JEDI has become a popular acronym for academic committees and STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) initiatives that address social justice issues.
JEDI stands for “justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion” in this context.
A growing number of prominent institutions and organizations, including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, have adopted this acronym in recent years.
At first glance, JEDI may appear to be nothing more than an elegant way to explicitly incorporate “justice” into the more common formula of “DEI” (an abbreviation for “diversity, equity, and inclusion”), thereby productively shifting our ethical focus.
JEDI has these important features, but it also has a unique set of meanings: It has the same name as the “Jedi,” the superheroic protagonists of the science fiction Star Wars franchise.
Being a member of the Jedi appears to be a paragon of goodness, a principled guardian of order, and a protector of the innocent within the Star Wars narrative universe.
Some JEDI initiatives and advocates explicitly allude to this set of pop-cultural associations.
Whether we intend it or not, the labels we choose for our social-justice initiatives expose them to a wider range of associations.
In the case of JEDI, this meant giving them meaning and tying them to consumer brands.
The name JEDI may 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 due to its Star Wars connections.
The question is whether the conversations that these connections initiate are the ones we want to have.
As we’ll argue, our justice-related projects should tread carefully when it comes to references to the Jedi and Star Wars, and perhaps even avoid using the acronym JEDI entirely. We’ve listed five reasons why.
FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE, THE JEDI ARE INAPPROPRIATE MASCOTS.
The Jedi, despite being nominally heroes in the Star Wars universe, are unsuitable icons for justice work.
They are an intergalactic police-monk religious organization prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine tactics to dispute resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting using “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.).
The Jedi are likewise an exclusive sect, with membership contingent on the development of enhanced psychic and physical powers (or “Force-sensitivity”).
Surprisingly, in Star Wars, Force-wielding abilities are explained not just in spiritual terms, but also in ableist and eugenic terms: these otherworldly abilities are naturalized as biological, hereditary traits.
As a result, Force potential is portrayed as a noble bloodline dynastic attribute (for example, the Skywalker dynasty),
and Force inequalities are turned into innate physical properties that may be measured with “midi-chlorian” counts (similar to a “Force genetics” test) and enhanced with human(oid) engineering.
As a result, the heroic Jedi serve as symbols for a wide range of dangerously reactionary attitudes and preconceptions.
Dressing up our endeavors in the metaphorical clothing of the Jedi is even worse than sending the idea that justice work is similar to cosplay.
This warning concerning JEDI may be applied to any project: we must be deliberate in naming our work and cognizant of the implications that any name may elicit—perhaps especially when such names double as existing words with complicated histories.
THE CULTURAL LEGACY OF STAR WARS IS PROBLEMATIC.
The space opera series has been chastised for exploiting social inequalities including misogyny, racism, and ableism.
Consider the iconic “Slave Leia” outfit, which was notable for stripping and chaining the film series’ first leading lady as part of an Orientalist plotline.
When depicting extraterrestrial animals, Star Wars allegedly conflates “alienness” with “nonwhiteness,” often seeming to rely on racial preconceptions.
The series frequently falls back on ableist clichés, most notably in its depiction of Darth Vader.
which connects the villain’s physical handicap to machinic inhumanity and moral deviance
His technology-assisted respiration is presented as a terrifying audio sign of doom and peril.
Furthermore, with few exceptions, the bodies and voices highlighted in Star Wars have typically been those of white men.
While recent films have enhanced female and ethnic diversity, critical issues remain about how significant these advances are in light of the series’ troubled past.
Indeed, a sizable portion of the Star Wars fandom has been vocal in its support for the (re)centering of white men in the franchise, with some even comparing recent casting decisions to “white genocide.”
In addition, the franchise’s cultural impact may be traced through the history of military-industrial investment and expansion in the United States.
From arguments over Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative through the upcoming Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (another “JEDI”) initiative, Star Wars analogies were frequently used.
When taken together, the Star Wars controversies render JEDI an improper way to brand justice work—a kind of double-edged sword (or, better still, a double-bladed “lightsaber”).
In the worst-case scenario, this method of branding our programs is associated with the very violence that our justice work attempts to address.
When we contemplate JEDI’s connection to Star Wars and its tumultuous cultural history,
A broader caution emerges: while labeling our endeavors, we must be mindful of the universe of narratives and symbols in which we place our work.
as well as the cultural connotations and implications that our work may acquire as a result.
JEDI LINKS JUSTICE PROJECTS WITH CORPORATE CAPITAL.
JEDI/Jedi isn’t simply a moniker; it’s also a product.
Even if we don’t intend to, spreading the name of that product can help promote and benefit the company that owns it.
We’re giving that corporation—Disney—free promotion, commoditizing, and cheapening our justice work in the process.
Our activities become entangled in Disney’s morally tangled past and present as a result of such informal co-branding.
By tying one of Disney’s core product lines to social justice, it may also serve to rebrand and whitewash the company.
After all, Disney has a long and shady history of disseminating racist, sexist, heterosexist, and Orientalist stories and iconography.
which the company and its subsidiaries (such as Pixar) are publicly accountable for.
Furthermore, Disney is a blatantly political company that has been chastised for its political donations and lobbying as well as its labor policies.
