The Social Justice Power Inverse

A lot of social justice conversations focus on power. Who has power in society and who doesn’t?

We highlight how systems inequitably distribute power to some while withholding it from others — based on who we are.

We refer to people who are granted disproportionate power as “privileged,” “majoritized,” “centered,” etc. And those from whom power is withheld as “oppressed,” “minoritized,” “marginalized,” etc.

Now, nobody is only one of those two. We’re both, depending on which situation we’re in, and what dimensions of ourselves are brought to the forefront.

Our goal in talking about this is dismantling inequitable power structures.

The needle on our compass points toward equity. Removing barriers, promoting access, and shrinking the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” — or, in a perfect world, making that dichotomy irrelevant.

One of the things we don’t talk about is how power structures manifest in social justice spaces, or the micro-society that is the community of social justice people.

Here, we preserve the idea of the power structure, but swap out who sits where.

We center people who are generally marginalized, privilege people who are otherwise oppressed, majoritize the previously minoritized. The more your voice is taken away in society based on intersecting aspects of who are, the more your voice holds weight here.

We do it, in part, as a protection against the harms of society, where dominant group members often silence others, misinform, and act selfishly.

The rationale here makes sense: it feels like righting a wrong. And it results in a lot of positive outcomes (e.g., agency, representation, solidarity).

But like all disproportionate power relationships, it’s also susceptible to abuse. We empower some to silence others, misinform, and act selfishly.

It’s also, ultimately, inequitable.

Reversing who holds disproportionate power doesn’t reverse inequity. It maintains it.


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About the Author

Sam Killermann Self Portrait

Hi! I'm Sam Killermann. I'm the author of A Guide to Gender: The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook, and I was featured in Katie Couric's NatGeo documentary "Gender Revolution". I created It's Pronounced Metrosexual in 2011. I write everything here and doodle the doodles myself. Bonus: everything I create is uncopyrighted and freely accessible — I even coded (& open-sourced) this site itself, my gift to you. Read More →

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