Grief at Systems of Injustice

In most grief literature, we frame grief individually- I, or you, have lost something or someone and we have to step forward in life in the wake of that loss. But we also see an undercurrent of a deeper grief, one that reacts to the damage done by injustice and unjust systems as they harm humans both individually and in communities.

This is a pervasive grief. None of us live in perfectly just societies, and if we do not see the injustice in the system it is because we choose not to see it or we are privileged enough that it is invisible to us. We all participate in society, and even as we run into these unjust systems, we recognize that individual action will not do much to change the system itself, we need collective action.

This kind of grief turns readily into anger, both at the system itself for being unjust and at others who are not working to bring justice or may be actively working against justice.

This kind of grief can also turn into apathy, the sense of struggling to move a system that seems unmovable. The sense of being alone in wanting change can wear us down as we do not see others rallying with us in the cause. And a different kind of apathy when these stories of injustice sweep through the culture with a sense of pity, but the energy for change doesn’t last as the next big story comes in.

Choosing a life of activism often feels like grief. It is difficult to remain faithful to a cause when it feels like shouting at the ceiling and pleading to an empty room. And yet we are heartened by stories of other activists who did see lasting structural changes toward justice, often after decades or even a lifetime of work.

Justice is a strong drive at the core of your heart, and grief walks alongside it. You may find it useful to retell your story, even just to yourself, to remember why you believe in justice and why it’s worth continuing to pursue right action through all the struggles. As an activist, you are a modern day prophet, seeing straight through to the heart of the issue and trying to wake up a culture that seems to be asleep.

Your story of justice can be a light when everything around you seems dark. Stories keep us going when we want to stop. Justice is worth pursuing every day, and your choice to sit with the grief of injustice instead of ignoring it will be a beacon to those who come after you.