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Political discourse, Oppressed communities, Internal criticism, Progressive social movements, Racism, Gendered inequality, Heteronormativity, Intersectionality


Several historical reasons explain opposition to the airing of internal criticism by scholars and activists within progressive social movements and by members of subordinate communities. Opponents often contend that such criticism might reinforce negative stereotypes of subordinate individuals and that reactionary movements and activists might appropriate and misuse negative portrayals of the oppressed. A related fear holds that internal criticism will dismantle political unity within oppressed communities and progressive social movements, thereby forestalling social change. While these concerns provide some context for understanding the resistance to internal criticism within progressive social movements, I argue in this essay that they do not justify a rigid "policing" of progressive discourse. In fact, much of the resistance to internal criticism may stem from the acceptance of oppressive ideologies of patriarchy, racism, and heterosexism by members of oppressed communities and progressive social movements-a position that is patently contrary to the goals of liberation and equality. Part I discusses examples of resistance to internal criticism within progressive social movements in order to demonstrate the extent to which such opposition operates as a barrier to constructive dissent. Part II argues that resistance to internal criticism may often result from the embrace of heterosexism, patriarchy, and racism within oppressed communities and among progressive intellectuals, and that any remaining explanations for such resistance are outweighed by the value of internal criticism to progressive theory and politics. Part III offers suggestions-to both internal critics and to the objects of their critiques-for minimizing the potentially negative effects of internal criticism and for advancing a more inclusive conceptualization of justice.

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Michigan Journal of Race and Law