Social justice is:
“The objective of creating a fair and equal society in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected, and decisions are made in ways that are fair and honest.”Oxford Reference
Social justice addresses the intersectionality of factors that cause some segments of society to be disadvantaged in terms of access, equity, rights, and participation. These factors can include disability, gender, race, sexuality, and the effects of colonialization and other forms of oppression. Because of the multiplicity of factors that can contribute to and interact with mental illness, many have argued that it’s a social justice issue.
Within the mental illness community, we often face stigma because of our illnesses, but many of us are disadvantaged because of other factors as well. It’s important that we speak up not just about discrimination related to mental health, but also about the other social injustices that we experience and bear witness to.
The United Nations observes World Social Justice Day annually on February 20.
MH@H Stance on Social Justice
We all have elements of our identity that provide us with advantages and also with disadvantages, and appreciating those in ourselves helps us to relate to others. I recognize that as a white person, I have tremendous social privilege. Being cis-gendered, heterosexual, and well-educated also confers privilege. At the same time, I’m at a disadvantage by being female in a society still dominated by patriarchy, having a mental illness, and experiencing disability because of that illness.
The concept of social privilege is often misunderstood, and this is addressed in more depth in the post Social privilege and the underprivileged. Someone can have privilege because of one characteristic but be tremendously disadvantaged because of another. Social privilege does not mean you automatically have it easy, or that you have a good life. Often social privilege can be recognized more in the sense of problems you aren’t exposed to rather in any sort of tangible benefits.
While I may be disadvantaged because I have a disability, I am confident that if I am pulled over by police for a traffic stop, for example, the police officer will not shoot me. That doesn’t feel like privilege unless I think about what might have happened in that same situation if I were a Black man.
I believe we should be celebrating the diversity among us, and embrace the whole range of human identities and experiences. Love unites us and makes us stronger, and hate only divides and weakens us.
That’s why this blog is a discrimination-free zone. To maintain a safe space for all, discriminatory comments will not be tolerated.
Social privileges vs. burdens
Another Way of Looking at Social Privilege describes social privilege as something that exists as a counterpoint to associated social burdens. There can be considerable pushback by some against the notion of social privilege. With regards to systemic racism, this is sometimes framed as white fragility (based on the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo).
If the goal is social change, perhaps we need to look at ways to reframe the issue (without detracting from it) so that psychological resistance doesn’t get in the way of change.
Posts Related to Social Justice on MH@H
These are some posts on MH@H related to social justice issues and intersectionality with mental health:
- Ableism: The Assumptions People Make About Ability (and Disability): Ableism is a the devaluing of or discrimination against people with disabilities. It’s often based on the notion that people with disabilities need to be “fixed.”
- Earth Day and Social Justice: You might be surprised by the effects social privilege and inequality have on access to clean air and water.
- Halloween, Blackface, and Cultural Appropriation: After an old photo surfaced of the Canadian prime minister wearing brownface, how should we judge socially inappropriate behaviour from years ago?
- Happy Fourth of July: As asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border are kept in cages and separated from their children, there is no freedom without freedom for all
- Homelessness and mental illness: people with mental illness are over-represented in the homeless population
- I Am Not Free to…: While people are protesting the pandemic lockdowns, here are a few ways in which I’m not entitled to infringe on the rights and freedoms of others
- Nevertheless, she persisted: breaking silence and challenging inequality is uncomfortable, but our voices need to be heard
- The Failure of the War on Drugs means that disproportionate numbers of poor people and people from racialized communities are being incarcerated en masse
Defund the police
I support #DefundthePolice, not only because Black lives matter and Indigenous lives matter, but also because mental illness should not be a police matter.
Defunding the Police: What It Could Mean for Mental Illness looks at the current system of police as the de facto emergency mental health service. I believe that society would be better served by shifting those tasks to mental health services as part of a broader defund the police approach.
A Police “Wellness Check”/”Arrest” Gone Wrong looks at how a police “wellness check” on nursing student Mona Wang turned into a police officer dragging her along the floor while semi-conscious and in handcuffs, and stepping on her head.
Voting matters. It’s your chance to have your say. Yes, there’s money and power involved and you may not like everything any candidate has to see. But an election is where you as a voter have your power.
Voter ID laws are a form of voter suppression. They may seem like a good idea on the face of it, but they end up disenfranchising marginalized groups, including people who:
- Racial minorities
People may not know if they haven’t had to deal with it, but obtaining or replacing ID can pose significant challenges. When you don’t have any ID, getting ID is very hard if you don’t known certain specific pieces of information.
