One of the criticisms I’ve heard about social justice circles from the outside is that there are a lot of words we use, but do not always explain what those words mean. Some of us hear words such as TERFs, intersectionality, microaggressions, heteronormativity, and many more, but unless you’re deep in circles that deal with TERFs, intersectionality, microaggressions, or heteronormativity, you may not know what those words mean.
The knee-jerk response may be not make the effort to understand what these words mean, and just move on. Or, if your thoughts are more antagonistic to people in social justice movements, you might label one who uses these words as a “social justice warrior” or a “liberal snowflake.”
I propose a different way of interacting with these terms: familiarizing ourselves with these words that may be unfamiliar to us. In order to help familiarize ourselves and others with words or phrases commonly heard in social justice circles but misunderstood or not understood at all outside of them, I will start a new series on this blog, called “What is _______?”
The concept of the “What is _______?” series is that I take a term used in social justice circles that is often not used or not understood outside of those circles, explain what that term means, potentially give some examples to further clarify what that term means, and explain why it’s a term that is important to understand.
I am currently planning to write posts on the following terms (in no particular order):
- Four waves of feminism
- Toxic positivity
- Calling out/calling in (two terms, but these terms belong together in a post)
- Cultural appropriation/cultural appreciation
- Safe space
- White guilt
I should also note that I am open to including other terms that I don’t list here. Terms that I learn about during the series, as well as terms that others think that I should talk about, are fair game. On that note, if there are any terms you think I should include that I don’t mention here, please let me know in the comments section below or at my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you don’t think of a term now but think of one later, there’s no need to worry—as I’m planning on doing approximately one post in this series per month, and I have over a dozen terms here, I will be doing this series for over a year.
All of these terms are ones that are important to know, yet may seem like jargon or code to some of us. By explaining what these terms mean and why they’re so important, I’m hoping that many readers will come out with a good understanding of what these words mean. By improving our understanding of terms like these, those who are advocates will hopefully become better advocates, and those who aren’t advocates will hopefully understand what advocates are talking about when using these words.