Readings for Diversity and Social Justice

reviewed by Maia Bloomfield Cucchiara & Davinah S. Childs - April 11, 2014

coverTitle: Readings for Diversity and Social Justice
Author(s): Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Castaneda, Heather W. Hackman, Madeline L. Peters, Ximena Zuniga (eds.)
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415892945, Pages: 696, Year: 2013
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In Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, the editors have taken on the challenging task of bringing together timely and relevant pieces from multiple fields to examine, document, and critique the various forms of oppression that shape contemporary Western society. Largely, but not entirely, focused on the U.S., the book is designed to “enable readers both to appreciate social and cultural differences, and also to understand the ways in which these social and cultural differences have been used to justify systemic inequalities” (p. xxvi).  Though the resulting volume is a bit intimidating in size and scope (it is over 650 pages long and covers eight forms of oppression, from racism to adultism), it is well organized and the pieces are quite accessible. As a result, Readings is likely to be an excellent resource for instructors interested in helping students develop a better understanding of contemporary society and the task of moving towards social justice.

Like its earlier versions, this third edition is organized around various forms of identity and oppression. For clarity’s sake, each is treated separately; however, the volume foregrounds the intersectionality between these types of oppression and even includes a “Table of Intersections” to help readers identify pieces that cover more than one topic. We expect that this table will be particularly useful to instructors designing syllabi. Each section includes an introduction by one of the editors and three sub-sections: readings in the “Context” sub-section offer historical background and analyses of key issues; readings in the “Voices” sub-section are mostly personal essays; and the “Next Steps” sub-section includes relevant examples or discussions of activism.  

While readers will obviously pick and choose among the readings, the editors urge readers to make use of the “Conceptual Frameworks” section as well as the introductions to each substantive section. We concur with this recommendation, in large part because of the care the authors of each introduction took to define key terms. For example, the introduction to the “Religious Oppression” section includes clear definitions of “religious hegemony,” “Christian hegemony,” and “Christian privilege” and then provides a comprehensive discussion of their manifestation in U.S. social and political history. Given the conceptual muddiness that often surrounds such important concepts as oppression, racism, heterosexism, social justice, etc., the editors’ emphasis on precision is quite helpful—especially as a model for students just beginning to engage with these ideas.

Students and instructors will also likely appreciate the editors’ efforts to make clear how these various forms of identity and oppression manifest in daily life.  For example, the third reading in the volume, Allan Johnson’s “The Social Construction of Difference,” includes a compelling discussion of “What Privilege Looks Like in Everyday Life” that identifies specific privileges Whites, males, heterosexuals, and nondisabled people can take for granted (such as, for heterosexuals, the ability to “live their intimate relationships openly” [p. 19)] without fearing recrimination or discrimination).

Throughout the volume, essays showing the persistence of oppression challenge prevailing assumptions that ours is an equitable society. For example, Kimberly Roppolo’s “Symbolic Racism, History, and Reality: The Real Problem with Indian Mascots” provides an insider perspective into recent debates about American-Indian-themed sports teams and mascots. She contrasts American complacence about these mascots with the outrage that would erupt if sports teams were named after other racial/ethnic groups and argues this is evidence of continued, and unquestioned, racism against American Indians. Eli Clare’s “Gawking, Gaping, Staring” describes his search for a “teacher and hero” who would help him develop a “bigger sense of self” (p. 499) that embraces his identity as disabled and queer. These counter-narratives are a crucial component of social justice education because they position social justice as a goal yet to be achieved rather than a past accomplishment.

Further, we found the readings that focused on the structural manifestation of oppression to be particularly useful. For example, George Lipsitz’s “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness” includes an extended discussion of the ways that “putatively race-neutral, liberal, social democratic reforms” (p. 79) (such as housing policies and “tax reforms”) have reinscribed racial inequality. For students still inclined to see racism as a matter of individual prejudice, we expect this piece would be very eye-opening.

Of course, we do have a few suggestions.  First, a number of the pieces were abridged in a way that detracted from their impact.  This was especially the case for Beverly Daniel Tatum’s essay on “The Complexity of Identity” and Kochnar, Fry, and Taylor’s discussion of wealth gaps. Second, in the “Classism” section we would have liked more readings that focus on the state of inequality in the U.S. following the 2008 economic crisis.  For example, Gregory Mantsios’ insightful piece about the scope of class differences in the U.S. was published in 2007 and so does not cover the growth in inequality and poverty we have witnessed in recent years. Third, it would have been useful to include more examples of successful organizing and activism.  We imagine that students will be moved by the various injustices they read about and, possibly, inspired to work for change. While a number of the readings on activism are useful, especially Sarah van Gelder’s discussion of Occupy Wall Street and WireTap’s piece on youth activism, others felt too abstract. We would have liked more concrete examples—even blueprints—that could help students put their enthusiasm to work.

Despite these concerns, Readings represents a significant resource for social justice education. The editors’ precision in defining key terms in their conceptual overviews and care in selecting pieces that showcase the eight forms of oppression in daily life serve as a model for students and reveal the prevalence and persistence of privilege and oppression. The book is rich in concrete examples of structural and social inequalities and in personal narratives challenging the notion that the U.S. is a land of equality.  We expect that instructors will find its comprehensive nature useful and, more importantly, that students will be engaged by its timely, spirited, and accessible content.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 11, 2014 ID Number: 17492, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 8:39:16 AM

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