This is a repost of an article by Russell Miller posted on Washed in Tears under the title The Trouble with Social Justice. It encapsulates something that has bothered me about the way that people explain social justice.
Something has always bothered me about the idea of social justice. In fact, when I hear people talk about it, I cringe inside.
This has been hard to pin down, because the fact is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with social justice. Social justice is, in its most basic form, understanding the systemic prejudices and inequalities in a society and working to rectify them. That’s not, in itself, wrong. Because of that, it’s very difficult to pin down why it seems to be such a great idea, and yet somehow creates such a visceral negative reaction.
But the fracas lately in Indiana lately has helped me to understand what the problem is, and why social justice – for all the good has done – is so insidious and dangerous.
Social justice requires two things: an oppressor, and an oppressed. Here are the unwritten rules of social justice:
- There is an oppressor. This is never an individual person, but a group of people.
- There is an oppressed. This is also never an individual person, but a group of people.
- Both the oppressor and the oppressed are indicated by traits that they have somehow inherited.
- Both the oppressor and the oppressed can never, ever stop being the oppressor, or the oppressed.
And now the problem comes into light.
The narrative is set, in the case of Indiana. Christians are the oppressor. LGBT are the oppressed. Everything, absolutely everything, fits into that narrative. When that pizza place in Indiana stated that they would not cater a gay wedding, facts did not matter, because it was not about the individual. It was the oppressor oppressing the oppressed. And the LGBT activists, playing the role of the victim, of the oppressed, began responding in a violent manner. Because to them, as the oppressed, violence was absolutely justified.
Now here is where point four above comes in: when the LGBT activists started attacking that Christian pizza place, objectively, they became the oppressor. The oppressor became the oppressed, and the oppressed became the oppressor. But in the language of social justice, that absolutely cannot happen. It is impossible. It’s just not how it’s done. And the Christians, who having turned into the oppressed saw things for exactly what they are, came to the rescue of that pizza place, and raised a lot of money to rescue them from their oppressors.
But to the LGBT activists, that could not happen. It wasn’t possible. How could the oppressors possibly have people who actually came to their rescue? They didn’t know their place. They weren’t playing their role. They refused to play the role of the oppressors, and that couldn’t be tolerated. So, the collossally stupid (but under this understanding, completely understandable) notion that it was a huge scam by the oppressor was floated out, and immediately grasped onto like a lifeline. Then everything was OK again. The oppressors were still the oppressors.
This dynamic was evident in Ferguson. Darren Wilson was a white police officer. Michael Brown was a young black man. Darren Wilson, being a white police officer, was already the oppressor. He was guilty before he ever fired a shot. I’m not saying whether he was right or wrong, I’m saying that he had his role to play in the eyes of the social justice people, that of the oppressor, and it didn’t matter if Michael Brown had been aiming an RPG at Darren Wilson – he was the young black man, so he was oppressed. This was proven by a recent event, I can’t remember where, where a police officer shot someone who had actually already shot an officer point blank in the face, and bystanders were still claiming that the police had used excessive force.
It’s all about systems, it’s all about roles. It’s about many things. What it is not about is justice. Because justice is the last thing on the mind of those who have bought into the oppressor/oppressed mentality.
The problem is that social justice is still necessary. There are still people who are oppressed in the world, and they need to be advocated for. But we’re not going to get there until people recognize that it’s not about class, it’s not about roles, it’s not about skin color or gender or any of that – it’s about how we treat each other as people, each one of us, every single day. It’s about the fact that any single one of us can be the oppressed and the oppressor at the same time. It’s about the fact that while groups are a useful construct for understanding what drives people culturally, any battles that need to be won will be won one person at a time, individually, through genuine love and caring.