Social justice encompasses a variety of concerns, including labor rights, gender equality, racial equality, healthcare access, and more. Since 2009, the UN has recognized February 20th as the “World Day of Social Justice.” This day is an opportunity to learn about social justice issues and how to create a more just world. Here are five social justice speeches that inspire and enlighten:
Heather C. McGhee
In her Ted Talk, public policy expert Heather C. McGhee explores the argument that racism doesn’t only hurt those who are discriminated against; it hurts everyone. While focused on racism in America, her ideas apply throughout the world and with other areas of discrimination. Based on her research and travels, McGhee describes how racism impacts bad policymaking, which hurts the economy. As a result, everyone is worse off. In McGhee’s words, “we keep pretending like we’re not all on the same team.” As soon as we realize our shared humanity, we can start investing in everyone and build a stronger world.
Heather C. McGhee is a political commentator, political strategist, and public policy expert. She served as the president of Demos, a non-profit progressive think tank, and is now a distinguished senior fellow there.
Another Ted Talk, this speech from 2016 identifies how intersectional issues are vital to social justice. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989, describes how victims of prejudice frequently have intersecting identities that put them at risk for more harm. She asks the audience if they recognize the names of Black men killed by police over the past 2 ½ years. Then, she asks if they know the names of Black women. In her research, Crenshaw learned how intersections of race, gender, heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, and more create unique challenges for people living with these intersections. For social justice to progress, society must recognize those challenges.
Kimberlé Crenshaw is a leading scholar of critical race theory and the developer of intersectionality. She’s an American lawyer, philosopher, and civil rights advocate. She’s a professor at the ULCA School of Law and Columbia Law School.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Delivered at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King reflects on the progress made possible by the Civil Rights Movement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has passed. What comes next? He states that it’s a time for action, strategy, and a “tactical program” that will bring Black Americans into mainstream society. Returning to his roots, Dr. King emphasizes that nonviolence is the only way to achieve social justice. He also answers the title question by saying a restructuring of American society and its economy is necessary. Poverty, a huge social justice issue, must be addressed.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the Civil Rights movement’s best-known leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, orator, and author.
Elie Wiesel gave this speech on April 12, 1999. A Holocaust survivor, Wiesel discusses his life and experiences, focusing on how dangerous indifference is in the face of human rights violations. In his words, it is the opposite of a response. It is “always the friend of the enemy” and benefits the abuser. Indifference refuses to acknowledge and call out abuses, and as a result, fails to see victims as human. There’s no place for indifference when working to achieve social justice.
Elie Wiesel was a human rights activist and author of 57 books, including Night, which explores his experience as a teenager in a concentration camp.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Desmond Tutu discusses South Africa and apartheid. He makes the essential connection between justice and peace, saying that without justice, peace is impossible. Problems aren’t limited to South Africa. Tutu gives examples of other places where injustice flourishes, like Latin America, Korea, the Middle East, and elsewhere. It follows that for the world to be peaceful and secure, social justice is necessary. Tutu points out the consequences of insecurity, such as an arms race. While money is spent on weapons, millions of people starve. Within this kind of world, peace is not possible.
Desmond Tutu is a South African Anglican theologian, cleric, and human rights activist. He is best known for his work to end apartheid. He won the Nobel Peace Prize before apartheid ended, bringing more international awareness to the issue.