Brief Reviews

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun – Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul [Review]

Dorcas Cheng TozunThe Social Justice Table Has Room for Everyone

A Review of

Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Hardcover: Broadleaf Books, 2023
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Reviewed by Carolyn Miller Parr

First, a word about words. In her introduction Dorcas Cheng-Tozan tells us her book is for people who are highly sensitive, highly empathic, and quiet or introverted. They are easily triggered by stimuli (notice details, can read a room), deeply feel and absorb other people’s emotions, and need time alone to regain energy (5). Cheng-Tozun calls such folks “Sensitive Souls.”  They may care deeply about social justice but– like the author– can’t imagine themselves leading a march or giving a rousing speech to an audience. Yet they have other gifts to bring to a justice movement: creativity, perspective, thoughtful analysis. 

The author’s same gifts are at work in this book. She enlarges the scope of “doing social justice” to include necessary background tasks – tasks that are obvious when named but not usually noticed.  Tasks that can give added meaning to the lives of those who do them and those who receive the benefit.

All of this book is worthwhile, but Part III (Pathways and Possibilities) stands out significantly. The different paths to social justice were new to me, and each came with a true story. One featured art activist was Luis Valdez. Valdez started “El Teatro Campesino” (farmworkers’ theater) for Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers group, in order to broadcast their stories both to fellow members and to the wider public. Painters, novelists, and songwriters are also highlighted in their roles in bending public opinion toward justice.  

William Still, a record keeper for the Underground Railroad, kept track of runaway slaves so their families could find them later on. Today’s equivalents are archivists, librarians, historians who fight against weaponized ignorance—and the office assistants, survey takers, and computer experts who support them. This work is critical for racial justice:  supporting land claims of indigenous people, tracing the effects of redlining, and disrupting human trafficking, are just a few examples.

Technical skills have changed the world. In 1450 Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press allowed people to read the Bible and literacy rates exploded. The author reminds us, “A single invention like the printing press or the light bulb can bring massive improvements to the quality of life for many.” (159)

I loved learning more about the background story of Rosa Parks’s simple act of defiance in keeping her bus seat. She ignited the Civil Rights movement. She wasn’t just tired; she knew what she was doing. She was prepared by people whose names I’d never heard.

Teachers, writers, and researchers are all “equippers” for today’s activists. Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul will convince you that there is space for everyone at the social justice table. Even for an extrovert like this reviewer.

Carolyn Miller Parr

Carolyn Miller Parr is is an author, retired judge, ordained minister, and mediator. Her books are:  In the Secret Service: The True Story of the Man Who Saved President Reagan’s Life (2013) with Jerry Parr, and Love’s Way: Living Peacefully With Your Family as Your Parents Age (2019) with Sig Cohen.

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