The American civil right icon and champion of social justice, the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once gave an eloquent speech and spelt how the moral arc of the universe tends to bend toward justice. Well, while I am reluctant to disagree with such a legendary figure and public intellectual, I remain unconvinced that such is the case. It appears to me that our world is built on injustice and is a place where only the strongest and fittest could survive.
Of course, a semblance of justice may happen every now and then no doubt, but the default setting favours injustice. The big and powerful nations of the world with their strong armies will always lord it over the smaller and less powerful ones. They often use every instrument of coercion and sometimes openly declare war when they fail to have their way.
Occasionally, justice gets served and those who commit egregious acts are punished but a universal system of justice which Rev. King alluded to in his speech, simply does not exist anywhere. For whereas war criminals in Africa like Charles Taylor of Liberia or Théoneste Bagosora, the Rwandan military officer chiefly responsible for the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, were made to face justice at the Hague, what happened to those responsible for invading a sovereign nation under a false pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction? The moral act in this case, was bent in the direction that the powers that be wanted it to. Selective justice is by its very nature, grave injustice.
How about economic justice? One would argue that the arch of the universe in this case, bends toward exploitation. When Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of San Salvador, what is now known as Bahama on 12 October 1492 during the age of exploration, he met a welcoming Taino people of the Carribeans who saw the white man as some kind of deity. But Columbus later turned around and took some of those indigenous people prisoners and insisted that they guide him to the source of their gold. By the time the team of European explorers were done, the Taínos were virtually exterminated. Many were captured in slavery, some were killed while the rest died from the disease introduced by the colonialists. Where is the justice?
All African countries with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia were once colonised by western powers. The great wealth of Europe and America was not built with loans from Bretton Wood institutions, but from resources extracted from the former colonies and the forced labour of Africans taken away from their homeland. After gaining independence, these same Western governments recommended that African nations, which they impoverished, obtain loans from the World Bank and other Western-controlled institutions while imposing impossible terms and conditions. Where is the justice in that?
Long after Haitians threw off their shackles, having seriously beat up Napoleon’s forces and won their independence two centuries prior, France came back with warships and an unheard-of demand: that Haitians pay about $20 billion in today’s dollars to their former slave masters, or face war again. War-wary, Haiti reluctantly agreed. Today, Haiti, the second-oldest republic in the Americas, after the United States, is also the poorest and most unstable country in the Western Hemisphere. Where is the justice in that?
When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti raised the issue of France paying reparations for this grave injustice, all hell was let loose. Long story short, the United States and France conspired to force Aristide out of power and installed their stooge. Where is the justice?
Martin Luther was also known to have mounted a serious campaign in favour of America paying reparations for over 400 years of black exploitation as slaves. He later got a letter from the American secret service urging him to commit suicide. Today, he is celebrated as a folk hero and even has a memorial to his name in Washington DC, but where is the justice for those he fought and died for?
From the exploitation of indigenous people by Christopher Columbus, to the colonisation of African countries and the enslavement of African people, to the demand for reparations from Haiti, to the persecution of Martin Luther, it is evident that justice is often absent in our world. There is nothing, however, to prove that those who are being exploited will not be the one exploiting others if the situations were to be reversed. In Africa, human beings were captured during war and peace and forced to work as slaves in other lands even before the coming of the white man. Just as whites segregated against blacks during slavery, caste systems have existed in some parts of Africa for centuries, where some are treated as less human than the other even when all belong to the same race. Where is the justice?
Injustice is condemnable but tells on the ugly part of humanity. Besides the fact that there is a perpetual fight in this world for food and other resources, humans by nature are often driven by a desire for power and competitive advantage. This desire has been the root cause of many of the injustices that have been perpetuated throughout history.
Whites are not going to open the doors to their wealth for black people to access only for blacks to come back and challenge their world dominance, just like the Chinese and Indians are doing currently. That would be something close to economic suicide. It doesn’t matter that blacks devote another century railing against the system and banging our heads against the wall and regardless of how entitled we feel based on centuries of exploitation of our forebears. Nobody said such is fair but the world gives no care about fairness despite all the pretension to the contrary. That is just the stark reality. All the sympathy you can get is the occasional virtue signaling.
Since black people are always getting the short end of the stick, it is important to realise that the world cannot offer us what is not available. Like every other race, white, Chinese and Indians, we have to fight hard and compete with others to land a good spot on the table. We have to build values and share with others. I am not just talking about political values this time, though important. I mean that Blacks in Africa, America and everywhere on the surface of this earth have to focus on building economic values. When you occupy the bottom of the value chain, the arch of injustice will seek you out to embrace. You have no choice.
Nothing holds someone back more than feeling like a victim. That is because a victim is not responsible for his situation and thus takes no blame. Everything is always someone else’s fault. Blaming the black man’s woes on others other than ourselves is like wondering why your business competitors are stealing your customers. Isn’t that what they are supposed to do? Do we think that Amazon should apologise to the brick and mortar big box retailers, many of whose business model it destroyed and grew to become the world’s number one online marketplace? Shouldn’t her goal be to position in such a way that no company would ever be powerful enough to threaten its hegemony while others fight to be in a position to challenge that?
Black people, like any other race, must work hard and compete with others to succeed. We cannot afford to rely on the world to offer us what is not available. We must take responsibility for our own situations and work to improve them. Feeling like a victim will only hold us back. We must take ownership of our own lives and strive to overcome the obstacles in our way.
By building economic value and sharing our values with others, we can position ourselves for success and challenge the hegemony of those who seek to oppress us. We must take responsibility for our own situations, economic or otherwise. By doing so, we will be in a position to challenge the status quo and create a better world for ourselves and our future generations.
•Osmund Agbo writes from Houston, Texas. Email: [email protected]