For justice advocates and activists, collaborating with Disney’s multimedia behemoth is thus a risky co-branding strategy.
Inadvertent woke-washing removes ethical currency from so-called “JEDI” employment, depleting moral reserves to increase corporate wealth.
A larger lesson here is that when we brand our projects, it’s important to consider whether the names we support may also be sold as products in the culture industry.
We must be cautious about the company we keep, as well as the businesses that our endeavors support to keep afloat.
JUSTICE ALIGNMENT WORKING WITH STAR WARS RAISES THE RISK OF INCLUSION AND BELONGING.
While one of the main goals of JEDI efforts is to encourage inclusion, the name itself may cause some to feel excluded.
Star Wars is a popular franchise, but it is also polarising. By associating our activities with it, we may be able to push them closer to the world of fandom, where in-groups and out-groups are formed.
Those who are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with Star Wars, as well as those who have been damaged by the messages it sends,
maybe turned off by the slew of jokes, puns, and references that surround the phrase JEDI.
Take, for example, its potential for gender exclusion. According to studies, having Star Wars and Star Trek artifacts (such as posters) in computer science classrooms can promote masculinist perceptions about the area, adding to women’s feelings that they don’t belong there.
In a related study, it was discovered that even among self-identified female Star Wars enthusiasts,
Within that fanbase, a sense of belonging can be exceedingly conditional.
conditional on performances “showing” their gendered conformance to dominant fan culture’s underlying gendered standards
At a time when many professional sectors, including higher education, are working to remove barriers to inclusion, this is timely.
Adopting the word JEDI appears to be an ironic step backward in changing the narrative about who counts as a scientist, political scientist, STEMM professional, or historian.
Regardless of how we feel about JEDI, a more general understanding to apply to our work is that how we brand an endeavor may impact views and attitudes about it—and who belongs in it.
JEDI CAN OBSTRUCT JUSTICE, EQUITY, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase JEDI? Chances are that the concept of “justice” (or its comrades “equity,” “diversity,” and “inclusion”) isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for many people.
Instead, this abbreviation brings up images of spaceships, lightsabers, and stormtroopers holding blasters.
Even if we ignore the four warnings above, the abbreviation JEDI conjures up images that distract from the meanings of justice, fairness, diversity, and inclusion.
A distraction like this exacerbates the problems and challenges that come with working in the criminal justice system.
For example, concepts like “justice,” “equity,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” are commonly underdefined or muddled in institutional contexts, robbing them of their specificities and variances.
As a result, these terminologies, as well as related abbreviations like DEI, have become institutional buzzwords that are more slogan than substance, expressing commitments that institutions do not truly honor.
Not less, but more attention to the meanings and specificities of our words is required. This is something that JEDI does not assist us with.
This isn’t the time to mix social justice and science fiction.
Importantly, the acronym JEDI shows an extreme example of a more general problem with abbreviations: Acronyms are useful for swiftly and succinctly expressing complex ideas.
However, there is a fine line to be drawn between categorizing ideas and making them invisible.
We must also be careful not to lose sight of the meanings of our acronyms.
Simply put, the baggage of the Jedi and Star Wars is too hefty to carry with our justice-oriented projects, and it may potentially sabotage them.
If we feel the need for an abbreviation to express our dedication to diversity (D), equality (E), inclusion (I), and justice (J), we have various options, including the acronym “DEIJ” and “dije.”
The extra dangers and distractions imposed by the JEDI branding are an unneeded burden that can strain and tarnish even the best-intentioned endeavors.
While we’ve concentrated our critical attention on the word JEDI, the concerns listed above present us with a list of considerations to consider when labeling or branding our justice-oriented initiatives:
- Names: Do other organizations use the same names for our initiatives? If that’s the case, what messages are these connections sending?
- Stories: What bigger cultural narratives, storylines, and histories are we tapping into by naming our efforts the way we do? Are they the types of stories we want to be linked with our company?
- Capital: Do the labels we use for our justice efforts have anything to do with corporate branding and products? If so, do such investments in the culture industry come at the expense of the ethical principles and moral significance of our initiatives?
- Belonging: What personal thoughts and experiences are evoked or evoked by the names of our initiatives? What signals are we sending about who belongs in that work—or who is the center of it?
- Abbreviations: Do abbreviations detract from the concepts they reference by conjuring up irrelevant pictures and thoughts when we use them to brand our work? How can we make sure we don’t forget what our abbreviations mean?
Take a minute to contemplate if you, like several of the authors of this post, have been a longtime fan of Star Wars (or Disney) and have found yourself defensively bristling while reading the paragraphs above.
Such a reaction, we believe, demonstrates how easily Star Wars and JEDI may cause distractions and muddle discourse.
How willing are we to put the Jedi’s cultural dreamscape ahead of the real-world quest of social justice?
Investing in the word JEDI allows us to explain or apologize for the prejudices and politics associated with Star Wars and Disney.
How eager are we to fight Star Wars wars when we could be fighting for social justice with that time and energy?
It’s worth recalling and thinking about the fact that the first Star Wars picture begins by assuring audiences that the sci-fi plotlines take place “a long time ago…” rather than in an alternate present or potential future.
It should give us pause if we’re pinning our hopes for a more socially just future on dreams that are so out of date that they were already a thing of the past when they were created.