This question was asked of William Shatner and he gave what I think is a pretty good answer.
The thing is, most of what people call “social justice” is neither Social nor Justice. This does not mean that the term itself can’t have valid meaning. Somebody over on the Book of Faces said that using a modifier with “Justice” diluted and destroyed the meaning with “Social Justice” as the prime example. I disagreed. Modifiers on “Justice” are not necessarily diluting or destroying so much as rather calling out subsets within the larger field of “justice.”
Properly used the expression [modifier][justice] is not a case of the modifier changing what is meant by “justice” but rather means “Justice”, in its own meaning as. applied. to. the. topic. indicated. by. “modifier.”
A good example is “Criminal Justice”, as the term is properly used (which is not to say that it is properly used all that often) is the application of the concept of justice to criminal law and the courts. Things like proof beyond reasonable doubt before instituting legal penalties. None of this “we all know he’s guilty” and certainly no Queen of Hearts’ “penalty first, verdict later.”
The modifier simply what elements of justice we’re talking about.
Thus, “social justice” can be a perfectly valid term. The application of principles of justice to the topic of “society.” Abolishing Jim Crow is an excellent example of “social justice” (as the term should mean). Ending Apartheid is another. Working through persuasion and argument to end and reduce prejudice and discrimination is yet another.
What it it not, what it cannot be without corrupting the term “Justice” beyond recognition is to use force to take what someone has earned either directly or though investment, and give it to someone else who didn’t earn it. That is injustice however you slice it.
As economist Walter E. Williams put it:
“But let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you – and why?”
― Walter E. Williams, All It Takes Is Guts
But that’s not what we have. That’s not how it’s used. Indeed, it’s used in the exact opposite: to take from those who have earned to give to those who haven’t. To try to level “inequities” in ways that don’t reduce the root causes, but in ways which exacerbate them.
It’s not “Social justice” in any rational meaning of the term. It’s simply injustice. It doesn’t become justice because of previous injustices going the other way. Putting artificial barriers in front of one group because previously barriers were in front of another does not render such barriers just. They’re just as unjust whichever group they’re in front of.
The problem is that changes in society take time. No matter how much one might wish to wipe away the injustices of the past and move forward into a perfectly just future. Unfortunately, that’s not an achievable goal in the real world. We can try to move toward it, tapping our feet impatiently at the slow progress, but that is all. Attempts to hasten the process, by implementing new injustices in an attempt to “right the injustices of the past” do not serve that end. All they do is add to the injustice, and invite backlash as the new injustices are seen by those, now being unjustly treated, to perpetrate yet more injustice now to “correct” the injustice they are not experiencing.
And so it goes, injustice breeding injustice moving further away from the goal of a more just society.
Further, justice must always be an individual matter. Injustice committed by one individual, or even a group of individuals, never justifies reprisal against individuals who did not commit the injustice simply because they happen to possess certain characteristics (like skin color or ethnic forebears) to the ones who did commit the injustice. Collective punishment is itself extreme injustice.
If you want justice, you must promote justice not new injustices. It may take longer than you like to fully right the wrongs handed down from the past. Indeed, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a perfectly just society in this imperfect world. But that’s no excuse to perpetrate new injustices simply so you can “get yours.”
So is the ideal you strive for actual justice, or an excuse for injustices in your favor.
I tend to prefer justice.