By Ian McLaughlin
Our perception is always impacted by the lens through which we see, and our lens is always impacted by both physical barriers and socialization. For example, when looking through the barrier provided by sunglasses - the world may appear darker; and when looking through the socialization of the dominant narrative - the world may appear merit based and not oppressive. The first step to social justice is to hone one’s social justice lens (see our unit on Worldview & Lenses if interested in teaching students how to develop their social justice lens). Below are five terms to re-imagine and challenge the dominant narrative.
At a recent talk, Tim Wise posed the question: why isn't “Overprivileged” a word… underprivileged is used all the time, but no one ever says “wow, look at how overprivileged those people are.” He answers the question with the fact that we are taught to ignore privilege. Naming overprivilege challenges the dominant meritocracy narrative that people get what they deserve because they are smart and work hard, rather than because of over 300 years of generational overprivileges; like getting to avoid chattel slavery, stealing land, and getting bank and FHA loans when others were denied.
Fugitivity is often thought of in terms of trying to escape, but Dr. David Stovall flips this mentality, stating that, “Fugitivity will allow us to learn what we don’t know.” Fugitivity will allow us to escape the dominant narratives and create what Dr. Stovall calls, “fugitive space [or] making a way out of no way,” and “Fugitive thinking as asking questions about the way things are and then re-imagining it.” A strong social justice lens lives in fugitivity.
3. Education v. School
Webster’s dictionary defines education as ‘knowledge and development resulting from an instructive process’, or more specifically, the act or progression of acquiring or imparting knowledge. Webster’s defines schooling as ‘the process of being taught, such as in a school.’ In our system children are schooled in the dominant narrative (read What is the Purpose of Education), and rarely are they educated or allowed to use fugitive thinking, like the 5th grader who was chastised by her teacher for refusing to list “positives of slavery” on her worksheet.
The School to Prison Pipeline is a well known term in the world of social justice, but many now note that labeling our current situation as a pipeline implies two separate systems with a single channel connecting one to the other. The School and Prison Nexxus reveals the reality that our schools and prisons represent a single system - inextricably connected, functioning as it was designed to function. Dr. David Stovall notes that, “We don’t train teachers to be learners, we train them to be prison guards.” Using the School and Prison Nexus to school rather than educate.
In a recent conversation I had with a student who was working on a project to create a more equitable educational system (see project here), he asked how he could change the tax code in his model to increase resources for poorer students without making wealthy people upset for giving up some resources; I answered; you can’t... Equity means redistribution. Period. In the U.S. 38 people control more wealth than the poorest 100,000,000 people. Equity means overprivileged individuals need to give up resources to bring balance and justice. Period. I believe this is something most humans would do if they believed they were overprivileged, but the narrative has taught us all to think otherwise. The narrative has taught us those of us who went to good schools, that actually educated us, and helped us get good jobs, and move into good neighborhoods where we got good interest rates that we just worked really hard and were really smart. The narrative does not let us see our overprivilege. The narrative tells us fugitives belong in The School and Prison Nexus.
How can I challenge the dominant narrative? I start by trying to sharpen my lens every day to better understand the dominant and counter narratives; to better understand my overprivilege; and to re-imagine pathways to a re-distributed future.