After his spiritual awakening, Malcolm X struggled to get the message of justice to descendants of slaves in the United States. The facts he laid out about their lives were clear and incontrovertible. Descendants of slaves have been treated unjustly by both federal and state institutions from the inception of the United States Government.
Institutionalized social injustice is easy to identify. It is usually articulated in written form. It is when the law intentionally legitimates the practice of economic or educational discrimination against a class of people based upon one or more identifying characteristics like race, religion, national origin, or gender.
The legal remedy for institutionalized social injustice is addressed through the judicial system which includes the national Congress. A court may have state or federal jurisdiction whereas Congress and the Supreme Court have both state and federal jurisdiction under the Constitution. However, if either one or both judicial systems are corrupt then government is urged by a democratic process of voting to change the law but if it does not heed that urge then that government is brought down by political revolution.
The goal of both the democratic process and political revolution is to repeal discriminatory laws. If government responds in favor of justice for all its citizens then discriminatory laws are repealed. Those laws are then replaced by laws which prohibit economic and educational discrimination on the bases of race, religion, national origin, or gender.
Malcolm X addressed another kind of justice, too. He addressed the issue of moral justice. The origin of moral justice may or may not overlap with institutional justice.
Moral justice may be related to institutionalized injustice but moral injustice may also exist when there are no institutional issues at all. Put another way, governmental laws may not discriminate against a class of people based on class, race, national origin, or gender. Nevertheless, one or more groups may find that they are consistently on the short end of the stick when it comes to the distribution of goods in society. Or an individual or group may be singled out for ridicule and physical mistreatment but not as a result of government action.
Again the judicial system may afford any person a legal procedure by means of which he or she can bring a claim against a person in a civil court for a tortuous act committed against him or her. The court then can apply the law in its effort to restore a person or group to a condition of wholeness. But what if a person or group commits a wrongful act against herself or itself? What kind of justice applies in that situation?
That question should lead us to wonder whether there is a broader form of justice at work than what we normally think of. We should wonder whether it is true in our personal lives that our every act and thought trigger effects which come back to us multiplied hundreds of times and which either benefit us or harm us materially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Many kinds of social problems which are faced by descendants of slaves cannot be addressed by judicial institutions because they are problems which arise from individual and family sentiment. Sentiment in turn is the product of collective fears and attractions and so the choices made within families and the community by individuals is more or less a mirror image of collective sentiments.
What is good for us has value for us in the short and long run. It is what benefits both an individual and his or her family and community. The three dimensions of our lives make up our moral world, a world which is held together by collective sentiments.
What drives collective sentiment and thus individual choices within a family and/or community is fear or attraction. Fear or attraction in relation to others around us and the conscientious application of the cost/benefit ratio in all decision making opportunities we are presented with.
Making choices is an opportunity for each of us to grow because choices present us with a challenge. We either lash out irrationally and retard our growth or are attracted to others and make stronger ties with those in social relation to us.
We make choices understanding that each choice causes some beneficial and some harmful side effects. There is no perfect decision. But there are good ones which add value to our lives. In the short and/or long run we individually and collectively benefit more than we are harmed.
In our personal lives, much of what we suffer is the effect of poor decision making within the context of our individual, family, and community relations. That kind of self inflicted harm cannot be remedied in any court of law because the judicial system has a limit to its reach. Beyond that limit it is superseded by a broader system of justice.
There is yet another scale of balance. It is set within each of us, our families, and in our communities. It is precise in its measurements of our actions and the benefit or harms which result from them. It is indifferent to whether we benefit or are harmed. It is a measure of justice which seesaws up and down on the right pan in opposite relation to the up and down movement on the left pan. It is a scale which is tilted by our actions as well as by our inactions. Descendants of slaves should be very concerned about what harmful acts are being weighed against them today.
Intra-racial murder and disease are the leading causes of death among descendants of slaves in the United States, today. Those facts mean that our individual, family, and community sentiments and the actions which arise from them are more harmful than beneficial to us in the scale of justice. The growth or retardation challenge is tilted against growth and in favor of retardation for descendants of slave. That is a social fact.
We are now faced with too many children of descendants of slaves who are generally untrained and increasingly irrational in their behavior. That is so because their sentiments have become hateful and their fears are directed toward one another. Yet those sentiments are shaped by the sentiments of the adults who raise them. Negative sentiments are like a contagious disease which is passed over from one generation to the next. Thus, over time we as a community describe in our moral motion a downward spiral with no end in sight.
Is this justice too impersonal, too indifferent to what we have suffered here in the United States that it would allow us to collapse? The answer is yes, it would because we are held solely responsible for our actions under its jurisdiction.
Even though it seems unfair and cruel on the surface; we are therefore getting what we deserve. By the strict law of necessity, we are getting what we deserve even though many of our youth were in part made to be the monsters they have become not by choice but by conditioned reflex. Nevertheless, it is solely our actions which are counted in our scale of balance.
The wheels of justice turn mechanically throughout the entire universe. Unseen, like the inner gears of a clock, a scale of balance inheres in all things and tips the scales on both the left and the right sides. Thus justice is indifferent to whether or not we understood what we did at the time we committed an act or whether we meant to do a particular act. It simply measures the weight of every act both beneficial and harmful. Both intelligent and ignorant creatures and non-living things are held to the same standard of proportionate justice.
A seagull dives to catch a fish in a lake but it misjudges the depth of the lake. It breaks its neck and dies. Justice has exacted a cost proportionate to the misjudgment and circumstances of the seagull.
An exhausted mother falls asleep. She rolls over onto her newborn infant and smothers it to death. The mother’s intent is irrelevant. Justice will hear no plea for pity from her. No deal can be made with her that will circumvent the dispassionate movement of justice. Her baby is dead and will remain dead forever. Justice has exacted the proportionate costs for both the infant’s suffocation and the mother’s negligence under the circumstances.
One group does not hunt in season and that group starves to death while another group hunts in season and lives. Justice is indifferent to both the pleasurable and the painful consequences which one may gain or suffer. Justice has proportioned merit on the basis of their action and inaction.
One group learns the sentiments of fear, anger, jealousy, hate, and envy toward its family members and others in its community. They kill and steal from each other. That community dies even though they were forced to live impoverished lives in a ghetto because living in a ghetto does not make one act ghetto. Ghetto behavior is a mirror of one’s sentiments.
Another group learns sentiments of attraction and caring for one another and they survive and thrive even though they put the other group in the ghetto subjecting them to abject poverty. Committing wrong on an outside group does not make one act wrong to those in their own group. Their moral world may not collapse if it is held together by strong positive sentiment.
But justice is paradoxical in nature. The paradox is that while it is indifferent to all outcomes it simultaneously demands that you love one another to avoid harm. Love for self, family, and community therefore is the key to your individual, family, and community survival under the rule of proportionate justice.