Friday, July 6, 2012

civil rights vs. social justice

I'm fascinated by the differences between the civil rights movements of the '60s and '70s and the social justice movements that followed. Superficially, only the names changed, because to most people, civil rights and social justice are both about treating everyone fairly. But if you think word choices matter—which the social justice community does vehemently—these changes must be significant.

1. Civil rights workers defined their causes by what they supported: equality, integration, peace. Social justice activisits define their causes by what they oppose: anti-racism, anti-war, anti-capitalism, etc.

2. Civil rights workers spoke of humanity as brothers and sisters. Social justice activists divide humanity into groups based on physical or ethnic identity and their "allies".

3. Civil rights workers had goals that could be legally accomplished. Social justice activists bristle when asked what specific measures they support.

4. Civil rights workers worked, and social justice activists are active. Examining that single difference could result in a book, but I'm not fascinated enough to write it.

Feminism bridged the change, which is why contemporary academic feminists kept the old name that says what they support and adopted the recent terminology of women and "male allies".


Two examples of the inclusive language of the civil rights movement:

"The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone." —Martin Luther King

"I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red. When you are dealing with humanity as one family, there's no question of integration or intermarriage. It's just one human being marrying another human being, or one human being living around and with another human being." —El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)