Justice: A Name and A Story
My second cousin’s moniker forces me to consider fairness and socioeconomic privilege
In my father’s slightly dingbatty extended family we boast strippers and a bail bonds person who wrote a book about outing their own Hell’s Angel sibling. We embrace kooky rednecks who bring their own Tupperware to reunions so they can take leftovers home to spouses too high or hungover to attend.
We have combine salespeople, nurses, and postal workers. We have cousins with white privilege-ish names and ones who prefer their karaoke alias. And I have a second cousin named Justice. This baby was named when its teenage daddy was in Juvi “because we want her Daddy to get Justice”. It mattered not that he openly admits to committing the crime for which he was locked up.
Oxford Dictionaries defines my relative’s name as “just behavior or treatment, the quality of being fair and reasonable”. Is this little girl, feisty from the moment she leaped out of the birth canal, actually granted the same equitable benefits her name demands?
My dad’s “black sheep” sister is Justice’s mostly drunk great-grandmother. At 16 and pregnant she ran as far from the family farm as her extended belly would take her.
This child, my father’s first nephew, was the first of many children from several unsupportive fathers. Sadly she trails a genetic pedigree of drug addicts, suicide victims, and jailbirds.
My father and his four other siblings do not have offspring with the same “colorful” narratives. They have savings accounts, land, four-wheelers, cottages, degrees, Audis, and mortgage payments. My cousins are lawyers, nurse practitioners, and teachers.
Justice’s family is not even close to the pinnacle of the socioeconomic pyramid. Through her family’s many court trials and tribulations I see and hear the physical reality of how disconnected justice is to socioeconomic class.
How did this happen? How do we live with the fact that the role of opportunity, class, and education in promoting true justice is as obvious as my aunt’s grey roots?
Injustice in the Prison System
I’m sure it is no surprise to most of us that “[m]embers of the lower classes are overrepresented in U.S. prisons” (Dr. Sandra Trappen).
One’s position in the social class hierarchy may impact, for example, health, family life, education, religious affiliation, political participation, and experience with the criminal justice system. Lumen Candela
It is the same in Canada: there are a higher number of prisoners from specific population groups – aboriginal, visible minorities, and the poor, as well as from regions where “unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity” are issues (Farshad Azadian).
For too long we have assumed that the people who have been “justly” imprisoned are there correctly or merely because the act of committing a crime is simply right and wrong, black and white. But is it?
Dr. Sandra Trappen asks questions that we, too, should be demanding about these imbalanced prison statistics. “Why? Is it because they commit more crime? Or are they more likely to be targeted?”
Statistics from [Canadian] government reports reveal that those in prison tend to be less well educated and are more likely to be unemployed and earn far lower incomes than the general population. Dr. Sandra Trappen
Injustice and Socioeconomic Status
Class penetrates more than justice – It impacts every aspect of our lives. How is it fair that different classes have different access to different resources?
I know it goes much deeper than right and wrong, criminal vs. non-criminal. I often feel as though I’m overwhelmed staring down at the colorless, image-less puzzle box, my fingers caressing piles of mixed pieces. How will this puzzle come together properly? What exactly is this that I am attempting to build?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr
Can we ever expect true justice? What can we do about injustice? I struggle with the idea that I can’t sit around doing anything and expect justice to simply miraculously occur. At some point, my Sauconys need to hit the patchy pavement. I must do something.
What I Can Do About It
Sometimes I feel devastatingly overpowered. Like dieting restrictions ordering me to quit eating anything but raw, green vegetables and only between 2:00 and 4:00 every other afternoon. Too much too soon and the new year’s resolution floats down the drain with this morning’s six chocolate bar breakfast.
I must do something. So I will start small, knowing that doing something is better than doing nothing.
Here are three fairly simple ways that Efrosini Costa outlines in her article “10 Ways to Promote Social Justice Everyday”.
Our voices can be powerful. “[V]oice, as a concept, means to give someone ‘individual agency and power, and to have a way to express his or her beliefs’” (Molly Callahan in Drobinske).
Listen to those authentic, struggling, knowledgeable voices. I am embracing the basics of justice when, unafraid, I listen to, see and hear someone — and then share their reality/opinion/belief.
See me. Hear me. Talk about me in a good way. I may be the kid named Justice who experiences very little of her own name. And you might change my life.
2. Embrace Diversity
Hearing individual differences means knowing diversity. I need to embrace and celebrate each and every person’s reality and story. Costa suggests checking out neighborhoods and communities unlike your own.
“Befriend someone of a different race, ethnicity, religion or age, to explore your prejudices and gain a better understanding of the issues affecting them.” (Efrosini Costa) And I’m not talking tokenism.
3. Reclaim Your Community
Get to know your neighbors. And not just so they can be security guards for your prized azaleas when you’re half-naked on the beaches of Aruba.
My Job Through It All
Injustice is so much bigger than the measly details I share of the wonky, street-smart characters sharing my genetic code. Deeper than statistics. Greater than simply shouting “howdy” to your neighbor across the 2x4s tall enough to keep their bouncing mastiffs inside their yard.
But I can still do something. I need to do something. Before the next Tupperware-loading family reunion.