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".

Later:

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)

14 comments:

  1. You have just stated what I have always felt about present day activists: they view everything negatively rather than positively; through a subjective lens, not an objective one. Mother Teresa commented once "I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there." That's one thing I can agree with her on!

    Could you expand upon your 4th point? I know you said that it could fill a book, but just a brief paragraph would do! Do you mean that Civil Rights workers played a more active role, and Social Justice activists are mostly passive players?

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    1. Excellent Mother T quote!

      It's not so much that SJ activists are passive, but they can take their very existence for activism. The prime example is slacktivism, yakking on the net with like-minded folks. Civil rights workers did all the work of writing things up, but then they took the flyers and magazines out in the streets to distribute to folks who wouldn't get them otherwise. They marched and protested and agitated and organized. What so many social justice types do wouldn't even register to civil rights folks--they would think it was the equivalent of hanging out at the bar.

      I shared this a while back. Adolph Reed said of Obama, "I’d refrained from saying that he, as well as his various running dogs, haunt me as illustrations of the modal type of Ivy League POC students I’ve been teaching for the last 30 years. That same mastery of performance of a cultivated, yet at the same time empty and pro forma, intellectuality, conviction that one’s career advancement literally embodies the victory of the civil rights movement, and that awe that Bromwich notes of the rich and powerful."

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  2. Thought you might find this interesting:

    https://ballastexistenz.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/making-everything-clear/

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  3. This is really compelling because my daughter goes to a Mpls K-8 that is a social justice charter. The Jr high goes on a civil rights history trip every 3 yrs. It's made me very aware of the potential filter to perceive things auto-negative. I suddenly love the idea of a YA time-travel book with this viewpoint as its concept.

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    1. Hmm. I don't know if that'll spark a story, but it is an interesting notion!

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  4. Work vs Active - the semantics define the priorities. Listen to the self congratulations of those who "stay active" physically or socially - nod, smile - then get back to work. It keeps a person from getting sucked into a position of feeding the Devourer. As Kipling (who occasionally fed the monster) said - "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right".

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  5. It sounds a bit like you're attempting to delegitimize acts of social justice by separating the goals from civil rights. But I don't blame you, because the modern world is pretty confusing.

    I bet in 2020, you are even more confused. Isn't it funny that people have been out in the streets for over 40 days now and no serious legislation has passed, even though plenty of meaningful bills are on the table?

    The cool thing about the modern civil rights/social justice movement is that is has no leaders, only goals of liberty and justice for all. We won't just give up when our primary speaker is assassinated; I'm still baffled people didn't burn the whole thing down then, but I suppose life was pretty comfortable at the time.

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    1. OWS accomplished nothing. BLM has accomplished nothing. You have to make clear demands.

      If you burn the whole thing down, you have nowhere to live.

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    2. You're correct that demands are necessary, but those movements accomplished visibility. Right now people are challenging systemic racism, which before was unquestioned, since people just assumed everything was fine after the civil rights act and went back to work; And OWS shed light on how corrupted the US government is by money surely bringing life to groups like RepresentUS.

      I was speaking metaphorically, since obviously it wasn't mission accomplished.

      Technically speaking, neither the civil rights movement, OWS, BLM, etc should have to be making these demands. This is the job of the government to see to it that all are being treated fairly. It's some real bullshit that our representatives will wait until the very last moment to do the bare minimum.

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    3. We agree on your conclusion. But so long as representatives represent their donors rather than the people, it will be this way.

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    4. It's true, theoretically. Anti-corruption campaigns should be at the forefront of our minds, but often you have to take the time to attack certain issues immediately, due to time sensitivity.

      One immediate impact on defeating corruption is looking at who we vote for. I think it's notable that those who are corrupt, will use defense by denial and align against fair treatment of all. This can be discovered by a lack of appropriate response to civil rights issues in their state, such as voter suppression. An extremely simple indicator of who you should NOT vote for, are those who cannot say "Black Lives Matter", since it denies the real problems that exist in the US.

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    5. You have to look more critically than that. Race reductionists won't solve the problems that capitalism created.

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