It feels particularly silly to write 500 words about a topic as serious as this. And about a topic that I try to make so central to my life. Perhaps when you are so close to it you have endless things to say about it. Or perhaps you have very little to say about it because you are living it each and every day. Social justice should be in the very air that we breathe. But sadly it is not. In fact, we breathe in the foul-smelling smog of inequality, hate and greed all day long.
Let’s start with what social justice is not. It is not hatred, bigotry or prejudice. It is not oppression. It is not ignorance. It is not living thoughtlessly and carelessly. It is not living an unexamined life. It is not giving in to the status quo. It is not living in a state of social unconscious. It is not being unkind or being cruel. It is not hoarding everything to yourself. It is not being greedy. It is not being selfish. It is not living only for yourself. It is not cowering in fear or being eternally afraid to stick your neck out. It is not letting things go or refusing to act in instances of injustice.
Now let’s talk about what social justice is. It is, first and foremost, love, sensitivity, kindness and gentleness. It is a radical redistribution of money, resources and opportunities. It is equity, fairness and egalitarianism. It is caring, giving and sharing. It is living a meaningful life in which you examine and explore your actions and beliefs. It is integrity, honesty and a passion for truthfulness. It is living in a community, living for both yourself and for others. It is about collectivity and living in a world where every person is cherished, valued and celebrated. It is about engendering a society where dignity and respect are the norm. It is about being bold, about speaking out against injustice and about taking actions even when you are very afraid.
I learned to yearn for social justice on the playground. I was bullied and terrorized for being different. I learned to yearn for social justice when I attended an elite private school as a working-class student. I learned to yearn for social justice as a first-generation college student. I learned to yearn for social justice when I came out as queer and transgender. I learned to yearn for social justice when I began to walk through the world as a person of size. I learned to yearn for social justice when I became disabled and fought mightily against mental illness.
These experiences have shaped who I am. They have made me a feminist, an anti-racist and economic justice advocate, a size acceptance organizer, an LGBTQ+ liberationist and a disability justice activist. All of these together fall under the banner of social justice. I am a social justice practitioner. As time goes by, it becomes a bigger and bigger part of who I am. I can’t not be a social justice person. I can’t see the injustices all around us and not be outraged by them. A reader might think this is a burden. It is a responsibility to be sure, but it is not something I would ever change. There is a truism that I often say in my classes: Social justice is painful and joyful. But the work is worth the pain because you know you are fighting for what’s right. Struggling for social justice creates its own special and irreplaceable reward.