The great African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was once recorded as having said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Unfortunately, we have to accept that injustice is a natural part of the world that we inhabit, given the social structures and attitudes that have been fostered by cultures, religions, and our experiences. However, a certain bad taste comes to one’s mouth when it is realized that this statement was made in a nation that is supposed to represent the epitome of democracy and justice. After all, the United States was the success story of revolutions that saw the rest of the world go through a series of mass democratization.
The issue here is that the founding of this nation saw the declaration of the existence of unalienable rights. Given that without government, people are theoretically equal regardless of their race, gender, creed, or sexuality, that same philosophy ought to apply when a government is in effect. The fact people bearing more discriminatory beliefs also have power is one of the key problems in the running of the US government. In this so-called “justice system” of the United States, such distasteful attitudes are justified based on scary distortions of the truth and the mistaking of correlation with causation. Thus, these attitudes are institutionalized such that they become the unspoken tradition of a broken system. It seems to be that every time we make progress in one area of equality for human rights, adjusting our course to one that is more just, another area of issue is brought down.
What we have seen is that the respecting of the rights and existence of the many facets of humanity has come piecemeal. The fight for the rights of subdued populations has been, and remains, a very difficult struggle. While women’s rights rose, people of color were still marginalized. Once black people finally gained some enfranchisement, the LGBTQ community became the new group to ostracize. Once LGBTQ rights were recognized as a necessity, the hostility towards Muslims intensified. Once the hatred towards these devout peoples was finally condemned, Hispanic immigrants were suddenly called criminals. And the background to all of this was the constant stereotyping as savages and fickle treatment of those native to these lands. With every group given better treatment, another group remains lacking, or is turned into the new “it” group to place under attack. Needless to say, the piecemeal acknowledgement of these forms of discrimination are indicative of a trend that must be dealt with if we are to even hope of building not just a society, but a world where justice really means something to people.
Given what has been discussed, it could be said that there is some bit of truth to what he has said. Because the United States has a history of allowing the social injustice of openly proud discrimination towards certain groups, other nations have been able to use their example as a justification for continuing to marginalize minorities across lines of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion, among others. Students of history should be quick to recognize the example that has been set by the Western world with regard to the treatment of under-represented groups. Sure, it might be part of human nature to marginalize those whose experiences do not mirror our own.
It remains extremely important to understand that the sheer political influence and economic sway the West has over the rest of the world indicates the significance of the actions taken by Western society. This is not to say that the West is superior to the rest of the world in any way, shape, or form, it is an acknowledgement of the power held by North America and Europe. Therefore, the discrimination towards minorities that is considered acceptable in the United States could very well be used to justify discrimination against those same groups in other areas, such as the Middle East or in the Pacific.
While our society enjoys celebrating the progress it has made in terms of advancing social liberties, we have also developed a tendency to ignore the flaws that previously existed in our society. For instance, it is not uncommon for some conservatives to claim that today’s African-Americans are not slaves, and so they should not be so focused on the fact that their ancestors were once slaves. This minimizes the impact had by American slavery on the whole of black culture in the U.S. Hence, racial minorities in other parts of the world are left with a bit less hope with regard to international intervention in their impoverished states. Similarly, the belief that gay marriage should not be legalized in the U.S. tends to be based on arguments of religious conviction, which disregards the longstanding belief that the church and state should be separated. And so, the gay community remains under harsher scrutiny than their heterosexual counterparts, with some religious parts of the world given an example supporting their right to discriminate based on sexuality.
King’s declaration that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” may have been something of a dramatic interpretation for a very real issue with social justice issues. It is human nature for people to be biased against those with characteristics different from their own. However, it not to the advantage of the human species to allow the trend of discrimination in the West to be continued by the rest of the world. The discrimination enacted by the United States, a country declared to have been founded on the principle of justice for the common people, gives very real consequences to King’s statement. The injustices that occur in the nation that is supposed to lead the “free world” could very well create a domino effect of discrimination to take place throughout the rest of the Earth. And that is something that we must prevent from happening if we are to preserve the legacy of social progress that we have continued celebrating over the years.