Social Justice, as a discipline is about learning how to think about society, culture, and interactions both from and considering the perspectives of other people similar to and different from yourself. It focuses heavily on things like mutual liberation, listening, empathy, and justice. It can easily be divided into two main tasks: Reflection, and Action.
How Reflection looks in practice is going to vary, but the most important part involves something called “self-crit.” This is the hardest part of social justice because it requires a lot of introspection and empathy, which doesn’t come easy for most folks. It takes considerable effort to try and empathize with a perspective that you’ve never had or experienced.
Self-crit is where you sit and examine your own behavior for ways that it may impact folks with different experiences than you. One example of this is speaking loudly and slowly when speaking to a person of color. From your perspective, you are being respectful of their language barrier. From their perspective, however, you are making assumptions rooted in systemic racism about their ability to understand English. For a marginalized person, this could be incredibly hurtful and frustrating. It makes them feel as if you assume that they are uneducated, incapable of speaking English, and if you somehow think of them not so much as an individual person, but rather as a stereotype. It can feel very condescending. This is an experience people of color face frequently, and it acts to dehumanize them, or make them feel as if they are somehow less important.
If you were to self-crit in a situation like this, you would sit and think about those words, and attempt to place yourself in the marginalized person’s shoes. Can you imagine living in a world where everyone assumes you are incapable of communicating in English? It would get pretty exhausting pretty quickly. Maybe you could picture a situation in which you yourself felt like people treated you as if you were less-than, or spoke to you as if you couldn’t possibly be on the same level as them.
So now that you’ve unpacked, and resolved to adjust your behavior, what now?
Now it’s time for Action. Action is both an internal and an external thing. You need to adjust your behavior, in this case, by approaching people of color with the same tone of voice and volume that you would use to speak to white folks. You can make an effort to adjust your behavior to take into account the things you’ve learned through self-reflection, and you can work to educate other white folks on why speaking to a person of color with that volume and that tone can be so hurtful.
Social justice is about the journey. It is an ever changing concept, and as we learn and grow and self-crit, we learn how we can make the world a more just and equitable place for all of us to live in.