Social Justice and the Power of Connotation 2

What is social justice? Well, most importantly, it is a term that has become rather controversial. So controversial, in fact, that when you search for it online, the first three pages of results are filled with definitions by different organisations. In the beginning, “social justice” referred mostly to an economic concept, meaning that “[it] may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth”, as defined by the United Nations. However, that’s not really true anymore. Now, social justice refers more generally to the idea that everyone deserves equal treatment, opportunities and social rights.  

Sounds good, right?

The problem here is, as with most things, that there is a rather considerable rift between theory and practice. Over the past years, social justice, and especially the connected term “social justice warrior”, has been quite negatively connotated and entrenched with political implications. Now, a social justice warrior is not someone who fights for the rights of others. They are someone who grows aggravated at even the slightest hint of so-called microaggressions and spends most of their time on lengthy, futile arguments to reprimand others for perceived wrongdoing. According to some, they are killjoys who always take jokes out of context and explain to others why we can’t use well-established words anymore because they may be offensive to some.

Meaning or Connotation?

However, it is important for us to make a distinction between meaning and connotation. Those two terms are not the same thing. Whereas the expression ‘social justice warrior’ is by no means a term of endearment, it should not be considered to be a slur. There is nothing wrong with advocating for the equality of all people. There are only wrong ways to go about it.

Being a social justice warrior isn’t an inherently bad thing. Actually, we should all fight for equal opportunities. That’s why it is time to reclaim the term “social justice” – not as a nuisance. Neither should we see it as a cumbersome thing brought upon us by the craze of political correctness, nor as another topic that the right wing and the left wing cannot seem to agree on. Giving a mere concept and its connotations so much power will inevitably lead to disaster. 

Reclaiming Words

So, the next time that someone calls me a social justice warrior, I will not be offended. Actually, I will thank them. Because there is nothing wrong with being one. Let’s reclaim this concept and do it right. Let’s be the new generation of social justice warriors.

I ask again: What is social justice? There is no cookie-cutter definition that can easily applied to this term. However, it is most certainly one thing: a necessity. Everyone deserves equal opportunities, but it’s also important to learn the right way to fight for them. The only way to combat negative connotations is to be a good example of something. Therefore, here are the only tips I can give to a social justice warrior in 2020: Be informed, do not state half-truths. Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, but never take someone’s right to speak for themselves. Do not get offended over the little things, but never ignore the big things. Listen to the other side, nothing is ever black-and-white – but that’s something every social justice warrior should know, don’t you think?

Featured image by Okan Caliskan on Pixabay

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About Marie Krebs

Marie is an English student with an interest in anything to do with culture. When she's not writing, she likes to read, cook and dance (preferably not all three at the same time).

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