The world today is complicated. Technological advancements have ensured that we are more connected than ever before, yet in many ways we have never been more disconnected. While we sit in the comfort of our homes, we have access to information from across the global, literally within the palms of our hands. We are more aware than ever before of the problems faced by humanity in different parts of the world. Yet the distance provides a sense of security. What we fail to realize is that in a globalized world, every issue is a global one. The United States today is once again in the global headlines. People from all over the world are once again looking at us for answers. The year is 2020, yet the social justice issues we face today remind us, and the world, of our troubled past; and how we deal with them will decide our future as a leader of social freedoms and the land of liberty.
Our connectivity has made the world smaller. A lot of us can travel at will and with ease. We can rally around global causes from our living rooms. We can interact with one another on an unprecedented scale. Our voices and our words have more value today than ever before. A simple hashtag (#) can create a movement with a global reach. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are just two examples among a sea of others. We need to realize the power we have and trust in our ability to bring about social change. Racism, equity, education, healthcare, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights are just some of the social issues that should not exist in the USA in 2020 – and yet, they do.
What is Social Justice?
The definition of social justice may vary in different parts of the world. It may vary from nation to nation, region to region, and, even, from person to person. While wearing a burka may be a basic right for someone, somewhere, it may be a matter of social justice for someone, somewhere else. However, there are some definitions that many find to be accurate and broad in perspective.
- The United Nations defines social justice in terms of equity and fairness in the achievement and distribution of the fruits of economic growth.
- The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says that social justice can be achieved through equity and fairness in economic, social and political opportunities.
- The Center for Economic and Social Justice considers social justice to be a phenomenon that guides institutional and human interactions towards the ideas of fairness, equity and growth.
Social justice needs to be an all-encompassing idea that unifies us in the achievement of common goals. These goals include equality, freedom from discrimination, fair access to opportunities (social, educational, political, economic etc.), participation, and the same rights and liberties regardless of race, origin and socio-economic status. The main idea behind social justice is the belief that all human beings have innate value, and that no one is more or less valuable in the eyes of the society, the law, constitution etc.
The idea of social justice as we know it today is a product of our past struggles. Movements such as the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement have had a great influence on our beliefs and ideas about what social justice should be. While the United States is considered a global leader in socio-economic liberties, there is still a long way to go before social injustice can become a thing of the past.
The Biggest Social Justice Issues We Face Today
To say 2020 has been a year unlike any other would be an understatement. We’ve seen pandemics, social justice movements, natural disasters, celebrity deaths and so much more. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a historic downturn that has left businesses shut down, and millions unemployed. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought issues such as systematic racism, police brutality and social inequity to the forefront once again. Issues such as wars, food security issues, poverty and climate change are more important than ever. In an effort to cover all the bases, here is a list of some of the most pressing social issues Americans face today:
1 – Voting
In recent elections there have been claims of voter suppression and manipulation. The ongoing pandemic is likely to deprive many voters of their right to cast a vote if the current administration and some states are successful in their efforts to undermine the vote-by-mail process in order to cast their vote safely. Organizations such as the NASW, ADL and ACLU are actively engaged in ensuring that voting is accessible to all US citizens in order to prevent a low voter turnout.
2 – Climate Change
The effects of climate change can be seen all over the world. From the bushfires in California and Australia to the acceleration in the speed at which polar icecaps are melting, the threat that climate change poses to humanity is more evident than ever before. Climate change, however, can bring with it social challenges as well. It can put a strain on natural and economic resources and have a negative impact on the overall wellbeing of all humanity. However, despite all the evidence, there are still many who live in denial. Climate change has also become a political issue that is a source of great division.
3 – Healthcare
Social justice and healthcare are heavily linked. An important aspect of social justice is the ability to have fair access to healthcare. However, healthcare in the US remains a controversial subject despite the passing of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. There are still immense gaps in terms of coverage and access, especially where mental health issues are concerned. Despite the fact that the USA spends more on healthcare than any other country, it has not translated into higher life expectancy and universal care. Covid-19 has highlighted the inadequacies in the healthcare system; the lack of awareness, inability to access tests and treatment and the insufficient mental health care are all matters of great concern.
4 – Refugee Crisis and Immigration
Who isn’t aware of President Trump’s views on immigration? From building a wall along the Mexican border to travel bans for certain countries, the Trump administration’s immigration policies have been in the headlines constantly. You only need to log in to any social media platform and you will likely come across some abuse or brutality committed by ICE agents.
The refugee crisis dominated the headlines throughout 2019. UN figures indicate that nearly 70.8 million people have been forced to flee from home of which nearly 30 million have ended up in refugee camps all over the world. Refugees face many social challenges such as in accessing education, healthcare and economic opportunities. The current administration’s policies in dealing with refugees has led to much criticism.
5 – Body Autonomy
It may come as a surprise to many across the world, but body autonomy is an ongoing issue in the United States. While the State should have some say in issues such as drug tests, child safety, euthanasia etc., what an individual chooses to do with their body should be well within their rights. Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in this regard. While it is legal throughout the USA, there are laws in many states that restrict access to abortion. It is a divisive issue that has even led to protests and rioting from both sides of the debate.
6 – Racial Injustice
Racial Injustice in America is a problem as old as the country itself. Perhaps, even older. Its impact can be found in education, business, media and daily life. The ongoing protests and riots are a testament to the severity of the problems faced by minorities in America. It has had long term mental, physical, social, political and economic consequences for African Americans and others that have been subjected to discrimination and racial injustice.
7 – Gun Violence
Many consider gun violence to be a public health crisis. However, its impact can be felt across all aspects of life in the USA. While the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution, there have been many laws proposed with the intention to curb gun violence. These include more thorough background checks or banning certain types of weapons for civilian use.
According to 2017 figures, gun violence accounted for nearly 11000 deaths in the USA. USA is one of the leaders in the rate of murder or manslaughter using firearms in the western world, while it is the global leader in terms of gun ownership – over 120 guns for every 100 citizens. Events such as mass shootings in schools have had a great impact on American society.
8 – LGBTQ+
While great strides have been made in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a long way to go. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are still frequent victims of discrimination, harassment and violence. They are often unable to enjoy fair access to the same educational, healthcare, economic, political and other opportunities.
How to Support Social Justice Causes Meaningfully
It is easy to sit at home, like social media posts and share hashtags. However, achieving social justice isn’t that simple. Those who wish to support various social justice causes in a meaningful way can:
- Conduct thorough research and educate themselves in regards to a particular cause or movement.
- Work on their own beliefs and behavior to start the change from within.
- Take action within the community and engage in meaningful discussions and awareness programs.
- Join peaceful protests and demonstrations.
- Join reputable organizations working for noble causes.
- Use the power of social media meaningfully.
- Volunteer time and energy.
Donate to reputable organizations and important causes.