It’s almost 2019, and with all the progress that has been made towards representation, equality, and human rights, some people (namely those who are white, straight and/or cis) have been wondering whether or not the fight for social justice is even necessary anymore in the U.S. While it’s true that America has come a long way, even in the last half century, we are still far from the finish line of a society where everyone can thrive.
So when you inevitably find yourself trapped in a conversation about social justice going south, here are some points you can bring up to convince those living under a rock that America being “better than other countries” isn’t good enough.
Let’s Talk About Race
The first major reason why we can’t throw in the towel is because discrepancies and inequalities between races still exist, as well as outright racism and bias.
Legal segregation in the U.S. ended just over 50 years ago, and black people especially have been continually oppressed through de facto segregation, discrimination, bias and police brutality, and held down by the media and people in power.
Despite comprising 13 percent of the U.S. population, black people account for over 38 percent of America’s prison population. Minorities are two times more likely to be unable to post bail, and black people between the ages of 18 and 29 receive higher bail amounts than all other demographics. And for every white person that is arrested for drug usage, nearly 3 black people are incarcerated on the same charges.
Somehow, a black person is also more than 2.5 times as likely as a white person to get shot and killed by the police. This number increases drastically when you factor in that person’s gender, and whether or not they had a mental illness. A person of color is twice as likely to be shot while unarmed than a white person.
Looking to social spheres and the media, diversity still isn’t where it needs to be and racism is still the rage. Blackface has made a reappearance as “blackfishing” on social media accounts where white girls can darken their skin tone and exaggerate their features to pass as black (and even Asian, in some cases) for attention and views, with none of the societal burden that comes with being black in real life. White celebrities are still getting away with wearing dreads, or as the style is called on white people, matted, ruined hair.
Hollywood has always been white-dominated and since 2007, only 12.5 percent of speaking roles annually have been played by black actors. The Hispanic and Latinx communities, which account for 18 percent of the U.S. population, were underrepresented in only three percent of speaking roles in 2016.
Black activists like Colin Kaepernick and Jemele Hill are criticized for putting social justice above their careers, and journalists of color are accused of being too biased on issues involving race. Yet white people are never questioned when they put their humanity above their duties.
Politically, only 4 percent of Republican candidates and 17 percent of Democratic candidates are people of color. Just this year during the midterm elections, black voters in Georgia experienced extreme voter suppression while voting for Stacey Abrams, who could have been the first Black governor in the U.S.
We as a nation also have never stopped to address issues like why neighborhoods across the U.S. are still segregated, why black mothers are three times more likely to die during pregnancy and birth than white mothers, and why white people still think affirmative action is some plot against them. Knowing all this, how can we even begin to think we are doing okay?
The Great American Melting Pot… Or Not
Besides the Native Americans, who continue to be wronged by the government, the U.S. was once a country completely populated by immigrants. (That is, since the Europeans
colonized moved to America hundreds of years ago). Even though the U.S. has marketed itself as a country open to immigration, getting in and creating a life is no piece of cake.
Immigrants who manage to get in to America now face a slew of problems to worry about under the current administration. Trump has threatened to denaturalize citizens, deport refugees, and take away legal protection and rights from DREAMers (people who were brought into the country as children).
Even Latinx people who are citizens are harassed daily by other Americans who call them slurs and say things like “Go back to your country” and “speak English, this is America.”
These xenophobic actions and rhetoric extend to other communities within America’s framework, particularly religious minorities. Islamophobia and anti-semitism are both very much alive and well. Thus it’s clear that the U.S. still has a long way to go before truly embracing its cultural diversity.
It Doesn’t Always Pay To Be Gay
In 2015 under President Obama, gay marriage was legalized in the United States, and it was a momentous and historic milestone for the LGBT community. So much so that Ronald Reagan’s administration, which let thousands of gay people die from AIDs in the ’80s, seemed lightyears away.
However, despite this giant leap for queer kind, there are still strides to be made towards LGBT rights and acceptance.
For instance, most states don’t have laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination in the workplace. Just this year, the Supreme Court all but ruled that businesses had the right to refuse service to LGBT customers based on their personal or religious beliefs.
