Justice is a theme in every religious and moral tradition, a part of the human experience, and an ideal in every society, but what is justice? The Bible gives examples, but they are similar to other traditions: do not spread false reports, do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness, do not follow the crowd in doing wrong, when you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly, do not accept a bribe, and so on. Even without these examples, people generally know what justice is. It means to give a person his or her due, do not steal from them, do not hurt them, and most people try to abide by them. At a higher level, treating a person with love and respect is also an aspect of justice.
Social justice means something different. It means that everyone should have equal access to health, to wealth, to privileges and so on. It compares outcomes for aggregates of people, whether races, genders, or some other characteristic, and, where there is some level of unequal aggregate outcome, assigns guilt to the aggregate that is better off. The correction is redistribution from an oppressor group to an oppressed group. It sounds plausible that, if there is a fixed pie of stuff, if one group has less stuff, it is necessarily because the other group got more through nefarious means.
There are multiple problems with this worldview. One is that broad aggregates are made of individuals with different historical backgrounds. Immigrants from some countries, as sub-aggregates, though they may be of the same skin color, have vastly different outcomes. Their behaviors are different, and they get results that are different from others in their racial aggregate. If one subset of a racial aggregate prospers, while others languish, it undercuts the assumption that the aggregate difference is due strictly to race.
More important, but related, is that there is no fixed economic pie. All wealth comes from productivity without exception. Even wealth that is stolen was first produced by someone. The economy expands because people make more things and provide more services. The people in the sub-categories who prosper find a way to plug in. It is true that people in a poor locality can find it harder to plug in, but that has more to do with location, local politics, and local culture than what is called systemic racism of one aggregate against another. State and federal policies do have an effect on these factors, but typically the opposite effect that is attributed to them. Programs that are proposed to help them actually hurt them. Those things do need to be addressed, but cries of “systemic racism” do nothing to identify or actually fix the underlying issues.
That gets to the core of the problem. As Thomas Sowell, the respected black economist, has pointed out in his many works on race and culture over his 50+ year career, the real systemic problem is the set of programs initiated in the 1960s Great Society era and after that claim to help blacks and other minorities, but pervert normal incentives to such an extent that the great majority of black children grow up in fatherless homes and create an unhealthy culture that undermines productivity, creativity, and personal attainment.
The social justice machine doesn’t want to hear that. It is too easy to just blame the racism of the aggregate of all white people for the ills of the aggregate of all black people, though the utter failures of the decades of redistribution programs and progressive city administrations stares them in the face.