Náthalie Wiltinge is a Dutch international exchange student at UCMO, studying Public Relations for 1 semester.
Social Justice through music
Nearly two weeks ago on the 22nd of October, Usher released his new song “Chains” featuring Nas and Bibi Bourelly . With over one million views on YouTube, Usher and Nas decided not to just bring out a new song, but to address an important issue within this song, namely racial injustice. The song starts of with a short, but strong message: “While racial injustice keeps killing, society keeps looking away”.
The music video of “Chains” centers around black lives lost due to police brutality, showing the victims full name, age, face and story on the screen as the song plays on the background. With the release of the song, Ushes and Nas demand society to stop ignoring the police brutality within America, to look up and face it. “We got a problem that needs some acknowledgement” is what Nas raps as gun shots sound in the background. On top of the strong lyrics and the video, Usher also released an interactive video on the website of Tidal. The site asks for your webcam permission to detect your eyes as you watch the video. The goal of this is to make people stop looking away, every time you look away from the screen or look on another tab, the music stops and the text “Don’t Look Away” shows up.
“In writing this song, I was motivated by the events involving prejudicial injustice that are still happening today. The reality is that racial bigotry diminishes the lives of too many people in our country. The pain and suffering that these victims and their families have endured is something we must never forget. When we look away from this problem it gets worse. To fix it, we have to face it. We have to come together as a country to solve these problems and this is one way I can contribute.”
The lyrics together with the powerful message in the video left me speechless at first. I read every story, word for word, thinking how it even is possible for things like this to happen. One of the stories specially grabbed my attention, and it will probably sound familiar to fellow students of UCMO you as well… Michael Brown, 18 years old, Ferguson Missouri… As I read that name and see the place, chills run over my spine. And then suddenly it felt as if this issue is getting close to me too. Not because I know him personally, no, I didn’t know Michael or anyone close to him at all. But because it happened not very far from the place where I study, the place I live. A place where I feel safe, where it feels like these things can’t happen. Yet they do happen and reading it makes me get the chills. It kinda feels unreal, yet it is very real and happens too often.
As someone from outside America, these forms of brutality are pretty much unknown to me, the police barely has to pull their gun. Our biggest fear in The Netherlands, no matter which color skin you have, is that our bicycle could be stolen, which results in buying a new one and that only hurts the wallet. Therefore news, or no, tragedies is a better word, as described in “Chains” just leaves me baffled, speechless, and above all, sad. No one should ever get killed over senseless violence while being unarmed, especially not by an entity who is supposed to protect civilians. Of course I am no where near a position to judge about the situations, I only read what others say about it and have to take their word for it, I wasn’t there, I don’t know these people. However I do know that these things are uncommon where I’m from. And no, I am not saying that my country is perfect, we also have our flaws just like anyone else in the world. But issues like these? They simple barely to never happen, and if they do happen, the officer in question gets put off duty until all the facts are on the table and justice is served when needed to whomever is responsible. For me that is enough to tell others to look up and put a stop to it. We can no longer close our eyes to these issues, and it doesn’t matter which skin color you or to whom this injustice happens too has. They won’t stop until people stop looking away. They won’t stop until people want to make a change. I believe Usher did a good job in creating awareness for this issue by using his music to send a powerful message to the world. A message that I believe should be listened too, looked at, thought about, and shared throughout the nation and even the world.
Here is the video, but if you want the full experience with all the eye detection stuff, go to https://chains.tidal.com/ and watch it there.
I hope it leaves you as speechless as it did to me. I hope it made you think about and realize the problem. Because that means the message came across and that we are one step closer towards change.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” Those were the words of English politician William Wilberforce, a man who was instrumental in the movement to abolish slavery across the British Empire in the 18th century. He understood the power there is in knowing. Knowing that wrong things were happening to the wrong people could lead a good man or woman to seek the change to correct it. Wilberforce poured his being into trying to right the wrong that was slavery and over many years he gained a passionate following that had great success in altering the status quo of the times he lived in. Slavery was an issue then and it is still an issue now. People to tend to think that their idea of slavery ended in the U.S. over 100 years ago, but sadly, those people are wrong in this case. Slavery has now become “human trafficking” in today’s society and it’s a serious issue worth fighting, but the problem is the lack of awareness by the American people in regards to the depth of the problem.
