What is Social Justice?

With our country ever more diverse, the United States is torn with issues surrounding social justice. In some cases, the arrest or shooting of a person of color by a white policeman has resulted in rioting and in widespread demonstrations. That is a result of perceived racial injustice. People who are under-insured and can't afford healthcare are sometimes denied access to medications or procedure they need. That is injustice in healthcare. Women are sometimes not given the same business opportunities or paid the same wages as men in the same positions, and that is gender injustice. It is difficult to arrive at an all-inclusive definition of social justice, and examples like these may come close to pinpointing the term.

Defining the Term

The Miriam Webster definition is egalitarianism. That means everything equal, and that is a difficult state at which to arrive. Additionally, there is a difference between justice and social justice. The term justice means that people are treated in accordance with their deserts. Puritanism, for instance, held that people who were poor were merely slackers, and they did not deserve help. Nativism has rationalized the subjugation of American Indians and black people for the same reasons.

Justice involves concepts of right and wrong and people receive positive or negative sanctions based on their past performance. Social justice, however, maintains that all people deserve and should have access to the same rights and resources. Most people accept that premise, but differ in how to achieve that equality. Social justice looks for equality in and out of the court system.

Achieving Social Equity

There are two main views in the US of how to achieve social equity. The leftist view prescribes legislated programs to even the playing field. These programs result in policies like the college quota system that mandates schools to admit a certain number of people of diverse races, genders and those with mental of physical challenges. The objection to this type of program is that is creates another inequity. Students without the challenges are penalized by having less access to schools that are filling their quotas to qualify for federal funding. The leftist view also advocates levying more taxes on the wealthy to pay for programs for the poor. Taken to the extreme, that view becomes socialism.

Right-wing philosophies try to solve the problem in another way. They say the wealthy should not be penalized, but encouraged to be philanthropic. Suppose, asks the right wing, that the wealthy pay 35 percent taxes while the middle class pays 25 percent. Then, if there is a general refund, should everyone receive the same rebate, or should the most go to those who have paid the highest taxes? Plus, do the poor, who have paid nothing in taxes, receive an equal share of the refund? The right-wing philosophy also quotes studies supporting the theory that things like college quotas only do more harm and promote racial unrest.

Of course there are other types of inequalities in our society. Besides economic and racial inequality there are gender and healthcare issues. At its foundation, the concept of social justice involves making everything equal and leveling the playing field for everyone. Social workers deal with the problem of deprivation every day. In addition to how social justice is seen, and to what remedies are recommended by different parties, one injustice often leads to another. Poverty leads to inadequate healthcare which creates a greater burden of securing funds to pay for medical treatments for the poor. College quotas may lead to under-prepared students entering programs and failing out. Like a line of falling dominoes, one problem often causes another to emerge.

Even so, legislators and social work professionals encourage society to keep working on the problems. Social justice may be a difficult state to achieve, maybe even an impossible one, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to give everyone opportunity and respect.

See also: Top 25 Most Affordable Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs