy says:

      I should add that for me this is a positive association, since I generally take the social justice side of that dispute.

    • Aydan says:

      I first heard the phrase in a religious context, too, and my conception of it is still closest to that.

      It’s funny– the first objections I heard to “social justice” weren’t from people who think it goes to far or calls them out on their privilege in uncomfortable ways, or whatever, but from people from more conservative religious groups than me, who thought it was basically communism.

  4. Calinlapin says:

    It may be of interest to know that in France we don’t use the term “social justice”. And in fact we don’t even use something similar. We use the expression “les milieux militants”, which means “activists’ circles”. So my two cents on this is that “social justice” does not refer to an abstract notion but refers more to a group of people.

    • Carmilla DeWinter says:

      Seconded from another non-native speaker. The seem to be a lot of people in support of or against various -isms who form social justice. Hereabouts, they are simple activists.

      At first, the term “social justice” totally confused me, because “soziale Gerechtigkeit” is much about people having equal chances at success no matter their background. Which makes the issue about free education, taxation and whatnot…

      Addendum: maybe from my background as German, I generally am wary of things ending in -ism.

  5. Andrew says:

    My first encounters with the term “social justice” involved religious groups working for improving conditions for those who are poor, in prison, etc. In recent years, I began to notice some asexual bloggers using the term “social justice communities” to refer to something like “people participating in communities subscribing to the doctrines of tumblr-style feminism” (generally used by people who participate in such), and I found this re-appropriation quite troubling. The term “social justice warrior” has been used to mock those doing tumblr-style “social justice” activism, but I’m pretty sure that they only started using “social justice” in this sense on account of tumblr folk first appropriating it for themselves.

  6. Lara Landis says:

    The phrase itself is harmless. I also think there’s a real difference between people who believe in fighting against social injustice and the social justice community on Tumblr.

  7. ace-muslim says:

    Prior to joining Tumblr this year, I would have defined social justice broadly to include things like making society more economically fair as well as working to reduce and eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice. While I don’t remember learning about the term specifically in a religious context, my associations with the term are similar to those of Siggy and Aydan and I think the original roots of the term are in ideas about economic justice. I don’t think that people on Tumblr have “appropriated” the term, but I do think they use it in an extremely narrow way and I feel that is unfortunate.

  8. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Hmm. I’m can’t argue with you, Siggy, when there’s no reply button available. Though I’m not certain our opinions are actually different enough to argue them out.

    To clarify: those who call themselves social justice on the internets seem to me a highly inhomogeneous group that isn’t lumped together in German language use.

    And yes, activism does end in -ism. I am well aware of that.

    Though German has a way to say “civil rights activist” without using the term “activist”.

    We can always blame the language difference.

  9. I think that “social justice activist” as a term operates similarly to “hipster” in that no one who is working against culturally ingrained prejudices actually calls themself such, and if you feel a need to call yourself a social justice activist, you probably aren’t one. I am suspicious of the motivations of people who explicitly describe themselves as advocates of social justice, and I think this suspicion is the same kind that I feel toward heterosexual cisgender people who use “LGBT ally” as one of their identity terms.

    • Andrew says:

      If you do a google search for “social justice activist” asexual (replacing “asexual” with “pansexual”, “trans”, or a number of other terms will get you similar results), you’ll find that there most definitely are people who identify themselves as “social justice activists.”

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