Social justice is defined as:
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
It addresses the 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 historically oppressed groups.
What brings us together is much greater than what divides us. Yes, we have differences, but it’s entirely arbitrary which of those differences are considered to have social relevance. That means that change is within our power.
Mental Health @ Home Stance on Social Justice
We all have elements of our identity that confer advantages and disadvantages, and if we can appreciate those in ourselves, it can help 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.
We learn the stereotypes that are associated with these disadvantaged groups early on, and we often carry them around as automatic, unconscious implicit beliefs. We can begin to change those beliefs through stereotype-disconfirming experiences, which means getting up close and personal with those who are different from us.
In some circles, the term “social justice warrior” is used as a criticism. For me, fighting for social justice is not the problem there. People engaged in any kind of advocacy can have blind spots sometimes; that’s human. That doesn’t mean that social justice isn’t a worthy goal despite those occasional blind spots.
We should be celebrating the diversity among us and embracing the whole range of human identities, experiences, and beliefs. Love, acceptance, and compassion unite us and make us stronger, while 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. If people choose to make discriminatory statements, they can do that on their own platforms, but not on mine.
Social Privileges vs. Burdens
The term white fragility (based on the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo) is sometimes used to describe people’s resistance to being told they have white privilege. My concern with this is that it may create more resistance, especially if one tries to beat people over the head with the accusation that they’re racist and white supremacist. If the goal is social change and social justice and equality, perhaps we need to look at ways to reframe the issue to overcome the barriers that are getting in the way of understanding and constructive social change.
Social privilege only exists as a counterpoint to social burdens. Rather than conferring a tangible benefit, privilege acts as a free pass to avoid having to bear the corresponding burden.
Privilege can only be recognized when one hears from people who bear the corresponding burdens. I can’t know I have a privilege if I haven’t listened to the voices of people who have to bear the corresponding burden.
Addressing social privilege isn’t about changing the experiences of the privileged; it’s about removing social burdens so that both burden and privilege cease to exist.
In keeping with the concept of intersectionality, many social characteristics may be associated with social burdens or privileges, and a given individual will likely have a combination of both. I can have white privilege while still having considerable social burdens in terms of mental illness and associated disability. It shouldn’t be a competition over who has the most or least privilege; we’re better off listening to and respecting others and their experiences.
Posts that go into more detail around this include:
Exploring Our Social World
A variety of topics related to our social world are explored on MH@H.
- Is the Term Gaslighting Overused?: People are using the term gaslighting to describe social phenomena rather than just individual emotional abuse, but is that appropriate?
- Remembering the Fallen of 9/11: a look at those who fell to their deaths, and how society judged them
- What Influences Your Worldview?: there are many factors that shape how we view our social world
- ‘Cause We Are Living in a Material World…: Is addressing consumerism an individual, government, or corporate responsibility?
- What is… Consumer Culture
- What Is… the Psychology of Advertising
Faith, religion, and atheism
Prejudice & Discrimination
- Ableism: The Assumptions People Make About Disability
- Marginalized Groups and On-Screen Representation
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. Many parts of that world don’t have that luxury. When governments restrict access to voting, that’s an assault on democracy.
Voter ID laws are a form of voter suppression. Obtaining or replacing ID can pose significant challenges. When you don’t have any ID, getting it is very hard if you don’t know certain specific pieces of information. While such restrictions seem like a good idea on the face of it, but they end up disenfranchising marginalized groups, including people who belong to racial minorities or who are disabled, elderly, poor, or homeless. Protecting electoral integrity is typically used as the excuse for these sorts of restrictions, but it should not be acceptable to prevent people from exercising their democratic right to vote, especially when voter fraud has been consistently shown to be rare.
Voting behaviour is influenced by the outcome that we expect from elections. In this post, you can learn What Political Polls Mean (and what they don’t).
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. But 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. The post I Am Not Free to… looks at this further.
The post Kyle Rittenhouse as Christian Right Hero? looks at the disturbing overlap between certain forms of freedom advocacy (e.g. pro-gun, adamantly pro-self-defence), racism, and Christian Right views.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of a democratic society. However, sometimes people misinterpret what freedom of speech actually means. The concept of cancel culture, which actually encompasses multiple disparate phenomena, often gets drawn into the mix as well. Putting too many things on the don’t-say list risks triggering reactance, which makes people actively resist what they perceive to be restrictions on their freedom.
Political correctness is one way of talking about marginalized groups that aims to avoid potentially offending anyone. However, a lot of people are totally turned off by the whole concept and see it as an attempt to silence people. That’s not exactly conducive to change, so an emphasis on being politically correct may actually be doing more harm than good. Is There a Better Way than Political Correctness? I think so; there’s got to be a way that we can be respectful to others without engaging in word policing.
Sometimes, political correctness creates offence where none was intended, like telling people to stop saying “Merry Christmas.” It’s good to speak respectfully, but if a heavy PC emphasis alienates the target audience, perhaps a different approach would be more effective.
