I was fourteen when I first started using Tumblr, more than three years ago. In case you don’t know, Tumblr is a blogging platform that has become somewhat (in)famous across the internet for its emphasis on a little something called social justice. For me, it was my first exposure to the term. Sure, I had learned about the civil rights movement in history class, had experienced stereotyping through comments about how I should excel at math, and had been aware of the stigma attached to homosexuality through my religion. Nevertheless, it was only through reading text posts on my blue dashboard did I really begin becoming interested in what social justice means.
Before I dig any deeper, however, let’s consult Oxford Dictionaries. According to them, social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” This is a pretty mild definition–I think most people would agree that social justice is something we should strive for based solely on this. Social movements, however, aren’t just words on a computer screen–they are experiences. They are struggles. They are polarizing. When people protested against Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, they did not protest solely against the act of killing, but also against the racial implications behind it. And not everyone who works for social justice will necessarily agree with each other, either in ideology or methodology.
Under the umbrella of social justice are so many diverse movements, all united by a desire to combat discrimination existing in society. Racial prejudice is obviously a big issue, but then you also have homophobia and transphobia, misogyny, or even ableism. What I’ve noticed, however, is that some of these words have been thrown around so often and so flippantly that it might be difficult to take them seriously. It’s true that there are people who take them to an almost comical extreme: so-called social justice warriors are notorious for standing for social justice without a sound basis for their arguments. Still, whether this undermines the legitimacy of the cause is debatable.
There is also, as with many issues, a political bent to social justice. Most people you see identifying as feminists will likely also be pro-choice when it comes to abortion. Those who try to mitigate the effects of racism might also support affirmative action. It’s evident that social justice is thus often associated with liberalism. Depending on where you live, this may or may not be an unpopular political stance. As a native Texan who absorbed all these ideas like a sponge, it has been interesting to hear how other people have viewpoints that radically differ from my own, and even difficult to accept that their opinions are just as viable as mine.
So what does this all mean for someone just trying to survive high school and get into college? Well, regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum or how passionate you are about activism, I think that it’s important for every student to be aware about social justice issues. This is especially true for people who come from backgrounds that are more “privileged” than most. I always like to turn to David Foster Wallace’s Commencement Address to Kenyon College’s Class of 2005–a highly recommended read for any student–when it comes to things like these. Foster Wallace says, “…the real value of a real education… has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness.” This is, of course, not to discount the importance of being informed about these issues. I also think it’s crucial that, in addition to being cognizant of social justice and how it applies to you, it’s necessary to talk about these issues. Whether it’s at the lunch table with your peers, in your government class, or even in an after-school club. And, as with everything, a firm opinion is not as important as an open mind.