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.
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.
Social Justice Page Overview
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.
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 social 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, experiences, faiths, beliefs, and worldviews. 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
A common automatic reaction to the notion of white privilege is for people to argue that they’re not privileged at all. With regards to systemic racism, this is sometimes framed as white fragility (based on the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo).
My concern with the term white fragility is that it may create more resistance. If the goal is social change, perhaps we need to look at ways to reframe the issue so that psychological resistance doesn’t get in the way of understanding and constructive social change.
I would argue that social privilege only exists as a counterpoint to social burdens. Rather than privilege giving a tangible benefit or necessarily making things easy, it acts as a free pass to avoid having to bear the corresponding social burden. The privileges can only be recognized when one is aware of the corresponding social burdens; if I am not aware that a particular burden exists, I have no way of knowing that I have a corresponding privilege. The only way I can understand that social burden is to hear the voices of the people who experience it.
Addressing social privilege isn’t about changing the experiences of the privileged; it’s about removing the social burden so that both burden and privilege cease to exist.
In keeping with the concept of intersectionality, there are many social characteristics which may be associated with social burdens and privileges, and a given individual will likely have a combination of both. I can have white privilege while still having considerable social burdens in other areas. It shouldn’t be a competition over who has the most or least privilege; we should be listening to and respecting others and their experiences.
Democracy & Freedom
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.
In the time of Corona, there have been many, especially in the US, who have argued, sometimes with guns raised, that wearing masks infringes on their freedom. Except in any society, there are limitations on individual freedoms to protect the rights of others. We can’t be in a car without seatbelts, we can’t drive drunk, etc., etc. The post I Am Not Free to… looks at this further.
Health & Social Justice
Universal basic income could help to alleviate poverty, and it could have a positive impact on people living with chronic illnesses and other forms of disabilities. Read more about the potential benefits of UBI here.
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.
The social determinants of health are a set of psychosocial and socioeconomic factors that influence health outcomes. Systemic inequities can have a huge impact on the health of disadvantaged populations.
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. The post How Does Your Local Health Care System Work? takes a look at some of the differences in the health care systems in the US, the UK, and Canada.
Where race and mental health collide focuses on the challenges that race, racism, and cultural stigma can have on access to care. An interesting perspective on this issue is Rheeda Walker’s book The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, which I’ve reviewed; it’s written by a Black woman specifically for Black people.
Adequately funding community mental health care means better service levels with reduced spending on high-cost acute care over the longer term. By addressing this social disparity, people with mental illness can gain greater autonomy and improved prospects for recovery.
Police and the Legal System
I support #DefundthePolice, not only because Black lives 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. Police are not trained to be mental health clinicians, nor are they trained to be so social workers; as a society, we shouldn’t be expecting them to fulfill those roles anyway.
The Failure of the War on Drugs means that disproportionate numbers of poor people and people from racialized communities are being incarcerated en masse. Treating addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue promotes better individual and community outcomes.
Feminism & Gender Inequality
As a feminist, I believe that patriarchal power structures and societal expectations to conform to rigid gender roles are harmful for all of us. For example, men who are told to “man up” are deterred from seeking mental health care, which can have dire consequences. To make changes to these traditional notions that hold back all genders requires the concerted effort of all of us for our mutual benefit. You can read more on this in Why feminism helps all of us.
- The Tragedy of Female Genital Mutilation: This horrific practice, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “female circumcision” has devastating health consequences for women.
- 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: In the Western world, the “pink tax” comes from differential pricing/taxation of personal care products. In developing countries, a lack of period products means that girls are missing 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.
- Gender Identity and Parental Obstruction: my reaction to a news report of a parent going to court to block their teen’s gender transition
- Who gets to decide others’ identities? challenges why the Vatican thinks it can dictate what gender identities are valid
- 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 stark reminder of the damage that rape culture cna do
- Slavery Isn’t Over – The Horror of Human Trafficking: to this day, humans are trafficked for forced labour, forced prostitution, and other forms of exploitation
- 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? And why does society continue to blame victims rather than perpetrators?
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? You can read here Why I Use My Voice to Say Black Lives Matter.
The time is now. It should have been many years ago, but now is the best we can do.
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”Angela Davis.
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. Intergenerational trauma occurs as the effects of historic oppression and collective trauma can continue to impact descendants of survivors.
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.“
I blog from my home, which sits on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) First Nation, and I thank them for their stewardship of this land. Some of their history is shared on their Musqueam Indian Band site.
The effects of climate change disproportionately affect people who are already disadvantaged. The theme for World Toilet Day 2020 was the potential for climate change-related events, such as floods and rising sea levels, to overwhelm sanitation systems, resulting in outbreaks of disease.
On World Toilet Day 2019, I learned that open defecation is practiced by 673 million people worldwide, which is a major public health risk. Women’s safety is jeopardized if they have to walk outside at night to get to a toilet, and menstruating girls may have to stay home when there is a lack of sanitary facilities in schools.
Economically disadvantaged people are less likely to have access to clean air and water, as I learned on Earth Day 2019.
More on Social Justice on MH@H
- Ableism: The Assumptions People Make About Ability (and Disability)
- 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?
- Homelessness and mental illness: people with mental illness are over-represented in the homeless population
- The Holocaust and the Failure of the US Education System: the younger generations are becoming less aware of the Holocaust, while antisemitism continues to rear its ugly head