Happy start of the school year or almost start of school. For those who are done with school and don’t have students in their lives, welcome back to the increased traffic and lack of parking near school buildings.
This week I decided to write about the term “farthest from justice.” I’ve used it in other blog posts and Seattle Public Schools includes the phrase “who are furthest from educational justice” in their newest strategic plan. As time goes on I’ve heard the phrase used by many others and it makes me hopeful we may achieve educational and other forms of justice. As the person who offered up the phrasing for inclusion in the strategic plan, I want to offer up what the phrasing means to me. I recognize over time phrasing morphs, meanings change, is watered down, or co-opted – it is the nature of language and allowing space for more progressive thinking. This is my attempt to clarify the phrase and to push others to think deeply about what farthest from justice really means.
Basic Definition of “Those Farthest From (Racial) Justice”
If you don’t have a lot of time (aka TL;DR) this is the basic definition of those farthest from justice: Defining who is the farthest from having their needs met in a particular situation and centering the work and solutions on ensuring justice for them. This means practicing racial equity by sharing power and control, and centering their wellbeing and comfort. (Read Heidi’s blog post on the topic .)
Another way to understand this is we need to use an intersectional focus. Intersectionality comes from law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. She describes intersectionality as a way to look at how race, gender, class, disability, and other individual traits and characteristics overlap or ‘intersect’ and how we should take this into account when considering policies, practices, and life. Crenshaw came up with the term as it relates to the legal system, over time the term has moved outside of the legal realm.
When I originally wrote the term “those farthest from justice,” I wanted to convey we need to acknowledge our group and individual privileges, use intersectionality views, and to center those who are the most hurt by injustices. It was meant to capture a feeling and thought with fewer words. When I write those farthest from justice I hope it invites people to think about who is really the farthest from whatever form of justice we need to reach whether it is person-to-person justice, racial justice, educational justice, environmental justice, and so forth. Racial justice is the underlayer for all other forms of justice – we can’t achieve educational, environmental, criminal justice, etc. until we achieve racial justice.
Who is the Farthest From Justice?
I hope the phrase also invites people to pause and really think about who is the farthest from justice. In almost every situation Black and Brown people are furthest from justice, and if we look more closely we can find women, children, people with disabilities, people who are persecuted because of religion, immigrants, people who don’t speak the dominant language, etc. who are further from justice than the broader group. This is what I’m hoping the phrase those farthest from justice invites us to do, to dig deeper, realize our privileges, and to act in ways that drive towards equity.
I also hope it reminds us those farthest from justice can shift, change, and require vigilance to being open to change and shifting as needed. Those farthest from justice today might not be the same group in a few weeks or months as situations change and hopefully as interventions work and move people closer to justice.
How to Recognize People Farthest from Justice
Recognizing who needs to be prioritized takes practice. It also takes recognizing our own privileges, practicing humility, and developing analytical skills as it relates to race.
In recognizing our own privileges we need to remember we are in privileged positions. The act of defining needs and priorities for others is a privileged political move. We are defining for others what many have fought for the right to define for themselves. To be seen is a gift or not, to be judged as worthy of need and attention also means someone is defining what others may want to have seen. Use your privilege carefully and with great humility.
Practice humility by seeking to learn and pledging to support communities who are farthest from justice. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a policymaker who was trying to convey a sense of humility. I wasn’t buying it, especially when she said, “I’m making sure I listen to people of color,” but kept talking and wouldn’t act with the new information she was learning. Humility isn’t just about listening it is about being humble in accepting what you don’t know. It is also about seeking out information and using that information and privilege to center those farthest from justice by sharing power and control.
Recognizing people farthest from justice takes deep analytical skills. Being able to read data, know what questions to ask, figure out what information you’re missing, and being able to recognize nuances within data and the stories data is telling you is important to understand how to recognize those farthest from justice.
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