Fires of A Different Kind

Earlier today a Dean asked me to share something I appreciate about the work that I do in social justice education.

After taking a moment to consider it, I came to a conclusion that; as challenging as it is, one of the things I appreciate the most about my work as a social justice educator is the struggle.

I’ve written before about how if I wasn’t using education as a vehicle for liberation, I would probably be a paramedic, or firefighter. Both of those are helping professions, but with social justice education I’ve found that I’m able to fight fires of a different kind.

In this work, the fires are harmful thought processes that, when given power and influence, fuel and perpetuate systems of oppression. In some ways, each of us are impacted by that reality, and implicated within that reality.

“Pieces of our humanity can be lost when we are dehumanized and marginalized because of parts of our identities. Pieces of our humanity are lost when we use privileged parts of our identities to dehumanize others.”

—From my note, Emancipation.

I appreciate the struggle in the process of un-learning that takes place when pre-conceived notions are challenged. In some ways, I can appreciate participant resistance to social justice education because it can allow us opportunities to name and recognize the ways in which systems of oppression are designed to protect and reinforce themselves.

I appreciate the struggle when I recognize; whether in myself or in others, the arrival at a critical point in thinking and development where we can either choose to pursue new information, or cling tightly to the misinformation we have learned in the past. I appreciate the struggle when folks acknowledge their implication in systems of oppression and make conscious decisions to find ways to resist and interrupt.

Another aspect of social justice education that I truly value is its power for liberation. In my experience, educating people with marginalized identities, who are often blamed for the physical, social, and emotional violence that is acted against them about actual systems of oppression such as white supremacy, cissexism, heterosexism, patriarchy, classism, and other systems can serve as a liberatory release to people who have been taught in ways large and small, that they deserve the marginalization they experience because of their identities.

It’s not folks with marginalized identities who are the problem. It’s the systems that, through their intentional design create that marginalization.

“It’s not primarily about identity but about how structures make certain identities the consequence of, and the vehicle for vulnerability.


For clues look at the context and consequences. What kind of discrimination is going on? What are the policies? What are the institutional structures that play a role in contributing to the exclusion of some people and not others?”

—Kimberle Crenshaw on intersectionality, 2016

For our privileged identities and targeted identities, social justice education can be liberatory in that it can bring to our attention the fact that we’ve been taught misinformation about ourselves and others, so also embedded within social justice education is the struggle to get free.

Working to get closer to that place; individually, and with others, is what keeps me coming back.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

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Relando Thompkins-Jones

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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