“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was an African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator and statesman who worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery in the United States. He was born a slave and became the antithesis of white, slave owners’ propaganda that black people were inferior intellectually. His intellectual prowess and eloquence are readily apparent in his words quoted above.
In my first post during Black History Month, I deliberately turned to one of the giants in American history. I must also share the fact that as I waded through countless images of poverty and injustice, there are scores of pictures of Middle Eastern refugees and the poor in third world countries, but I had difficulty finding one that depicted this despicable human condition in a first world country. Why is that? It’s simple. We don’t want to see it or admit that it exists in our world where too many people have lots to eat, waste food by the tonne each year and are obsessed with weight loss.
Socially, I fear we have not progressed throughout history. We have always had societies organised by social class – more often than not – based upon wealth or lack of it. Douglass zeroes in on this reality where poverty goes hand in hand with injustice and degradation. Some would say that this is the natural order of things. It is the order of things, but it is anything but “natural”. Nelson Mandela has this to say:
Recently, I passed along a statistic that horrified me – that the combined wealth of the 8 wealthiest people in the world surpassed the combined wealth of the poorest 50% of the world’s population. Time and again, I read or hear the well-heeled rail against unions that have too much power. Unions were the natural outgrowth of the unbridled greed of the wealthy upper class that controlled the economy and governments. Today, in industrialised societies we have a constant atmosphere of conflict and mistrust between the working class and business owners. Both sides bemoan the disappearance of loyalty from this relationship. How can loyalty survive in a toxic environment? Nelson Mandela also echoes Douglass when he says:
I believe the “Trump Phenomenon” is just the beginning of a restructuring of society. How ironic that it is a narcissistic billionaire who is leading the assault on ‘how things get done’ in America. Does he intend to financially enfranchise the poor in America? I doubt it, but as he goes about his business in the Oval Office like a bull in a china shop, he may put enough cracks in the economic and political infrastructure that a more equitable social organisation of American society can gradually emerge.
Both Douglass and Mandela agree that the current social order breeds discontent and desperation that inevitably leads to violence. Every day we are greeted by new atrocities committed by extremists or the mentally ill, forcing us to bury the innocent victims like the Muslims shot and killed in their Mosque in Quebec City a few days ago. When will the violent acts of the few morph into the insurrection of the many?