Human rights and mental illness gives an overview of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how it relates to people with mental illness.
The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that disproportionately affects those of lower socioeconomic status. Working at an inner-city mental health team gave me an up close and personal look at people’s trauma-ravaged lives and the addictions that resulted. In 2015, I lost the love of my life to a fentanyl overdose.
What Is… Intergenerational Trauma looks at how the effects of historic oppression and collective trauma can continue to impact descendants of survivors.
Systemic inequities can have a major impact on our health, which is why the social determinants of health matter.
Intersectionality & mental health talks about the factors that can contribute to the inequality experienced by individuals with mental illness.
Where race and mental health collide focuses on the huge impact race can have on stigma and access to care. I’ve also reviewed Rheeda Walker’s book The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health; it’s written by a Black woman specifically for Black people.
Health care system
Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Furthermore, is it people speaking from positions of privilege who insist it’s not a right? Accessing healthcare is particularly hard for people in the United States who have a pre-existing condition like chronic mental illness.
Adequately funding community mental health care means better service levels with reduced spending on high-cost acute care over the longe term. On top of that, community-based care can provide greater autonomy and promote recovery.
Feminism and Gender Inequality
- “Female circumcision” just doesn’t do justice to the horrific Tragedy of Female Genital Mutilation.
- My body is my own questions why governments should get to decide what happens to my body, and in particular my reproductive system.
- The Cost of Being a Woman looks at the taxation of menstrual products and the price gap in personal care products marketed to women and men (the pink tax)
- Why feminism helps all of us looks at how patriarchal power structures and gender expectations are harmful to both men and women. By challenging those, feminism can benefit both males and females.
- World Toilet Day (and yes, that’s a thing): Proper sanitation isn’t just important for health; it also has a major impact on the ability of women to work and girls to go to school.
A quick note on terminology: On MH@H, LGBTQ+ is used as a broad umbrella term, recognizing that there’s a whole array of beautiful identities and orientations that are encompassed within umbrella.
- Who gets to decide others’ identities? challenges why the Vatican thinks it can dictate what gender identities are valid in its education policy for Catholic schools.
- What is… sex vs. gender? clarifies some terminology that relates to gender identity, including biological sex, intersex, gender expression, and sexual orientation
- What is… Conversion “Therapy” gives an overview of this disgusting approach that attempts to change people’s sexuality.
Sexual Assault & Exploitation
Dr. Jessica Taylor’s Victim Focus site offers a free e-course on caring for yourself after sexual violence.
- Rape culture kills: the deaths by suicide of both victims featured in the documentary Audrie and Daisy are a start reminder of the damage that rape culture cna do
- Slavery Isn’t Over – The Horror of Human Trafficking: human trafficking for forced labour, forced prostitution, and other forms of exploitation happen far more often than you likely realize
- The Survival Sex Trade is a stark example of the power of addiction, which can drag vulnerable people into the high-risk survival sex trade
- Why don’t more people understand consent?: What’s so hard to understand about only yes means yes? And why does society continue to blame victims rather than perpetrators?
The Time for Justice Is Now
This section is devoted to some of the social issues that matter right now.
Change can happen when people exercise their democratic rights.
Black Lives Matter
Again and again and again, Black people, and particularly Black men, are losing their lives for no other reason than the colour of their skin. How many times does this have to happen before systemic racism is addressed?
The time is now. It should have been many years ago, but now is the best we can do.
You can read here Why I Use My Voice to Say Black Lives Matter.
Recognizing the Damage of Colonialization & Oppression
History doesn’t remain in the past; it continues to shape our present and our future. The effects of colonialization weren’t only felt when lands were first conquered. Oppression becomes part of the social fabric until we dismantle and rebuild the social systems that serve to perpetuate oppression.
In Canada, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, while far from perfect, drew a powerful conclusion:
Colonial violence, as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, has become embedded in everyday life – whether this is through interpersonal forms of violence, through institutions like the health care system and the justice system, or in the laws, policies and structures of Canadian society. The result has been that many Indigenous people have grown up normalized to violence, while Canadian society shows an appalling apathy to addressing the issue. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls finds that this amounts to genocide.MMIWG Reclaiming Power and Place executive summary
I blog from my home, which sits on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nation. Some of their history is shared on the Musqueam Indian Band site.