Can shame promote social justice? | Lifetime review

Shame has always been used as an instrument of social control, used to expose a transgression or wrong, and to hold accountable those who bear witness to it silently. So, can shame, guilt and humiliation be effective tools in the fight for social justice? Can the feeling of shame help us learn more about others and our society in general?

Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia and author of “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy,” explains how cultural norms have changed in the digital age.

“It’s only very recently that the idea of ​​shaming people for racist expression or racist behavior has even been on the table,” he says. “But for the helpless, [shame] is sometimes the only thing available. Power is a really important phenomenon when we consider questions of how, when, and why someone should strike a blow for social justice.

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Jonathan Bastian discusses with Vaidhyanathan the historical and current role of shame as a tool for social justice and the need for society to recognize shame for the pain inflicted on those without power or voice.

“We all have a very serious moral obligation to look at how our society works, to recognize how structural inequalities have benefited some of us,” says Vaidhyanathan. “We don’t have to walk around with big signs of guilt and shame on us because of this. But once we recognize that, it means, ‘Hey, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the kids I’m teaching don’t have the same situation down the line.’

But Vaidhyanathan also points out that resorting to shame can have unintended consequences.

“I fear that shame as a crucial tool of social justice leaves out other social justice practices, unpractised and unreinforced – the kinds of tools that could really foster deliberation within a democratic republic. , which could strengthen and be more inclusive, which could attract allies in an effort to change society,” he says. “I fear that the practice of shaming, essential as it is, alienates potential allies.”

James C. Tibbs