*This blog is a part of an ongoing series examing liberalism with a critical eye. We've had quite a few decades of influence and control. How are we actually handling that power? Are we being good stewards of the American public? How can we go forward and do better?*
Civil rights movements have historically been the catalysts for societal change, employing various tactics reflective of the times and the unique challenges faced by each group. Black Americans showcased the raw injustice and villainy of segregation and racism on national TV, turning the tide of public opinion during the Civil Rights Movement. The LGBTQ+ community, particularly during the fight for gay marriage, utilized stories of family and love to foster understanding and acceptance. Women, through both subtle influence and overt activism, have long navigated societal structures to shift the dynamics of power and gender equality. These movements, rich in strategy and resolve, have paved the way for monumental shifts towards equality and justice.
However, the landscape of civil rights and social justice movements has morphed significantly in recent times. In an era where the equality of opportunity is arguably at its zenith, the tactics and goals of these movements have evolved—or devolved, depending on one's perspective. Identity politics has emerged as a dominant force, where the currency of victimhood is leveraged for power, often overshadowing merit and fostering a culture where situational privilege is granted based on perceived marginalization. This shift has led to a complex web of outcomes, not all of which have been positive or constructive.
The past 15 years have been marked by what some view as the commodification of social justice—movements that started with noble intentions, appearing to devolve into opportunistic endeavors with unclear objectives. The victories of gay marriage, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the election of a Black president were significant milestones, signaling a potential culmination of centuries-long struggles. Yet, instead of a strategic pivot towards addressing systemic issues like financial inequality, the narrative often became mired in the murky waters of identity politics.
The concept of social justice, while noble in its essence, has become a polarizing term, its meaning diluted by broad and often contradictory interpretations. My personal disconnection with the term stems from a preference for actionable education over abstract activism. The rise of identity politics and the weaponization of personal identity in both digital and physical realms have escalated tensions, often at the expense of unity and progress. This tactic has not only infiltrated everyday interactions but has also seeped into our boardrooms, classrooms, and churches, altering the fabric of our interactions and societal norms at an unprecedented pace.
The crux of the issue lies in the vague goals and messaging of contemporary movements, making it challenging for even the most earnest supporter to understand how to contribute effectively. This starkly contrasts with the civil rights causes of the past, which had clear, tangible objectives. The current climate of social justice seems more a reflection of general societal discontent—a manifestation of the collective intuition that something is fundamentally amiss, yet without a clear consensus on the way forward.
Frankly, social justice in action is a cynical and capitalistic gentrification of the civil rights movement. Its goal is social reparations via a forced power shift to people whose merit is determined by their perceived level of victimization. It's a movement that, in seeking to invert the power dynamics, often neglects the essence of equality and opportunity for all, in favor of a zero-sum game where the previously oppressed seek to become the oppressors.
If we are to address the next frontier of civil rights, such as trans rights, a singular, focused goal and tactic must be identified and pursued. The nebulous nature of social justice today serves more as a mask for broader societal dissatisfaction than a clear path to improvement. We live in an era of unprecedented opportunity, yet the narrative is often one of scarcity and grievance, fueled by comparisons to an idealized perception of those at the "top."
Perhaps it's time for a collective introspection—a period of quiet reflection where we reassess our priorities, values, and strategies. Only by identifying the core issues can we formulate a coherent plan of action, one that transcends the divisiveness of identity politics and rekindles the spirit of unity and progress that has historically driven the civil rights movement forward. In doing so, we may rediscover the power of collective action driven by clear, shared goals, paving the way for genuine, lasting change.