Ed Bastian, a writer for The Detroit News, recently wrote about this very topic and he put things in perspective when he wrote, “When many Americans think of organized crime, they think of drug cartels or criminal rings engaged in gambling or money laundering. What they probably don’t know is that after the drug trade, human trafficking is the world’s second most profitable organized criminal enterprise, estimated to be a $32 billion-a-year industry.” Human trafficking is something that is highly prevalent in the world around us, as evidenced by what Bastian wrote, but at the same time it’s something that is highly overlooked. Human trafficking can take multiple forms with women and children being brought into a country specifically for sexual exploitation or it could be bringing in children to perform labor against their will. It’s hard to believe that the world is plagued by people that are willing to kidnap or take advantage of others and treat them like property or less than human. According to Bastian, approximately 27 million people are made victims of human trafficking around the world every year. It’s taking place right here on American soil whether we realize it or not as it’s one of the hotspots for human traffickers around the world. When you look at the numbers it’s maddening to know that such heinous crimes like this are happening right under our nose every day. It all comes down to awareness. We can’t be afraid to speak up when we witness something out of the ordinary. We can’t sit back and be silent bystanders to the wrongs in the world. It’s about understanding that victims of human trafficking and the perpetrators of the crimes are among us. They may share the same public spaces as us and not even know it. Awareness is key. If there’s one thing we can’t afford to do when it comes to human trafficking or injustice in general, it’s that we can’t look the other way and tell ourselves that these things aren’t happening. Be vigilant, speak up, and make a difference.
First off, social justice is an umbrella term that includes many different topics, but with a common thread that runs through them: the human element. It’s a broad term that exists to explain the drive and motivation for people to unite under a particular cause for positive change in the society around them. It’s about identifying the injustice being done in the world and doing everything in our power to turn the tide and attempt to right the wrongs. It’s not a challenge that advocates for social justice take lightly as it’s an uphill battle in regards to many of the topics that fall under that umbrella term. One of those uphill battles that has been going on for years and years is economic inequality or the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor.
Plutarch, a Greek historian and biographer, once said, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
Once you begin to think about those words you can start to look back through history and see that those words ring very true. The gap between the rich and the poor is something that has been under much scrutiny over the years and especially now, as the gap in wealth in America has achieved a frightening level. An article published today at Fortune.com digs deeper into this issue of economic inequality in America and how it’s worse than we think. This article cites the recently published work of economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman as primary evidence of this country’s economic direction. Since these economists didn’t have government records of wealth on hand, they developed a method to estimate the spread of wealth by using income records. They found that from the 1930s to the 1970s, the U.S. went through a pretty stable share of wealth, but after that the numbers began to shift dramatically as they stated, “The trend then inverted, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent in 2012 from 7 percent in the late 1970s. The top 0.1 percent includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20 million in 2012.” To go along with that startling point, “Saez and Zucman show that, in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families, and that wealth is about 10 times as unequal as income.” Think about that, 160,000 families own as much as the poorest 145 million families. That’s surreal. That is the definition of economic inequality and it ties in with the popular belief that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
There are multiple reasons for these statistics as middle-class workers are having to deal with wages that aren’t increasing and faced with the challenge of competing with lower-wage labor outside of the U.S. This is forcing the middle class to spend what little they have on the necessities and not leaving much room for saving money on the side, which in turn can lead into serious debt. This is a major problem for our society as a whole because when the middle class isn’t spending, it hurts businesses around the country creating a domino effect that only harms our fragile economy more and more. Sadly, there are no easy solutions to this form of inequality, but maybe with some tax reform and other policies this current economic trend can start heading in the right direction for the benefit of all Americans.
