Why Social Justice Matters

We are living in a contentious time in our nation’s history. Our country seems more divided than ever. In fact, one recent poll revealed that 70 percent of respondents believed that America today is as divided as it was during the Vietnam War era.

Clearly, there is a wide range of issues that are dividing the country, from immigration policy to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. That said, I believe that one large concept that can heal America is encompassed in the following term:

Social justice.

Social justice can encompass many issues, but ultimately, it is a crucial component of healing many of the deep divisions that America is experiencing. While some Americans may criticize the idea of social justice or the need for swift action to solve some of America’s deep economic and racial issues, a proactive approach on social justice will lead to a better, brighter country.

Social Justice: The Basics

A discussion of social justice must start with a definition of the term. Having said that, this task can be difficult. If you complete a simple Google search, the first result offers a definition of social justice as “the fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice. Wikipedia defines social justice as “a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges.”

While it may be difficult to pin down an exact definition of the concept, social justice is a hypothesis of nondiscriminatory and unbiased relations between an individual and society. It is determined by observable but unspoken terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges.

As just one basic example, income inequality is one significant issue that is encompassed within the umbrella of social justice. The data shows that income inequality (i.e., the gap between the rich and everyone else) has been increasing for the past thirty years. Americans in the top ten percent of income average nine times as much income as the bottom ninety percent. The top one percent average forty times more income than the bottom ninety percent. The situation is most surprising when comparing the top 0.1 percent to the bottom ninety percent: there, the top 0.1 percent average 198 times the income of the bottom ninety percent.

There is a strong argument that skyrocketing levels of income inequality have a strong correlation with social ills like rates of imprisonment, obesity, life expectancy and mental health. Those at the bottom of the wealth gap have to navigate these challenges and work with fewer economic resources, which leads to fewer opportunities and a lesser chance of breaking out of their economic reality.

This is just one issue out of many that encompasses social justice. The bottom line, however, is that social justice seeks equality, disfavor discrimination, and prioritizes fairness in our day-to-day lives.

The Importance of Social Justice

So why is social justice important in our society? In other words, why does it matter so much?

You may hear from a certain subset of people that so-called “social justice warriors” are exacerbating the divide in our country. They may argue that they are improperly leveraging identity politics and are acting “for personal validation rather than out of any deep-seated conviction.”

While that is one argument, I disagree with that notion of social justice being a cynical or disingenuous force rather than a positive force. I believe that social justice is necessary to heal the divides that plague our nation.

Social justice assigns the rights and duties in the institutions of our society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. Social justice helps us work toward celebrating diversity in our communities and country. A society that does not celebrate and acknowledge the differences that we are born with can naturally lead to resentment, hostility or even worse. While it is one thing to acknowledge that we are Americans, it is another thing to acknowledge that each of us has a unique background and story. Those stories must be respected by our communities, and by doing so, we create more cohesive, tight societies.

But as for the specifics, how can social justice implement change in our local communities and in our country? Things like taxation, social insurance, public health, public schools, labor law, and regulation of markets can be used to ensure more equality in our increasingly unequal country. For instance, major reforms to our country’s health care system—including true universal coverage—is one large step toward ensuring greater equality, regardless of a person’s background or financial situation. This is because health care is one of the largest expenditures that an individual must make—particularly for those in the middle and lower classes.

Health care is just one example of the need to pursue social justice in our society. Deciding to simply ignore these issues and maintain the status quo will only lead to more division, frustration, and anger among those who feel like the odds are stacked against them.

What You Can Do

Considering the importance of social justice in healing some of our current divides, you may be wondering what you can do to increase the speed of change in our society.

Luckily, you have more power than you think.

One of the most effective things that you can do is vote. Voting for candidates that are committed to pursuing social justice in our world will go a long way in actually seeing that change happen. While it is easy to devote your attention to representatives and senators that are seeking elected office—both at the state and federal level—those pursuing office at the local level are just as important. Whether you are voting for mayor, alderman, or village trustee, your local elected officials have significant power to pursue social justice in your community.

Besides voting, one of the best ways to act is to volunteer with a group or organization dedicated to social justice. There are countless social justice organizations that make a real impact in our world. Some of those organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, United We Dream, and Big Brother Big Sister. Working with these organizations—even if it is just a few hours per month—can make a big difference in the quest for social justice. If you do not have time to volunteer, a simple donation can also be extremely effective.

Finally, being aware of social justice is helpful in and of itself. Understanding the issues and articulating those issues to close family and friends makes a huge difference. These one-on-one conversations go a long way in winning hearts and minds and convincing others that social justice is a big deal. While you may not see real change right away, rest assured that your efforts are extremely important.

Let’s Heal Our Divisions

Social justice is a topic that some people may find uncomfortable. By touching on issues like race, gender, and income, it is easy for people to become defensive and resistant to change.

That said, social justice has become increasingly important in our world. Diversity and equality are ideas that simply cannot be ignored. But by pursuing social justice and working to make these ideas more prominent in our society, we can heal many of the divisions that are plaguing our country.