In January 2018, on the inaugural episode of The Van Jones Show, Jay-Z gave us the allegory of the super-bug when offering his opinion on the infamous former L.A. Clippers basketball team owner's comments. The simple wisdom of his allegory is instructive for those who are or desire to be activist, passionate pursuers of justice, and social change agents. Within the first 10 minutes of his interview, Jay-Z gave us the allegory of the super-bug saying:
“… this has been going on, this is how people talk, this is how they talk behind closed doors. There was a moment where Donald Sterling had been exposed as this racist on a private phone conversation that he was having and they took his (Los Angeles Clippers) team from him. And it’s like ok, that’s one way to do it, but another way would have been, ok let him have his team and let’s talk about it together, and lets, maybe some penalties, cause once you do that, all the other closet racist just run back in the hole. You haven’t fixed anything, what you’ve done is spray perfume on the trash can, and what you do when you do that is you know when the bugs come and you spray some thing and then they come, and you create a super-bug right. Because you don’t take care of the problem, you don’t take the trash out, you just keep spraying whatever over it to make it acceptable, and then as those things grow, you create a super-bug”.
The expectation for swift, cutting, and punitive action on individuals and groups who exhibit racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and the multitude of other socially intolerant and bigoted behaviors is completely understood and warranted. Certainly, this type of punitive action is symbolic and “sends a message”. However, those who are committed to social change know that symbolic victories alone does not necessarily change the environment, the individual, or the trajectory of humanity. It merely satisfies the immediate hunger pangs for retaliation.
We need more examples in our society that embody social justice as a restorative process, led by those with a comprehensive understanding of how the transgression impacts the community, and accountability measures that require effort on the part of the transgressor to engage the individual or community affected. Finally, scalable redress to the individual and/or the community impacted by the transgressor, with significant input from those affected, as to the appropriateness of restitution.
Social justice must be BOTH symbolic and restorative, exacted by members of the community who are well prepared to mediate restorative processes.