It has been strange being in Sweden & hearing about the shooting in Charleston, and the death of a pastor John knew well from Southern. It’s hard to know how to explain this to our Swedish cousins–and frankly, I’m tired of it: it feels like it has been an especially bad year for crimes against African-Americans, and I feel like all the good, hard conversations that are taking place about racism aren’t making any difference. It’s frustrating, infuriating and discouraging all at the same time.
This, time, however, I find that the lyrics of “Glory,” the Oscar-winning song from the movie “Selma,” keep coming to mind, especially the one line, “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.” That’s exactly how I feel. Nothing is easier to champion than “Justice for all”–it’s so vague and general, it’s basically meaningless. And, most importantly, it doesn’t challenge or demand anything of those in power, those who already enjoy “justice” in all its forms: economic, criminal, social, and racial. It allows those of us in power to feel good about our open-minded attitudes, inviting others to experience “our” way of life, without facing the hard reality of what real justice for the other might require of us. Three examples:
Example #1. The pope just released his encyclical in the environment, and in it, he makes clear that “environmental justice” demands that those of us in the first world change our way of living: we simply cannot consume the way we have been consuming, eat the way we have been eating, and use water and fuel with such abandon anymore, if we really want “justice” for people who live in poverty–and for the very earth itself. What we need to work for is “justice for animals,” for example, because “justice for all just ain’t specific enough.”
Example #2. I’m here in Sweden where the taxes are very, very high compared to what we pay in America; and the very rich are taxed astronomically. This means that some wealthy Swedes choose to make their primary residence in other countries, but not all of them. I have heard anecdotally (but can’t find online verification) that several prominent Swedes have gone on record saying that they support the high tax rate because they believe in the benefits it provides for the whole country, including those who need those benefits the most. So, even though they could preserve more of their personal wealth if they moved somewhere else, they are willing to share more of what they have for the sake of the whole country, and the values they support. (This reminds me of the verse, “From the one to whom much has been given, much will be required.”). “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.”
Example #3. Jesus came to reveal the universal, radical love of God, but the way he did that was to seek out in particular the least and the lost: the outcast, the despised, and the marginalized. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the Romans and Pharisees, but that he needed those in power to see how much God loves also the prostitutes, tax-collectors and Samaritans. It is too easy for those in power to take for granted God’s love for them, and to equate their own smugness and self-blessing with God’s blessing. Jesus need to remind them–and us–that you can’t love God without loving the neighbor, and the stranger. “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.”
So, it’s time for white America to start thinking about justice for African-Americans in particular–not just “justice for all.” And, we need to accept the challenge that justice will bring to our way of thinking, and being (and, I don’t know, perhaps to our GUN LAWS–but that’s another rant for another time….). But it simply has to happen. “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough.”