Monday, January 3, 2011

Some Underlying Assumptions for Learning About Social Justice

The following is additional helpful information about approaching the issues we will learn about in this course. Please read it over carefully and remember to apply these principles to your learning process over the next three weeks.

Some Underlying Assumptions for Learning About Social Justice

1.  It is Not Useful to Argue about a Hierarchy of Oppressions.

We believe that little is gained in debating which forms of oppression are more damaging or which one is the root out of which all others grow.  Though we acknowledge that some participants believe that there is an urgent need to address one form of oppression over others, we present the perspective that each form of oppression is destructive to the human spirit.  We do, however, identify ways in which specific forms of oppression are similar or different, but do not rank the differences identified.  Our courses are based on the belief that even if we could eliminate one form of oppression the continued existence of the others would still affect us all.

2.  All Forms of Oppression are Interconnected.

We recognize that each participant in our courses is a collage of many different social identities.  Even though a course is focused on sexism, for example, each participant’s race, class, religion, sexual orientation, religion, ability and gender affect how that participant experiences sexism.  We encourage participants to explore the intersections of their different social group memberships and also to understand the similarities in the dynamics of different forms of oppression.  

3.  Confronting Oppression will Benefit Everyone. 

Most people can understand how confronting sexism will benefit women or how confronting ableism will benefit people with disabilities.  We also believe that men and nondisabled people will benefit from the elimination of sexism and ableism.  Unfortunately, some participants react to social justice education as if engaged in a conflict in which one group wins and another loses.  However, when people are subjected to oppression whatever their social group membership, their talents and potential achievements are lost and we all suffer from this loss.  Moreover, we all have spheres of influence and connection that link us to people who are directly affected by oppression.  Even if we are not members of a particular disadvantaged social group, we have friends, coworkers or family members who are.  In addition, we might become members of disadvantaged social groups in the future if, for example, we become disabled or have a change in economic circumstances.  Another way we are hurt by oppression is that many people who are members of groups that benefit from oppression live with a burden of guilt, shame and helplessness, and are never sure whether their individual accomplishments are earned or the result of advantages received due to their social group membership.  Confronting oppression can free members of all social groups to take action toward social justice.  The goal in eliminating oppression is an equitable redistribution of social power and resources among all social groups at all levels (individual, institutional, and societal/cultural).  The goal is not to reverse the current power inequity by simply interchanging the groups in power positions.     

Fixing Blame Helps No One; Taking Responsibility Helps Everyone.

We present the perspective that here is little to be gained from fixing blame for our heritage of social injustice.  We are each born into a social system in which we are taught to accept things as they are.  Nothing is gained by feeling shame about what our ancestors did or what our contemporaries do to different groups of people out of fear, ignorance or malice.  Taking responsibility, in contrast, means acting to address oppression.  Rather than becoming lost in a sense of helplessness, our goal is to enable participants to understand how they can choose to take responsibility in their everyday lives for confronting social injustice.

Confronting Social Justice is Painful and Joyful.

Most participants do not want to believe that they harbor prejudices about groups of people.  Confronting these prejudices in themselves  and others is difficult.  Participants need to open themselves to the discomfort and uncertainty of questioning what is familiar, comfortable and unquestioned.  Facing the contradictions between what participants have been taught to believe about social injustice and the realities of the experiences of different social groups is complex.  Participants learn that some of what they were taught is inaccurate.  Some necessary information was not part of their education. Participants need to be assisted through this process with hope and care.  At the same time, we believe that understanding social oppression and taking action against it can be a joyful and liberating experience.  Some participants’ lives are changed in exciting and life-affirming ways as a result of their experiences in social justice education courses.  They find was to act on their beliefs and make changes in their personal lives that profoundly affect their personal and professional relationships.

From:  Adams, Maurianne, Lee Anne Bell and Pat Griffin, Eds.  Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.  New York: Routledge, 2007. p. 51-53.

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