Trump has practically crusaded against the 1.4 million trans people in the U.S. by attempting to define them out of existence, ban them from joining the military, and stop trans students from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
LGBT people are the targets of more hate crimes than any other minority group, and black trans women are murdered at an unparalleled rate. Most states allow conversion therapy for LGBT minors, which increases their likelihood to commit suicide and suffer mental and physical trauma.
In regards to the film industry, LGBT representation is lacking. In spite of statistics that boast a “record breaking” 6.4 percent of TV characters identify as LGBT, the numbers are not what they appear to be. Many of these are minor side characters, male, and white. Lesbians and bisexuals still have very little representation in movies and books, and are often hypersexualized.
Violence Is Never The Answer. Guns Are.
Thousand Oaks, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Columbine.
The NRA says that rifles and pistols are more important than the lives and learning of students, and the wellbeing of people. They say, pouring more money into the pockets of politicians, that more guns means safer. The Parkland kids know better.
The U.S. has the most guns in the arms of civilians and the most shootings out of any first world country, and their homicide rates rival those of third world, violent nations. (Check it out.)
Why is it that black registered gun owners like Philando Castile can’t concealed carry without being killed, but white people can stroll through Walmart with an assault rifle on their back, and shoot up a church without so much as a scratch? Why is it we were told the second amendment was created so that we could bear arms against a corrupt government, when really it was used as a way to keep enslaved populations in check?
When we put weapons of destruction above the lives of minorities and children under the guise of “protection” that is a sign that major social change is needed. Sure, it’s people who kill people, not guns, but giving them a semi automatic weapon allows people to kill people way easier.
The Girl Who Cried #MeToo
If you need further proof of how damaged our society is, just take a look at Vox’s ongoing list of over 250 powerful people that have been accused of sexual assault and misconduct since the #MeToo movement picked up 2017. Icons like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Morgan Freeman have been taken down from their pedestals, and, in Cosby’s case, criminally implicated.
This movement, which was the brainchild of activist Tarana Burke all the way back in 2006, has demonstrated that there are so many systems of power and silence in place to safeguard the straight, cis, usually white male, at the expense of those they are abusing. Women, disproportionately women of color, have for so long been harassed and told to shut up and put up with being catcalled, objectified and raped.
Men have easily been able to take advantage of women, because sayings like “boys will be boys” and “maybe she was asking for it” absolve men of all their wrongdoings. They prey on women who are too afraid to speak out, who don’t want to be in the limelight, who don’t think anyone will believe them.
In September the nation witnessed the live public hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, accused of sexually assaulting her. With her soul on display and reputation on the line, Ford gave a painfully emotional testimony that resonated with thousands of women around the US. Despite compelling evidence, and a strong will, Republicans and Supreme Court justices bulldozed on. Those in power sped forcibly shortened FBI investigations to come to the conclusion that Kavanaugh was okay to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
After the #MeToo movement, this ruling felt a bit like a slap in the face to women who were finally seeing justice done to the men who had hurt them. Kavanaugh’s case is a reminder that no matter how much progress we’ve made, there will always be men too powerful for the law to touch. Therefore the fight for women, and men in many cases, is not yet over.
Between cases like 150 Catholic priests being accused of sexual assault, and a USA gymnastics doctor being sentenced to life in prison for molesting a sum total of 265 young athletes, it’s evident there is much more corruption to be exposed.
It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Changing Times!
Until people stop saying triggered when they mean upset, until ableism ceases, until our society is no longer fatphobic, until white supremecists are no longer marching through the streets, until girls aren’t judged by how they present themselves, until gay love isn’t gross and there are more people of color in politics and on the big screen, until rapists, racists murderers and colonizers aren’t glorified anymore, until we stop punishing drug and sex work related crimes so heavily, until we become intersectional in our feminism, and until every issue in society is resolved, we cannot be content, and we cannot grow complacent.
Because as a country and as a people we can always get better. It is our job to ensure the bright future of this nation for those that come after us, and to adapt to an evolving consciousness. Social justice, fighting for the rights and equality of others, has been and will always be humanity’s greatest legacy.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images