Social justice, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can be defined as “justice in terms of distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” The term itself is specific to its core elements of wealth, opportunity, and privileges, but each aspect is wrapped in so much nuance that it makes it quite difficult to provide an actual working definition of what social justice is. The idea of social justice stems from the Catholic tradition, where it is described as society providing the conditions that allow individuals and associations to obtain their due according to their nature and vocation and is linked to the common good and exercise of authority. It holds to truth, the very same ideas that were professed in the United States Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Although these truths are held “self-evident,” the United States has had a rich history of social justice violations which have presented several challenges for the spearhead of the free world.
Because social justice is so vaguely defined, it serves as a blanket term which encompasses all issues related to aspects of inequality. From this, understanding disparities in health, wealth, education, and overall well-being all constitute as social justice issues. By that definition, the United States seems to be perpetually bound to the pursuit of social justice; for every mountain conquered there seems to be a million more to climb. When Thomas Jefferson professed that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” this didn’t include women, or African- Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, or immigrants. In fact, the "all men” being referred to takes either a subjective meaning or one that is entirely too specific. For a nation that was founded on liberal principles of equality, freedom, and democracy, social justice was not a factor in the equation. When the ink dried on the Declaration of Independence African- Americans were still in chains, Native-Americans were being eradicated, women were still second class, and non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants were subject to just about the same. In retrospect, the United States has come very far from its explicit racially ascriptive beginnings as it inches closer to achieving the bold claims made out by Jefferson on equality. In 2017 race is still at the center of the conversation, immigration is still a hot topic, and women’s hard fought and hard earned rights are under attack but, to be fair, the climate of these issues are better than they have been.
Added to the list of issues plaguing the American psyche is economic inequality. According to Joseph Reed Jr., “all politics in capitalist society is class, or at least a class-inflected, politics.” This notion contends that through the rise of neoliberalism, which places capitalism at the center of society, all disparities, even non-economic have classist implications. With that said, if issues of class course through our politics on a straight line, then issues in regards to race, sex, and gender will inevitably intersect as opposed to running parallel. The notion that all politics is classist or class-inflected is a good starting point in the discussion, but spending the rest of the discourse focusing mostly on class is to also miss points that cut deeper to the issues. The issues of race and class have been aged and fermented in the American political barrel but for some reason, U.S liberals and conservatives alike, choose to view each issue as individualized, separate and apart, without paying attention to the racial implications of class and the classist implications on race. It's easy to argue that one or the other is the root of the issue, but the ways in which race and class interact shouldn’t be overlooked.
Race-based sciences like eugenics were used in the early 20th century as a way of structuring a racially ascriptive hierarchy, giving scientific reasoning to the perceived inferiority of nonwhite races. The interesting and disappointing fact about eugenics is that this type of science doesn’t need factual reasoning or basis in any truth to be effective. All it does is take prejudices masked and paraded as science, to stereotype and oppress African Americans in particular. In regards to class, eugenics is simply and attempt to justify why Whites hold certain social and economic positions, and the majority of African Americans do not. When a science comes out that pins Blacks as caretakers and blacksmiths, overall hard labor as opposed to intellectual labor, the job market and the economy will morph itself to appropriate these beliefs.
Removing race from the social justice conversation, making it mostly a discussion on class is utopian at best. Focusing on issues of class cuts at the overarching issue, but ignoring the issues at the micro level subjects those on the opposite side of disparity to continued hardship regardless of socio-economic advances. Essentially those who have the power can control the rate of social and economic inclusion, and the rate at which that affects others. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voters Rights Act of 1965 allowed the United States to move closer to achieving their liberal, democratic, equalitarian beliefs; and the election of President Obama in 2008 created a sense of progress and change. A black man's ascension to the Oval Office was proof that America was now post-racial, despite his claims against it in The Audacity of Hope. African Americans have grown consistently wealthier and more educated throughout the years, narrowing the gap in both aspects between themselves and whites, however, despite these narrowing gaps, African-Americans, in general, are unable to catch up to the average earnings of white men regardless of how long they’ve stayed in school
Economic inequality in the United States does not exist in a vacuum and is a cumulative result of a “series of screens that filtered blacks into less favorable compartments” in regards to education, wealth, and homeownership. Blacks are poor about three times more often than whites; neither black men nor women finish college as much as whites, and a significantly larger fraction of whites own property than blacks. The nuances and implications of these elements that make up new inequality make it difficult to define in simple terms and easy for an “outsider” to miss according to The New African American Inequality (2005). To African Americans, these nuances are the most important part of the picture because they give light to the real social justice issue faced every day. According to the study “On Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart” conducted by the Pew Research Center, “blacks far more than whites, believe that black people are treated unfairly across different realms of life, from dealing with the police to applying for a loan or mortgage. And for many blacks, racial equality remains an elusive goal”. This highlights overwhelming truth held in the African-American community that no matter how far they’ve come there is still a long way to go to. Individual racism supersedes that of institutionally designed class disparities because the rhetoric, beliefs, and dispositions are at the very foundation of institutional racism. In truth, it is difficult to plot the best course of action in achieving true social justice. However, the argument that the issues are class as opposed to race doesn’t hold up. That is not to dismiss class as a factor, but instead to suggest an approach that zeroes in on the point in which race and class intersect to form an understanding of the way they coincide and create these experiences.
Dwayne Wolfe. Just another 20 something from the five boroughs in constant search for creative venues.