Social justice and the sophistication bias

One of the many privileges I have is that I am fluent in English. In India, like in many places in south Asia, that opens doors for me that may very well be made of concrete for those who are not good at expressing themselves in English.

When I say things, I am listened to. And when I speak about social justice, my voice quickly races past the many voices who have been doing so for decades. Why? Because they do not express themselves in English.

This is one of the many reasons the English-speaking savarna class often dominates the discourse on social justice - people from dominant castes become known as heroes for writing and speaking against caste even as they continue to benefit from their caste privilege.

The other aspect of this is that many seemingly right-thinking young people get to thinking that social discrimination can only be fought using sophistication. I have written previously about the risks of not monitoring our media consumption habits, and about how perpetuation of bad media habits allows problems to persist. In this case, the bad practice that gets propagated is a distaste towards anger and aggression.

People (usually dominant caste people) get to be comfortable with anti-caste commentary from their fellow savarna intellectuals and frown at the angry Dalit voice, the frustrated Bahujan commentator, and the sarcastic disenfranchised. They prefer the upper-caste academic over the "rude" voices of the people who are the subject of the academic's English-language work.

This need for "sophistication" is its own kind of oppression. It keeps the oppressed out of their own discourse and it allows the privileged to be champions of the struggle against them. In short, it perpetuates caste-based discrimination.

If you are from a privileged background like me, understand that the quest for an equal society was never going to be fun for us. There is no polite way to say we are both receivers and propagators of discrimination. And we do this even when our hearts are full of the right intentions.

What we need is to become comfortable with discomfort. We need to listen even when the voice is not speaking to us calmly, in English.

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