Justice: Or, So What Do We Do?

In the work I’m trying to do, part of the point is that language professionals who insist that race and language are separate issues (or that the former isn’t an issue at all) are wrong and that the racial hierarchy of the United States (and the world) has a profound impact on all marginalized and racialized people.

Yet as I work to find my own niche in documenting this – having chosen a form of performative defensiveness as a subject, an offshoot of White Fragility and the like I’m referring to as the “altruistic shield” – I’ve been confronted with the fact that just point out another avenue to pain for people of color isn’t really unique. My idea might be, if I succeed at arguing my point(s) well, but let’s say I do establish the altruistic shield as something credible. Then what?

In a way, it’s a shame, because a lot of what gets published is a series of studies documenting black (and brown) pain, and these studies need to be published because some folks, even within education, still don’t believe us, the way white folks in the 60s needed to see the brutality on TV before it was real, or had to see 45 assume office before they realized little progress had been made. So that subgenre of scholarship on racism that chronicles and documents bigotry is still, sadly, needed, because they won’t believe us if we don’t remind them. But what comes after? How do we actually address these issues?

I don’t actually know. And I know the way we are trying to solve it – “diversity and inclusion!” – isn’t really increasing racial literacy.

I could write what I want to and then tell people to read more scholarship, but with the paywalls and other such barriers, that’s not a very useful thing to advise, setting aside the fact that even open access journals are full of excessive jargon.

Yet I’m reluctant to offer a checklist. “Do these three things and you won’t be bad at race.” That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works.

As Paris and others have noted, the “inward gaze” is really the way to address all of this, in my view. People in dominant groups need to recognize more than mere privilege – which has been watered down into uselessness – but their role in hegemony and dominance. And then they – we, really, as I’m a male of high socio-economic status – have to consider what they can do about it.

Ultimately, though, we’re talking about justice. How can we truly increase justice for marginalized people? And since we’re talking education, justice for marginalized students? That’s the way to really and truly fight this issue. And there are a lot of forms of justice, despite the way the word has been narrowly defined as “vengeance,” basically. I’m not ready to answer the question as to the best way to provide justice for those who need it. But I think, no mattter what I do, it will have to speak to how justice can be extended to those from whom it has been denied. And if I can do that, in a concrete, actionable way, it will have some real weight and some real impact.

Stay tuned.

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