Gender, Feminism & LGBTQ+
A fundamental concept when discussing gender issues is making a distinction between sex and gender, with sex referring to biology and gender referring to identity. There is some debate as to whether those differences are entirely due to biology or social constructs, but I believe the issue is more complex than that, and there is some of both.
As a feminist, I believe that patriarchal power structures and societal expectations to conform to rigid gender roles are harmful to all of us. For example, men who are told to “man up” are deterred from seeking mental health care, which can have dire consequences. Changing 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.
- My body is my own questions why governments should get to decide what happens to my body, and in particular my reproductive system.
- The Tragedy of Female Genital Mutilation: This horrific practice, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “female circumcision” has devastating health consequences for women.
Gender & Sexuality
A quick note on terminology: On MH@H, I use LGBTQ+ as a broad term, recognizing that there’s a whole array of beautiful identities and orientations that are encompassed within that umbrella, even if they’re not explicitly specified.
- Let’s Talk About Puberty Blockers: Sometimes people oppose the use of puberty blockers in trans youth without understanding what they are and what the consequences are of taking vs. not taking them. This post explains what they are, how they work and the weighing of risks and benefits.
- Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ+ Youth: when society discriminates, suicidality can result
- What is… Conversion “Therapy” gives an overview of this disgusting approach that attempts to change people’s sexuality and identity
- What Is… Sex vs. Gender?: explains terminology related to sex and gender
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 that go beyond just differences in access to health care.
The issue of access to health care is covered in:
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.
Poverty & Homelessness
- Homelessness & Addiction: Embracing Stigma: an ugly, ignorant editorial in a small-city newspaper dismisses homeless, drug-addicted people as “druggies,” “crackheads,” and “undesirables”
- Poverty Can Be Very Expensive: barriers like ID and lack of affordable banking can drive people living in poverty to use costly payday loan/cheque-cashing services
- The Benefits of Universal Basic Income for People with Mental Illness: UBI could go a long way towards eliminating poverty
- We All Deserve a Roof Over Our Heads: Homelessness & Mental Illness: people with mental illness are disproportionately represented in the homeless population, and Housing First research shows it’s actually cheaper for society to house people
Andy Pope is working on an amazing musical about homelessness called Eden in Babylon. In this powerful audio post, A Brand New World, he talks about leaving the community in which he was stigmatized and treated as less than human for being homeless and then finding a new community where he can bring his musical into the world.
The theme for 2019’s World Toilet Day was leaving no one behind, which speaks to the 4.2 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe sanitation.
The numbers are astonishing. Open defecation is practiced by 673 million people, with India being a major area where this happens. Three billion don’t have access to proper hand-washing facilities. An estimated 432,000 people die each year because of diarrhea caused by poor sanitation. At least 2 billion people access drinking water that has fecal contamination.
Refugees are particularly likely to not have access to safe facilities. Women’s safety may be compromised by needing to go out alone at night to use the (non-existent) toilet, and they risk being sexually harassed or assaulted. A lack of sanitary facilities at schools (which is the case in 1/3 of the world’s primary schools) can mean menstruating girls stay home from school. Children are at particularly high risk of diarrhea-related illnesses or death.
UNICEF points out that poor sanitation affects not only health, but also dignity, wellbeing, the environment, and socioeconomic development.
Racism & Ethnic Discrimination
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.
- 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?
- 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
- Indian Residential Schools: Canada’s National Disgrace: government policy of forced assimilation created multiple generations’ worth of trauma, the effects of which can still be seen today
- Intersectionality and What it Means for Mental Health
- Why I use my voice to say Black lives matter
In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.Angela Davis.
Sexual Assault & Exploitation
Dr. Jessica Taylor’s Victim Focus site offers a free e-course on caring for yourself after sexual violence.
MH@H posts on this topic:
- 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 can do
- Slavery Isn’t Over – The Horror of Human Trafficking: to this day, men, women, and children 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 and trauma
- Why don’t more people understand consent? And why does society continue to blame victims rather than perpetrators?
Human activity is also having an unprecedented toll on the earth’s species diversity due to things like climate change, pollution, and deforestation and other habitat loss. Bees play an important role worldwide through pollination, yet their numbers have been sharply declining. Neonicotinoid pesticide use is thought to be a contributing factor. The David Suzuki Foundation has some tips on how to grow a bee-friendly garden.
Earth Day isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s also a social justice issue. Access to things like clean air and safe water should not depend on the colour of someone’s skin or how much money is in their bank account, but unfortunately, in too many cases, they do. Environmental racism refers to the harm that social inequality does to the environment; environmental sustainability requires a just society.
The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) points out that oppressed communities, which are often racialized and of lower socioeconomic status, are often disproportionately affected by the effects of pollution and other environmental toxins. The ongoing water quality issues in Flint, Michigan, and Indigenous communities in Canada are prime examples.
Climate change disproportionately affects 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. This can cause the release of raw sewage, leading to outbreaks of diseases like cholera and typhoid.
So, if the environment and climate change weren’t important enough already, this is one more reason to take action to reduce your carbon footprint. The David Suzuki Foundation has a few simple tips on how you can do that.
We need to act now to save our planet.