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Blog, Theorizing About Social Justice

Understanding Justice from the Concrete Reality of Injustice

Scales of Justice made out of groupings of people.

“Profound changes in the way we think and act must take place if we are to create a loving culture. Men writing about love always testify that they have received love . They speak from this position; it gives what they say authority. Women, more often than not, speak from a position of lack, of not having received the love we long for…Men often write about love through fantasy, through what they imagine is possible rather than what they concretely know…But, like many women and men, I want to know about the meaning of love beyond the realm of fantasy-beyond what we imagine can happen. I want to know love’s truths as we live them.”

bell hooks xxiv-xxv

I was thinking about how the above-quote reminds me of the concept of Justice. During our discussion last class, we established that the traditional theorizing around the concept of justice was done primarily by wealthy white men (namely, Robert Nozick (Libertarianism), John Stuart Mill (Utilitarianism), John Rawls (Contractarianism),  and a few more) while it seems that they are the ones who experience the least amount of injustice because of the amount of privilege they have in the social world based on class, race, and gender. 

Furthermore, they seem to be theorizing from and about a world that doesn’t exist (at least not for everyone) taking the line from bell hooks, these theorists write about justice “through fantasy, through what they imagine is possible rather than what they concretely know.”

Whereas, Black theorists, especially Black feminist theorists, (namely, bell hooks (Black Feminist Theory), W.E.B. Du Bois (Constructivism & Critical Race Theory), Audre Lorde (Black Feminist Theory), Kimberlé Crenshaw (Intersectionality & Critical Legal Theory) & more) have theorized about justice, “from a position of lack, of having not received the…”, justice “we long for”. And what these theorists have offered us and the wider philosophy on justice is the connection of theorizing to lived experience. The idea that to theorize about justice, you must begin through an understanding of the injustice that exists in reality. In this way, those that experience injustice are potentially some of the foremost experts on the topic of justice. 

Furthermore, when we think about traditional theorizing about justice, this was done through an individual framework, meaning the concept of justice referred to justice for an individual (rather than a group). However, when we think about the breakdown above and how power, privilege, and resources are distributed unequally along the lines of class, race, and  gender, it becomes clear that thinking about group-based justice is vital. This is where the shift from justice to social justice comes in.

A social justice topic that matters a lot to me is the abolition of policing and prisons. I believe the system, as it exists, was created by those who have the most power and resources and it causes the most harm to historically oppressed groups. At various times in my early life, one or the other of my parents were not around because they were in jail. The criminal (in)justice system does not help people be accountable when they cause harm. It encourages people to deny the harm they’ve caused and leaves the person harmed without any remedy or closure. In many cases, it also takes people away from their families and communities. How does imprisoning someone actually address harm done? I don’t think it does. I also believe another way is possible.