Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Social Justice – Part 3

(Hi there! This is the last part (whew!) of a three part series of posts.  Please check out the last two posts before reading this conclusion.)

Social Justice : Social justice is a comprehensive platform, an umbrella term for a set of ideologies and theories that have been growing and changing for a long time.  The ideological/theoretical roots of modern social justice (critical theory)  are well over a century old and can be traced back to Marxist critical theory.  (I know, Americans hate to admit it, but it all goes back to Herr Karl.)  American social justice politics might have originated with Marxist thought, but a century and a half is a long time and countless other ideologies have had a transformative effect on this broad conglomeration of ideologies.  (Catholic Social Teaching, The Frankfurt School, Black Nationalism, Feminism, Postmodern Feminism, Friereian Pedagogy, Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory, the list goes on and on…) Social justice emphasizes praxis, the productive dialectic between theory and practice, in generating sustainable, transformative interventions at both the individual and systemic level.

Pros: Social justice maintains a balance between identifying the agency of individual actors to be both oppressors and/or emancipatory agents as well as the critical role that systems play in shaping the way people think and live.  By engaging both individuals and systems, social justice has the advantage of demonstrating how dynamics of power, privilege and oppression function from the system-to-actor level as well as the actor-to-system level.  Social justice emphasizes the integral role of community in transformational work and reminds us that justice work is both a journey and a destination (shout out to Art Munin!).  Social justice has the potential to fundamentally change our world into a place where human beings can live sustainably and with full dignity.

Cons: Well…as I noted before, social justice theory has been around a long time and the revolution has not yet been televised (or Skyped or Tweeted, for that matter).  As fast as social justice education can evolve its praxis, hegemonic systems seem to stay one step ahead of the game.  Structurally and systemically, our society still remains fundamentally unjust.  The biggest con with social justice work is that it isn’t a quick fix…

It’s a set of pragmatic tools and convictions to drive an aspirational vision.

It requires sharply critical minds and massive amounts of hope.

It requires impatience with the present as well as steadfast resolve towards a better future.

It requires unruly, free-thinkers to act with and through sustainable community.

It is this set of contradictions that makes social justice work so challenging, as well as attractive, to me.

How about you?  What makes social justice work attractive to you?  What do you see as the pros and cons to this framework for social change?  Do you “buy” my attempt to unpack these three commonly used terms?  Holler back! (This is my unsubtle attempt to get you to leave comments…come on, help a brother out!) 🙂


6 responses to “Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Social Justice – Part 3

  1. Hey Vijay, my name’s Dan and I’m one of Sumi’s students. I like the distinctions you’re making between multiculturalism, diversity, and social justice. In fact, I see these distinctions not only played out in school administrations, but also Los Angeles politics. Tom Bradley’s “rainbow coalition” , while it did increase the representation of people of color in public service positions, had its limits in the actual economic gains for inner city communities, as we see in the 1992 LA uprisings. Bradley’s imagination of the city was still based on traditional growth politics, which heavily relied on this idea that growth is value neutral and what’s good for downtown is good for the whole city.

    Post 1992, and especially after 2000, I think we’re starting to see a shift from growth with diversity towards growth with equity (if that’s even possible). The Los Angeles Alliance for the New Economy, SCOPE, and a variety of other urban community groups are, I believe, leading a community-based imagination of Los Angeles, but this too has its limits. We see this with the Community Benefits Agreement with the development of L.A. Live or the Campaign for Clean and Safe ports, both of which tried to rework major economic developments.

    Drawing from bell hooks, I’m starting to see social justice based in social movement that is fundamentally about how to help each other love better. We critique not to say that you’re evil and racist, but rather that structures and culture have reproduced inequity, that often we’re complicit in this reproduction. This confines the freedom of all people to reach their potential, to better humanity, to love each other. As Freire discusses, the oppressed and the oppressor must work in fellowship and solidarity to redefine more human roles for each other.

    I’ve been doing some writing about this, and I’d love your opinion if you have some time! tiny.cc/YADDanStory

    Thanks for the blog!


    • Hi Dan, thanks for the feedback and awesome reflection! I just read the “Introduction to Dan” section of your blog and am wowed by your honesty and insightful reflection. Love your writing style and look forward to reading more of your work. How come you don’t set up an online blog? Why google docs?

  2. Vijay –

    Great collection of posts breaking down these three words/terms. I think you defined each one well — in a way that is accessible for both “seasoned” and new folks committing to social justice education. Keep on writing!

    • Julie, that’s great to hear that you think I struck the balance well. I worry about that – how to capture the important nuance and complexity of issues without losing audience members that aren’t as familiar with the work.

      Thanks for the feedback, Julie!

  3. I agree with Julie. You are achieving praxis between scholarly and theoretical foundations of Diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice while making the concepts themselves digestible and practical for reader and all levels of understanding. Theory has never been my strong suit. 🙂 I like to define ‘social justice” as “activism”. I feel like we need to expand activism more broadly then we do contemporarily. It’s about more than marching and letter writing. activism is a lived, day to day, experience in my opinion. I’m reminded of a quote from a DUke faculty member Robyn Wiegman, “Activism is a negotiation with the present.” Oh, also, I loved your breakdown of social justice/activism. it really puts social justice work into perspective.

    • Marty, thanks for the great feedback! I like the framing of activism around the way we live our lives. A close colleague of mine at DePaul always challenges students to evaluate the worth of their college education not by what they think after college, but by how they live.

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