The desire for fairness and justice appear to be an inborn quality of human beings and many other animals. We want benefits and punishments to be meted out fairly. When a small child is reprimanded for an action he did not do he will cry out, “That’s not fair!” Most of us will retain this sense throughout our lives.
Becoming personally aware of social injustice was an evolutionary process that took place in bits and pieces during my boyhood. The seed of this growth was my bright orange hair. In the first few years of elementary school, I was the only red-haired boy. Being singled out for merciless teasing and taunting fertilized the awareness. Furthermore, some of the most aggressive classmates (bullies) sensed my queerness years before my own realization of it. This compounded the put-downs.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”–Robert Kennedy
My personal awareness of social injustice greatly expanded during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. The television news footage of demonstrators being suppressed and freedom marchers in places like Selma, Alabama struck a sensitive nerve.
I did not consciously choose sides in the on-going civil rights controversies. Advocacy in favor of social justice simply sprouted and grew. The first flowering of it occurred in early adolescence.
At a reunion, my paternal family patriarchs, the great uncles and second-cousins, were talking about the demands by blacks for civil rights. All of them were strongly against equality and voiced their opposition with aggressive language and the N-word sprinkled generously throughout the discussion.
The negative, bully-like talk struck a sensitive chord. I felt compelled to object to the bigotry. I mustered all of my courage, took a deep breath then calmly told them I disagreed. I don’t remember what I said at the time, but the patriarchs ended their discussion about blacks and changed the topic to something else.
What was most memorable about that scenario was the knowledge that I spoke my truth to power. Although the power faction was familial, objection to the family patriarchy’s opinions was a major personal event. This was the first time I had been truly assertive with adults who were not my parents.
I did not change anyone’s opinions that day, but at least they discovered that their view of minority-status people was not universally believed within the family. To this day, I’m glad I spoke out in favor of justice. I may not be a hero, but at least that instance placed me on the right side of history.
Today, I feel outrage towards the popular mass movements that propose rollbacks of civil rights. The victories in favor of social justice and equality were hard-won. To regress in favor of discrimination and harm, is a slap to the face of lady justice. I remain allied with those who favor liberty and justice for all.
The fact that the bright orange hair of my childhood started my activism brings a smile to my face.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes civil liberties advocate and lawyer, Clarence Darrow. “I have lived my life, and I have fought my battles, not against the weak and the poor–anybody can do that–but against power, against injustice, against oppression, and I have asked no odds from them, and I never shall.”