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The term "social justice warrior" appears to have been coined as a pejorative term, and Urban Dictionary defines it thus:

A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation.

Is there a non-pejorative term for actual proponents of social justice, who use logical/scientific arguments to back up their claims instead of the drivel that is so often characteristic of "social justice warriors"?

10 Answers 10

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Less pejorative in my opinion would be social reformer.

I'm finding it hard to get a definition that aligns exactly with my personal interpretation/use of the term ('disputant', while correct is too negative in: 'a disputant who advocates reform'), but the base definition of reformer at least is:

A person who makes changes to something in order to improve it. (OED)

and the more relevant:

A person who works to change and improve a society, government, etc. (Merriam-Webster)

6
+100

Some replacement terms would be liberal and socialist; however these have negative connotations especially among more conservative types. In the political spectrum, the left (democrats and liberals) have been trying to rebrand themselves and one of the labels they like to use is:

Progressive-one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action. (Merriam Webster)

  • 2
    To get rid of the pejorative feel, I think you indeed have to switch to something more vague/inactive like progressive. To me [anything]-warrior, [anything]-crusader, [anything]-reformer, [anything]-activist etc implies actively looking for things not conforming to some personal ideal and going to great lengths to get one's way. That's bound to have some negative connotations. – Fasermaler Oct 16 '15 at 6:18
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As this related question suggests, the term didn't used to be used pejoratively.

As sumelic suggests, social justice advocate or social justice activist could be used, removing the hyperbolic sounding warrior term.

I would suggest that social progressive (noun) and socially progressive (adjective) avoids the connations with the pejorative all together.

eg.

The work of social progressives in the 19th century dealt with women's suffrage and child labour laws. In the 21st century social progressives address continuing feminism, the rights of transgender people, gay marriage and climate change.

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One might have once said 'Crusader', but that is so far of the scale of 'incorrect' these days... HighTechGeek's answer in my view sweeps the field, but let me also elevate a term that he noted elsewhere and might add to his answer at a later time: 'Champion'. Firstly from the OED:

champion ▪ I.champion, n.1
(ˈtʃæmpɪən)Forms: 3–4 champiun, 4–5 champioun, (chaumpion, -yon, -youn, scaumpioun, schampion, 5–6 champyon), 4– champion.
[ME. champiun, -on, a. OF. champiun, -on (= Pr. campio, -on, Sp. campion, -eon, Pg. campião, -eão, It. campione):—late L. campio, -ōnem combatant in the campus or arena, professed fighter, f. L. campus field of athletic or military exercise, place of combat, lists: see camp n.1and n.2

  1. fig. and transf. One who in any kind of contest or conflict acts as the acknowledged defender of a person, cause, or side: one who stoutly maintains any cause. (The literal sense is sometimes distinctly in view, sometimes out of sight.)
    a 1300 Cursor M. 18651 Sua did iesus, vr champiun [v.r. scaumpioun], Þof he lai ded for vr ranscun. 138. Wyclif Sel. Wks. III. 289 Strong schampions and pileris of holy chirche. 1483 Caxton Gold. Leg. 430/4 God fader..gafe & betoke the sayd kyng champyon or deffensour of the feythe. 1584 R. Scot Discov. Witchcr. ii. i. 15 Bodin the champion of witchmongers. 1593 Shakes. Rich. II, i. ii. 43 To heauen, the widdowes Champion. c 1665 Mrs. Hutchinson Mem. Col. Hutchinson (1846) 25 He hated persecution for religion, and was always a champion for all religious people against all their great oppressors. 1751 Johnson Rambl. No. 144 ⁋8 No other qualification for a champion of controversy. 1806 Med. Jrnl. XV. 544 The great champion of vaccination. 1841–44 Emerson Ess. Heroism Wks. (Bohn) I. 110 Human virtue demands her champions and martyrs. 1851 Robertson Serm. Ser. ii. i. (1864) 10 He never was the champion of a class, because He was the champion of Humanity.

Hence a 'Champion for Social Justice', or any other cause substituted in the place of Social Justice. Champion to my mind has a particular connotation in that in nearly all historical senses it was a person who fought on behalf of others, and not for him or her self. Of course in sporting parlance 'Champion' is often now the title-winner, but it is interesting how it has not been used as a term describing military success in modern times, perhaps because it was considered too old fashioned and noble, and indicative of good sportsmanship...

  • Although “champion” is great (wish I’d thought of it!), I think putting it first, followed by “for social justice” is what really makes this word, construction, and resulting phrase the best answer so far. In fact, I think that, even with “warrior,” switching it to “Warrior for social justice” would somewhat mitigate the pejorative feeling associated with the “[something] warrior”/“social justice warrior” construction, but certainly not nearly as completely as does your great use of “champion” in this inverted fashion. +1 – Papa Poule Oct 17 '15 at 22:42
  • @PapaPoule Thank you, but noting that HighTechGeek mentioned Champion in the first instance in a comment to the original question. Kudos to him or her. – John Mack Oct 17 '15 at 22:47
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"Advocate", "champion" and "defender" previously mentionned convey the idea.

To be more literary, you may refer to a strong voice for social justice.

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Unfortunately the usual term is "holder of whatever political position I myself espouse", which often can be shortened to one word, but is unlikely to be generally agreed. (Do you think anybody believes they are not trying to achieve social justice?)

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Off the top of my head:

  • a good neighbor
  • good Samaritan
  • person with empathy
  • someone who cares about others
  • concern for the community
  • community leader, community worker, citizen
  • team player
  • helper
  • saint
  • teacher
  • giver
  • volunteer
  • fairness advocate
  • advocate
  • equality advocate
  • someone unselfish
  • someone willing to make sacrifices for others

Just think the opposite of self-centered, selfish, greedy, bully, etc.

  • ..... ur on crack – Mr Heelis Jan 17 at 10:38
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If only I deserved it, would proudly wear the badge of “social justice warrior” (just as “Social Darwinists,” I suppose, wear their badge proudly). However, as both terms are used pejoratively when hurled from one side of the spectrum towards the other, I do understand and appreciate your question.

I’ll leave it to the Social Darwinists to find a non- (read “less”) pejorative term for themselves, but for the side of the spectrum from which I try to see things, I’d borrow a description used by “People’s World” to describe Langston Hughes: A voice for equality, or “A voice for social justice.”

To the extent that “voice” doesn’t adequately capture the notion of “warrior,” it could be replaced, as in this profile of Nathan Servey from Northwestern Health Sciences University with “soldier”:

A [front line] soldier for equality and social justice” [fighting the good fight from the trenches for those who dug those trenches]. (bracketed language is mine)

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Entrepreneur of social change

From The New Yorker, October 19, 2015, p.53. The article is on Gloria Steinem, by Jane Kramer, and is titled (ironically for the OP) Road Warrior.

Kramer's sentence is: "She [Steinem] enjoyed the world where she plied her trade as an entrepreneur of social change and....had long since mastered the subterfuges of talking truth to power."

Kramer defines Steinem's contribution: "...[she] brought, as a writer, an organizer and an activist...the then radical conviction that gender, race, class, age and ethnicity were all targets of inequality, and belonged together in any over-arching struggle for human and civil rights."

To which I add, that Ms. Magazine was often -- and intentionally -- funny. The entrepreneur of social change has a sense of humor.

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"Equality advocate".

Replace advocate with proponent, activist, champion, whatever conveys the right degree of dedication for you.

protected by Community Oct 21 '15 at 8:19

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