Black culture promotes justice, not only for everyone in the community but for everything in and around it.
NOTE: This is Part 7 of a 12-part series that defines the core elements of Black culture.
For centuries, Black people have endured horrendous forms of injustice. As a result of generations of repeated traumatic experiences, many of us have become bitter, angry, and vengeful.
Justice is fairness in the way that people are treated. But who determines what fair is? Is it fair to treat everyone equally? How should people be treated? To render justice, there must be a set of laws. Once again, we encounter problems when determining if laws are just or unjust. Justice, as applied in Western thought and culture, is not easily understood.
The American criminal justice system is a perfect example of injustice. Policing, more jails, tougher sentencing laws, etc. don’t create social harmony. Punishment should be for the purpose of correction, but this rarely occurs. It’s a barbaric system and some people have the audacity to refer to prisons as “correctional facilities.” Moreover, the recidivism rate in America is over 50% which clearly demonstrates the model doesn’t work.
When you interact with others, there will be transgressions. But most of us seek vengeance or punishment if we are wronged, not rehabilitation for the wrongdoer. If someone steals my money, and the person is caught and punished, is the wrong righted? No, because my money is still gone. Punishment comes after the fact. At the other end of the spectrum, a criminal begs a judge for mercy even though he knowingly did wrong. We, too, want to be treated with mercy when we treat others unfairly. If someone wrongs you and you seek vengeance, have you taken into consideration all the wrongs you’ve done? Should all those whom you’ve wronged likewise seek vengeance against you? You can’t serve justice in an unjust manner.
Let’s dig a little deeper — many of us go about our lives believing we don’t do harm to others, but if you indulge anger, inflict fear, argue, cause others to grieve, etc., you’re harming others. These human emotions are the source of all problems in the world. We’ve all seen those science fiction movies where aliens perceive humans as a virus that needs to be destroyed. Humans, by expressing negative emotions, wreak havoc wherever they go. A just culture should encourage and educate its members to eliminate negative emotions as a primary means of protecting others.
Justice protects the wronged and the wrongdoer, but not through punishment. The negative events that occur in people’s lives are often the logical conclusion of violating the law. If you jumped off a 10-story building, would you blame the law of gravity for your death? The major religions got it all wrong whereby heaven is the reward for good people and hell is punishment for bad people. All of us have come to earth to grow spiritually and we’re bound to make mistakes along the way. Why would God punish us for mistakes which are a part of a natural growth process?
You can’t avoid injustice. People are going to do you wrong, and oftentimes there’s nothing you can do about it. For instance, Black people throughout the world are victims of racism. Individually, you may not have the power to eliminate racism/white supremacy in the world, so you need protection from it that is beyond your capacity. Such protection can only come from God. However, you must qualify for God’s protection. If you want justice for yourself, then be just to others. If you’re functioning as a divine being or at least doing your best to strive to do so, God’s got your back because what you want is in sync with what God wants. Divine protection from the injustices of others is yours only if you live truth, and you can’t live truth unless you’re at peace.
A major contributor to incorrect responses to injustice, namely vengeance, is the thought that the wrongdoer will escape justice. Ultimately, no one escapes divine justice. We cannot avoid associations with people who for reasons only known to God, will do us wrong, despite the love we have given them. Once again, only peace can restore balance in these situations. A negative response from having been wronged creates another wrong and leads to suffering. There’s truth in the phrase, “you’re only hurting yourself.”
Our ancestors didn’t have prisons. Instead, we created a culture that diminished criminal behavior. In ancient times, we created a just society by striving to elevate people spiritually. In this manner, Black culture’s understanding and practice of law and justice are diametrically opposed to the Western approach. Black culture seeks to build people, not build jails. We recognize that justice is guaranteed, not by man, but by God.