Social Justice is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”
The cool thing about The Show Me Justice Film Festival is the array of films that will come in covering so many different social justice issues. Pachamama.org said the following about Social Justice Issues “Social justice issues occur globally, nationally, regionally, locally, and within groups. These issues are a result of unequal wealth and resource distribution, unfair treatment of individuals with differing triats (race, culture, sextual orientation, religion, etc), and laws that support segregation.” The fact that UCM is not only putting on their own film festival, but raising awareness in the process by choosing the broad, important topic/issue of Social Justice (or injustice with most cases) is quite awesome. Kind of going off this past week where UCM had it’s homecoming week where the theme was “where the pieces fit.” It works the same with all of these social justice issues. It takes everyone to work together on many different issues, and coming together with an array of solutions.
But with every issue comes tough times obviously, and even when someone feels they may be close to the finish something always seems to kick you down. With Social Justice having so many huge issues that can be discussed I rather link them by that feeling of staring up at the brick wall of these horrible issues you may be trying to break through. One of my favorite movies is Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood, a story about Nelson Mandella and the South African rugby team. In this film Nelson Mandella (Morgan Freeman) reads a famous poem created by William Ernest Henley. (The scene=link, picture of the actual poem ) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FozhZHuAcCs
The poem basically referring to hard times, the hardest of times, the darkest of times, and to just remember nothing controls you or determines how you should feel. As it says “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This poem was created for William Henley to boost his own spirits, yes it was because he was sick in the hospital, but this has no limits on to what problems it relates to.
So The Show Me Justice Film Festival is not only a great opportunity for UCM, but an awesome way to raise awareness on so many Social Justice issues.
According to a recent study by the University of New England, the students of the Masters of Social Work program discovered there were five key issues facing social workers at the moment.
We will take a deeper look at each of the five issues, while examining some staggering statistics, discovering local resources, and discussing other important information about the topic.
Top Five Issues Facing Social Workers:
There continues to be a gap between the earning wages and the cost of housing, which is one of the greatest risk factors to the increase in the number of people who experience homelessness at some point in their life. There are several social and physical impacts that can lead to homelessness as well, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness.
In an article from the USA Today on October 21, 2013, titled “Colleges campuses see rise in homeless students”, the reporter finds that FAFSA data suggests that 58,000 students nationwide are homeless. Some campuses like the University of Central Missouri are taking action and providing students with an on campus food pantry. Students will have access to a variety of goods from food to diapers, and can visit several times throughout the week.
- Social Services Funding With Government cuts to social service programs such as healthcare and food stamps, there are many families with children who go without. Social workers are seeing an increase in the total number of clients they serve, as more people are now looking for assistance. According to FeedingAmerica.org, the average benefit per person receiving SNAP benefits is around $133.85 a month. This would break down to $1.50 per person, per meal. We spend nearly $5.00 a day on a cup of coffee, just so we can get going in the morning when some people are eating an entire meal for $1.50. That really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
- Poverty This is the issue that has been at the core of social work since its inception. Poverty is more than just making a living wage. The money you make must also cover childcare, healthcare, mental health, education expenses, and a variety of other regular bills families are faced with today. FeedingAmerica.org also reports that 45.3 million people (or 14.5 percent of the population) were living in poverty in 2013. Over 30% of those people were children under the age of 18. That means there were 14.7 million children going to school hungry every day during this time. It is also worth noting that Missouri was one of eight states to report a statistically significantly higher number of food insecurities at 16.9%, when the US average was 14.6%.
While the education system is facing increased cuts and pressures from the government, students are struggling at home and at school. At home, students may be experiencing tough issues like the unemployment of a parent, or even worse, substance abuse. And at school, they may face intense bullying or struggle with a learning disability. These daily conflicts can only add to the pressures the students face, as directly related to their level of success or failure.
The LGBT youth is one of the issues the social workers are most concerned with in today’s society. Because they face bullying in school and possibly being disowned by their parents, LGBT teens can often be found in homeless shelters or juvenile facilities, or possibly still trying to stay closeted for fear of these situations. This also leads to an increased concern for their mental health, as there has been a recent increase in the number of suicides by LGBT youth.
If you are looking for a way to help, you’re in luck! October 13-October 17, 2014 is Ally Week. You can check out this link for more information, and don’t forget to tweet using #AllyWeek or #BetterAllies to let everyone know what you’re doing to support the LGBT youth, while working to be a better ally.
