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The term social justice has had a fair amount of scrutiny over the past couple of years, and it became a broader local topic in the past few weeks in this county and across the state.  This is not a foreign concept for another place or another time.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

The city of Salida is beginning an overdue move to add an Assistant City Administrator, functioning also as a human resources (HR) manager. The suggestion made by City Council Member Dominique Naccarato in a recent city council meeting to include skills in “diversity, equity, and social justice” in the position description was supported by the rest of the city council. But there are those who appear to have taken exception to this idea.

Those who would confuse the concepts of democratic equity and social justice reveal that if they have to, they’ll obey the law, but perhaps not the spirit of those laws.

Critics of this proposed adjustment to the city’s new HR role have brought up the time-worn skill sets most of us understand to be part of the HR role; personnel management, familiarity with labor laws and budgets, and being a team player. Well, of course. But to stop there may remove the very social, human concept of “justice” that is critical to our multi-ethnic society.

Wikipedia defines “social justice as fairness as it manifests in society. That includes fairness in healthcare, employment, housing, and more. Discrimination and social justice are not compatible.”

What social justice means in a diverse society is critical to the times in which we live; in a globally-connected world, in changing times, in a politically-polarizing society, faced with growing violence, the impacts of climate change, and a dependence on finite resources.

The difference between equity and social justice 

Equity is concerned with fairness; it tends to guarantee fair access to opportunities for everyone to participate effectively in the context of a free market. Social justice focuses on a concern for people’s needs;  based on individual or group action.

It would seem that social justice relates to HR. But times have always been changing; the end of the 19th century was rift with robber baron inequities; consider the inequities of the industrial revolution as the country approached 1900; where even children worked 12-hour days, six days a week for pennies a day. Or the mines or sweat shops where our own ancestors toiled without sunlight or hope of improvement to their lives.

Just because that was how it was then – doesn’t mean it had to stay that way. Perhaps this is where the phrase “give the kid a chance,” derives from.

Social justice is an increasingly important topic. In fact, Ark Valley Voice has participated for the past several months, as members of the Colorado News Collaborative, in training that expands equity in journalism, that seeks to add to our coverage — the voices of minorities and the stories of those for whom justice has been denied.

Contrary to what has been written about them (“Social Justice Hiring?”) by a competitor editor, “diversity, equity and inclusion” are not just political talking points. They are the measurements by which the rest of us who are not white, male, rich, privileged, and of a certain age and mindset, have worked together to achieve. They are the three words that represent the melting pot of immigration that has made this country the rich, successful nation it is.

The fact that another editor chooses to make fun of the words “social justice” shows that he may not understand the concept of justice. In fact words that equate Black Lives Matter marches to “smash and grab” thieves could be considered both discriminatory and racist. It amounts to written redlining of a race, equating it with a white man’s idea of equity.

The question I got from a rich, white, male store owner, as a college graduate fresh back from living in Europe was – “how long are you going to work before you get pregnant and quit?” I told him it was none of his business.

History holds social justice lessons

What social justice is, and why it is important, has apparently been debated since the origin of the term. Social justice is not a recent term cooked up in the bar at The Willard Hotel in D.C., across from the White House.

According to Studymode, “during the time period between 1825-1850, ideals of equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness defined democracy and were inoculated into the masses of America through a series of reform movements that emerged in the antebellum era. These reforms were based on the desire to make America a civilized, utopian society.”

In the period around 1825,  following the Revolutionary War and War of 1812,  the concepts of social justice were raised in relation to slavery. Britain abolished it with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, but it took until 1863 and a Civil War in the U.S. to abolish it. Since that time, white supremacists have continually tried to recreate it in other ways.

But this social justice movement also included the first efforts at women’s rights in this new representative republic, as well as the 1826 beginning of the temperance movement, as alcohol abuse was become increasingly widespread, affecting the efficiency of the labor and causing societal problems.

Social equity was the integration of the schools in Little Rock Arkansas, and the 1965 Civil Rights bill. Social justice is going beyond the law to what some call real Christian charity to understand and accept other human beings no matter their race, creed, color, sex, or sexual orientation. defines “social justice” as a noun and describes it as “the fair treatment of all people in a society, including respect for the rights of minorities and equitable distribution of resources (which also means a chance at advancement) among members of a community.”

It goes on to provide examples of the words “social justice” in sentences, and revealingly, they include some of the bigger names in the corporate world:

The first set relates to increased awareness of how their activities impact external events happening in the world such as climate change and social justice.

The Ford Foundation and Mozilla led a fellowship program to connect technologists, activists, journalists and scientists, and strengthen organizations working at the convergence of technology and social justice.

The rise of the activist developer|Walter Thompson|February 9, 2021|TechCrunch

Repealing the protections might seem relatively easy in Maryland, a state where both legislative chambers have supermajorities of Democrats, who have tended to be sympathetic to calls for police accountability and social justice.

The first state to pass a law protecting police accused of misconduct may also be the first to repeal it.|Ovetta Wiggins|February 9, 2021|Washington Post

A few weeks after the inauguration of a new president, the nation continues to struggle for its footing amid deep polarization, a pandemic, questions about economic and social justice, and declining faith in its institutions. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the American experiment as a diverse, multiethnic democratic republic is facing one of its most difficult tests since that distant Philadelphia summer. (1776)

Want Unity For Real? Then America Needs to Get Back to Facts|Samar Ali, Bill Haslam and Jon Meacham|February 8, 2021|Time