Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze

Briefly, deficit ideology is a worldview that explains and justifies outcome inequalities- standardized test scores or levels of educational attainment, for example-by pointing to supposed deficiencies within disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Valencia, 1997a; Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005). Simultaneously, and of equal importance, deficit ideology discounts sociopolitical context, such as the systemic conditions (racism, economic injustice, and so on) that grant some people greater social, political, and economic access, such as that to high-quality schooling, than others (Brandon, 2003; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski, 2008a; Hamovitch, 1996). The function of deficit ideology, as I will describe in greater detail later, is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities so that efforts to redress inequalities focus on “fixing” disenfranchised people rather than the conditions which disenfranchise them (Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

At the core of deficit ideology is the belief that inequalities result, not from unjust social conditions such as systemic racism or economic injustice, but from intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies assumed to be inherent in disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Gorski, 2008a, 2008b; Valencia, 1997a; Yosso, 2005).

And this is the surest sign of deficit ideology: the suggestion that we fix inequalities by fixing disenfranchised communities rather than that which disenfranchises them. This, then, is the function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities, such as systemic racism or economic injustice, and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities (García & Guerra, 2004; Jennings, 2004). It deflects our scornful gaze from the mechanisms of injustice and the benefactors of these mechanisms, and trains it, instead, on those citizens with the least amount of power to popularize a counter-narrative, just as the dominant “achievement gap” discourse draws attention away from underlying systemic conditions, such as growing corporate control of public schools, and pushes it toward “at-risk” youth from “broken” homes whose “culture of poverty” impedes them from “making it.” Deficit ideology defines every social problem in relation to those toward the bottom of the power hierarchy, trains our gaze in that direction and, as a result, manipulates the popular discourse in ways that protect and reify existing sociopolitical conditions (Brandon, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

Source: Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze: Thoughts on Authenticating the Class Discourse in Education

I really like that definition of deficit ideology and its function.

This, then, is the function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities, such as systemic racism or economic injustice, and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities.

Use these definitions when evaluating mindset marketing. Where are you directing the scornful gaze? Are you directing it “on those citizens with the least amount of power to popularize a counter-narrative”. We are constantly spoken over in the neurodiversity and disability rights movement by narratives that direct the scornful gaze on us instead of on ableist systems. We spend so much time and energy doing counter-narrative that is out-amplified by orders of magnitude.

It becomes easier, then, to train the mass consciousness to pathologize disenfranchised communities—to, in effect, blame them for their own disenfranchisement. Once that scornful gaze down the power hierarchy is in place, so is established the justification for maintaining existing social, political, and economic conditions, such as gross inequities in access to healthcare or educational opportunity, or the waning of social programs and supports for disenfranchised communities.

I’m adding “scornful gaze” to my vocabulary. It and the “conquering gaze from nowhere” are useful for detecting when we’re using the framing of deficit ideology.

Check your gaze.

Previously,

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