We know this is a rather brief look at some very important topics, but when considering a career in social work, it is important to understand some of the key social justice issues you will face frequently. If you are a social worker, how do you overcome some of these issues? Also, are there other topics you feel we should be focusing on as well?
Have you heard the term “social justice” recently and wondered, “What is social justice, exactly?” Well, chances are…you are not alone!
While many believe social justice may be an umbrella term that would be far too difficult to broach in this simple blog post, there are a few important aspects we can address.
First we’ll look at what the champions of social justice believe the term means, and then we’ll compare that to the opposing viewpoints many may have. Finally, we will review the fundamentals of social justice, while considering a way we can all work together in a more civil environment to tackle to tough topics of social justice.
If you were to ask supporters what social justice means to them, you would find that basically—it means whatever they would like it to mean. For example, ten champions of social justice may give you these answers as important issues in social justice today:
- EQUAL access to education
- Gay RIGHTS
- UNIVERSAL health care
- Income INEQUALITY
- RIGHT to housing
- Child WELFARE
- Women’s RIGHTS
- Racial INEQUALITY
However, the other side may view social justice as something completely different. A particular response from a recent study claimed that:
“[Social Justice is] the promotion of ethical standards held by the majority, by shaming and shunning those who are considered ‘unethical’. This basically reinforces the feelings of ethical superiority, instead of promoting actual change.”
Other trepidations opponents may have regarding social justice, include the feelings that it is merely:
- Political Opportunism
- Intellectual Laziness
And essentially, that “freedom must be sacrificed in order to redistribute income.” There is a general concern that the state will grow and utilize its POWER to do “good things”.
It is true, that the basic doctrine of social justice can be simplified by THE HAVES, who have too much, and THE HAVE NOTS, who never have enough.
However, we must pull away from this notion that only the “right” people can impose equality, prosperity, justice, and all the other “good things”, and that the state is the only institution that is capable of implementing these ideals. Those who champion social justice should not view those who do not as the enemy! It’s this very separation that prevents us from being a truly free society.
But why is it only up to the state to fix? Why can’t we come together and fight for these issues as one?
It is important to note that organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) are known for fighting for social justice. In an article titled “And Social Justice for All” on the APA.org website by Chris Munsey states that the most noticeable came in 1954, when APA President Kenneth B. Clark, PhD and Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD provided works which aided in the Supreme Court decision, ruling racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
In closing, we feel Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD., President of the APA said it best:
“We can all work to turn down the temperature on outrage, and we can disagree passionately, but with respect and care.”
Please share your thoughts with us, as we’d love to include other opinions and ideas into the working definition of social justice.
Marijuana legalization has been a long-debated social justice topic in the United States since it was made illegal with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Lots of progress has been made toward its legalization in recent years with many states and the District of Columbia legalizing the plant for medicinal use. In 2012, perhaps the biggest step towards legalization was made when Colorado and Washington state both made the plant legal for recreational use.
More and more research on marijuana is being conducted to figure out exactly what the substance is and how it can be beneficial to people. Recent research has disproved many of the negative things people used to believe about marijuana, which is why legalization is at the highest approval rating of all time. This has cause the argument against marijuana to shift focus. Here are some of the reasons against marijuana legalization:
1.) Marijuana is a gateway drug – many people believe that if one were to use marijuana regularly, it would make them want to use other drugs, like cocaine, heroin or LSD.
2.) Marijuana could get in the hands of children – if made legal, children would be able to get a hold of the drug more easily.
3.) Legalization could increase violence – with a legal marijuana market, stores that distribute the plant would face the threat of people trying to rob them of their product.
Many advocates believe that the benefits of marijuana legalization far outweigh the disadvantages. Here are some of the arguments for marijuana legalization:
1.) Marijuana offers many health benefits – marijuana has been shown to help with the treatment of diseases like cancer, epilepsy, depression, and many others.
2.) Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco – marijuana poses less health risks than alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal substances.
3.) People should have the right to use marijuana if they choose to – as free American citizens, marijuana should be available to use should one choose to use it.
Marijuana legalization is a hotly debated topic that will not go away any time soon. I want to know what you guys think. Should marijuana be made legal for everyone to use? Should it be made legal only for medicinal purposes? Should it be kept illegal? Let me know what you guys think!