Youth Perspectives on Social Justice: History, Impact, and Advocacy
November 14, 2022
The internet and social media have played an instrumental role in the fight against systemic issues in society such as racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and so on. By raising awareness and providing an accessible place for discussion, concepts that were once only known within the world of academia and politics have spilled into our news articles, headlines, and public forums. One such concept is social justice.
Although a complex notion, at its most basic and concise, social justice can be described as equitable access to wealth, opportunities, and privilege within society (The Pachamama Alliance, n.d.). To add to this, five main principles can be associated with the concept: access to resources, equity, participation, diversity, and human rights (CFI Team, 2022). An even simpler way to think of social justice is similar to the idea of fairness. Rather than blanket equality, social justice calls for making society fairer for all by taking into consideration systematic barriers certain groups may face. It is this way of thinking that is perhaps the most historically accurate when considering the timeline of social justice as an idea.
The Rise of Social Justice
First coined in 1840 by Luigi Taparalli D’Azgelio, an Italian Catholic priest, social justice was introduced in response to the overwhelming strain on American families during the industrial revolution. While this period is best known for its innovation and growth, families were also abandoning their rural lifestyles for opportunities in the city, leading to them becoming wage-dependent and exploited. Ultimately, the industrial period led to the abuse of marginalized groups, a highly stratified class system, and the misuse of human labor (CFI Team, 2022; Novak, 2009; Pachamama Alliance, n.d.). This combination of factors led to the rise of social justice. Early advocates focused largely on issues relating to capitalism, property, wealth, and workers’ rights. The net of social justice continued to expand as issues of other social spheres were acknowledged. Specifically, during the 20th century, we see the definition broaden from a focus on resources and wealth to equity and privilege as the civil rights movement took the stage (Pachamama Alliance, n.d.). From this point forward, social justice was molded into the social justice we know today.
Being an Advocate in Everyday Life
From a fight to reduce extreme class stratification to shining a light on major systemic issues to being a model society strives for, the impact of social justice is and continues to be far-reaching. However, we are nowhere near finished and advocacy continues to be crucial. To be a social justice advocate is to openly support and actively work toward the goal of social justice. There are several ways you can be a social justice advocate, with Kansas University (2021) compiling an informative and practical list for us. However, some often-cited options may not be entirely accessible (e.g. voting) or realistic (e.g. donating) for everyone. With this in mind, the following list will describe a few major ways you can be an advocate in your everyday life.
Educate yourself and others. While cliche, educating yourself on social justice issues and listening to other social justice activists will give you a solid foundational understanding of the concept. You’ll begin to see how societal issues connect to one another and help you become a stronger critical thinker.
Taking action. With education comes awareness. Once you start to educate yourself, you may find it easier to identify moments of unfairness, whether it's at work, in the news, or out with friends. Taking action means speaking up in these critical moments. It can also mean something as simple as connecting with your minority co-workers who seem ostracized or are left out of team meetings. If you’re in a leadership position, this could mean more encouragement and affirmation to those workers. By taking action, you’re not only showcasing your advocacy, but you’re also cultivating a more inclusive and safe environment.
Self-reflection. Uncomfortable but important, self-reflection means examining your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Just as it’s important to point out the injustices others may contribute to, it’s equally important, if not more, to be aware of the ways you may be contributing to social injustice. Understanding your own privilege and how your beliefs and behaviors may be harmful will allow you to rectify those thoughts and actions.
CFI Team. (2022, May 8). Social justice. Corporate Finance Institute. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/social-justice/
Indivisible Project. (n.d.). How to be inclusive: An introduction. Indivisible. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://indivisible.org/resource/how-be-inclusive-introduction
Kansas University. (2021, June 28). 15 ways to advance social justice in your community. KU SOE. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://educationonline.ku.edu/community/15-ways-to-advance-social-justice
Novak, M. (2009, December 29). Social Justice: Not what you think it is. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.heritage.org/poverty-and-inequality/report/social-justice-not-what-you-think-it
The Pachamama Alliance. (n.d.). What is social justice? The Pachamama Alliance. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://pachamama.org/social-justice/what-is-social-justice#:~:text=Social%20Justice%20as%20a%20concept,capitalistic%20exploitation%20of%20human%20labor