From the Scientific American opinion section:
They’re meant to be heroes within the Star Wars universe, but the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work
By J. W. Hammond, Sara E. Brownell, Nita A. Kedharnath, Susan J. Cheng, W. Carson Byrd on September 23, 2021
The acronym “JEDI” has become a popular term for branding academic committees and labeling STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) initiatives focused on social justice issues. Used in this context, JEDI stands for “justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.” In recent years, this acronym has been employed by a growing number of prominent institutions and organizations, including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. At first glance, JEDI may simply appear to be an elegant way to explicitly build “justice” into the more common formula of “DEI” (an abbreviation for “diversity, equity and inclusion”), productively shifting our ethical focus in the process.
… Through its connections to Star Wars, the name JEDI can inadvertently associate our justice work with stories and stereotypes that are a galaxy far, far away from the values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. The question we must ask is whether the conversations started by these connections are the ones that we want to have.
When did “conversations” become such an obsession?
… The Jedi are inappropriate mascots for social justice. Although they’re ostensibly heroes within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work. They are a religious order of intergalactic police-monks, prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting by means of “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.). The Jedi are also an exclusionary cult, membership to which is partly predicated on the possession of heightened psychic and physical abilities (or “Force-sensitivity”). Strikingly, Force-wielding talents are narratively explained in Star Wars not merely in spiritual terms but also in ableist and eugenic ones: These supernatural powers are naturalized as biological, hereditary attributes. So it is that Force potential is framed as a dynastic property of noble bloodlines (for example, the Skywalker dynasty), and Force disparities are rendered innate physical properties, measurable via “midi-chlorian” counts (not unlike a “Force genetics” test) and augmentable via human(oid) engineering. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions. Sending the message that justice work is akin to cosplay is bad enough; dressing up our initiatives in the symbolic garb of the Jedi is worse.
… Star Wars has a problematic cultural legacy. The space opera franchise has been critiqued for trafficking in injustices such as sexism, racism and ableism. Think, for example, of the so-called “Slave Leia” costume, infamous for stripping down and chaining up the movie series’ first leading woman as part of an Orientalist subplot. Star Wars arguably conflates “alienness” with “nonwhiteness,” often seeming to rely on racist stereotypes when depicting nonhuman species. The series regularly defaults onto ableist tropes, memorably in its portrayal of Darth Vader, which links the villain’s physical disability with machinic inhumanity and moral deviance, presenting his technology-assisted breathing as a sinister auditory marker of danger and doom. What’s more, the bodies and voices centered in Star Wars have, with few exceptions, historically been those of white men. And while recent films have increased gender and racial diversity, important questions remain regarding how meaningfully such changes represent a departure from the series’ problematic past. Indeed, a notable segment of the Star Wars fandom has aggressively advocated the (re)centering of white men in the franchise, with some equating recent casting decisions with “white genocide.” Additionally, the franchise’s cultural footprint can be tracked in the saga of United States military-industrial investment and expansion, from debates around Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative to the planned Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (another “JEDI” program), sometimes winkingly framed with Star Wars allusions. Taken together, the controversies surrounding Star Wars make JEDI at best an inappropriate way to brand justice work—a kind of double-edged sword (or better yet, double-bladed “lightsaber”). At worst, this way of branding our initiatives is freighted with the very violence that our justice work seeks to counter.
It’s possible that this is a Titania McGrath-style parody put over on the editors of Scientific American, but it seems too verbose for that: this op-ed just goes on and on endlessly.
iSteve commenter Kyle observes:
We could tweak this to justice, diversity, inclusivity, & equity; or JUST DIE.