A reader dislikes how some individuals and groups use the term “social justice” to point out alleged moral failings in white, male, Christian, traditional Americans. He believes this implies that people like me (and him) were born bad. What does social justice mean to me?
SEE ALL PRIOR PARTS IN THIS SERIES BELOW ⤵︎
Social means it’s throughout our society. We are all involved.
Justice means fair and equitable treatment. Justice can be legally mandated and protected. Justice can also be expressed in language and behavior based on mores, customs, and values. That language and behavior, while not necessarily legal or illegal in and of itself, may not support legal mandates. Voting is an example. The right to vote is established and protected by law, but language and behavior, not technically illegal, can intimidate and suppress some people’s ability to exercise that right. That is unjust. Such language and behavior are often directed at people of color. They can also be directed based on party affiliation. I have never felt intimidated or that my right to vote has been suppressed. However, we are all involved in recognizing such language and behavior in our society and accountable for its use.
In our society, Black people experience everyday and systemic discrimination, persecution, and even denial of their humanity based on their race—indicated by the color of their skin.
They worry when they get up in the morning that what they decide to wear may put them at risk. I don’t. They worry when their adult children go out at night whether they will come home battered or at all. I don’t. They must tell their kids that to compete they need to be twice as good in school, athletics, or on the job. I didn’t have to tell that to mine. Parts of my city that are dangerous for me to visit. But when I leave those places, I can leave the feeling of danger behind. Black people may not be able to leave their feelings of risk behind wherever they go. All this is inequitable.
Broader social inequities exist in our society. To paraphrase former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, why do we struggle to see the value of everyone contributing to economic growth? Why do we think it’s healthy to have unequal access to housing, education, health care, capital? So many of these questions disadvantage people of color.
However, as a white person, I don’t feel ashamed or guilty about this. I recognize that I have been privileged in that I have been permitted to assume that I would go to college, get a good job, be safe and secure. I learned that not everyone is permitted to assume those things. That is unfair and unjust. However, I don’t believe that social justice is a zero-sum game. When someone else gets something, I don’t have to lose it. It is additive. We all benefit when everyone prospers.
How do I keep from feeling guilty and ashamed? Julianna Bradley, consultant, facilitator, and educator, offers an easily remembered framework for whites. It consists of four “A” words. I have been becoming Aware by reading, viewing, listening, and discussing. I have been Analyzing to see where I am biased, angry, and indifferent by reflecting on my experiences, feelings, knowledge, and faith. For now, I am taking Action within my sphere of influence by writing and sharing my reflections and resources. My readers, like the one in the first paragraph, affirm, question, disagree, suggest additional resources, and make me think. Thus, you participate in my Accountability.