We shouldn’t allow social justice language to be used like poor customer service

Start being accountable, instead of saying things that you think will get retweets.


Social justice language, in itself, is a good thing. It helps to show how we’re pushing for progress and it is good to recognise power dynamics at work and to try and dismantle them. Social justice language gets a bad reputation, from people mostly who don’t like being called out, but ultimately it is a force for good. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes used in the wrong way.

In groups, and forums in particular, social justice language can be used to feel stifling – but not in a way that shuts down problematic content. It can feel stifling, as though having language filtered, by people who are trying not to be called out themselves. It feels particularly commonplace in polya groups where it is being utilised to stop call outs about cheating or any form of accountability. In fact, we’re asked to validate and support people who cheat or fantasise about cheating because of pressures on polya people. It’s because of this lack of accountability, and feeling as though I’m on the end of really crappy customer service training where I’m being told the entitled customer is always right, why I have left several of these forums for discussion.

If people are only saying what they think they should, it doesn’t come off as sincere or as if anyone really wants change. Instead, language is just doing this strange dance while actually, the people who deserve calling out manage to be the ones leading the conversations.

“If people are only saying what they think they should, it doesn’t come off as sincere”

There have even been unfair attempts to try to limit what ‘toxic’ means for fear of diminishing the word. There have been call outs about ‘toxic’ being used everywhere (except, it really isn’t). Yes, that can happen but people experiencing toxic behaviour are actually terrified that they are blowing it up, and that they’re doing harm to a wider cause (usually because they’ve been gaslight to think they aren’t really experiencing toxic behaviour). So this type of call out, only shuts conversations down when people should be encouraged to talk about what they are going for, even if they risk getting the language a little bit wrong.

It’s not enough to use social justice language and think that is automatically helpful. We need to ask if we’re using it in a way that is facilitating conversations or shutting them down. It’s not enough to talk the talk.

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