As a Sociology and Health: Science, Society, and Policy double major, I’ve taken a plethora of Brandeis classes that have shown me how systemic injustice is. Although injustice manifests in every street corner and neighborhood of our country, every person is impacted differently as a result of how they are situated within intersecting contexts of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. I’ve found myself drawn to the concept of the social determinants of health and the importance of understanding how one’s identity and where they live can greatly impact their health and life chances.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear how social, racial, political, and economic forces are shaping our health outcomes. At the start of the pandemic, some referred to it as the “Great Equalizer” because they believed that everyone was equally susceptible to the virus. However, this reality could not be further from the truth. We have seen that Black and Brown people have died at much higher rates than White people due to where they work, underlying health conditions, and race-based disparities that limit access to health care and other resources. We are all in the same storm, but we are definitely not in the same boat.
Understanding the root causes of systemic forms of oppression is essential in order to bring about social justice for all. As I’ve been at Brandeis, I’ve noticed my classes becoming more focused on intersectionality across issues, rather than taking a single-issue approach. In my “Sociology of Empowerment” course, we read an article that has stayed with me beyond the duration of the course. The article, “If We Don’t Solve Racial Injustice, We’ll Never Solve the Climate Crisis,” draws parallels between racial and climate injustice to say that they are rooted in the same systemic oppression. As a result, communities of color often face the disproportionate impact of climate change, and therefore face unequal health outcomes as a result. One powerful quote from the article reads: “…being dominated and exploited to serve a wealthy white few is something Black people share with the planet.” Climate justice is racial justice. This article makes it clear that we can’t bring about climate justice without bringing about racial justice, and realizing the links between the two. Social justice movements are often viewed in silos, which is holding us back from achieving an intersectional form of justice.
From my time at Oxfam America so far, it has become increasingly clear how an organization can fight oppression through an approach that focuses on interlocking forms of oppression. Oxfam addresses the injustice of poverty by working on land rights, women’s rights, climate change, and human rights. There is collaboration between these teams, and they work to address the root causes of poverty simultaneously. For instance, the gender team in my department does research on how women laborers are being impacted by climate change and land grabs by corporations. Without linking these issues, there is so much that gets left out of the story.
While taking on various projects, I try to stay grounded in an approach that draws parallels between issues. Oxfam’s work is intersectional and truly speaks to how we can’t achieve justice by solely focusing on one form of oppression at a time. Since oppression is systemic and intersectional, the best way to promote social justice is to fight for systemic and intersectional solutions in a way that advocates for those who are most marginalized.