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Equality and Justice-An Examination of the "Natural Order of Things"

Updated: Jun 11

Part of the series, Navigating Through the Language System of Racism and White Supremacy | Comprehension, Context and Connotation

The Photo in this graphic by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Equality and justice are words taken for granted for most Americans in this country. In fact, equality and justice are foundational structures built into every institution of human activity, baked into the Constitution of the United States. Both are understood and assumed as universal rights by everyone for everyone in the world.

As anyone who reads my essays on examinations of racialized words knows, I examine everyday words in the American English lexicon to discover the often hidden, misleading or even deliberate lies usually existing in tandem with the benign and subliminal meanings people have been generationally conditioned to believe.

To begin, as I usually do, first, I will examine each of the words. For an examination of this word, “equality,” it is important to start first with the American English definition as provided by the dominant power structures who codify the language used every day.

To determine the hidden, misleading, or deliberate lie that may be lurking inside of the word, equality, what exactly is the literal meaning of it? Merriam Webster defines equality as “the quality or state of being equal.” There is a suffix attached to this word. You may or may not know that suffixes create derivatives or “offshoots” of root words. The suffix ity, you may recall from earlier essays and presentations, means “the quality or state of being” something, primarily a noun, which we learned in elementary school is a person, place, or thing. As a root word, equal has different contextual representations of itself, so as a verb, it is “used to describe an action, state, or occurrence.” Consequently, “equal,” means the following:

  • like in quality, nature, or status

  • of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another,

  • regarding or affecting all objects in the same way; impartial

  • not showing variation in appearance, structure, or proportion

Thus, we can conclude equality is:

The state of being a person, place, or thing in life, like in quality, nature, or status, of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another, regarding or affecting all objects in the same way; impartial, and not showing a variation in appearance, structure or proportion.

On the surface, as usual, this definition seems benign and unassuming, and what should be considered the “natural order of things.” But when viewed through the lens of history, White Supremacy and the system of Racism that supports it, the meaning takes on a conspicuous difference in context, comprehension, and connotation.

If one begins to critically think about the definition, one can see the word equality seems to apply to the very people who have set themselves up as the dominant culture in society, and whose culture is specific in its differentiations and classifications set generations ago. Thus, using the noun designation of “person” for further context we get:

The state of being a person in life, like in quality, nature, or status; of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another; regarding or affecting all objects in the same way; impartial, and not showing a variation in appearance, structure or proportion.

If one is to completely comprehend the underlying principle of equality based on its own definition in this country, one must realize this definition as applied, only relates to persons alike in their own quality, nature or status; of the same measure, quantity, amount or number as another; regarding or affecting all objects in the same way; impartial, and not showing variation in appearance, structure or proportion.

The first and last phrases of the definition are incredibly significant.

“Like in quality, nature or status… “…and NOT showing variation in appearance, structure or proportion.”

So, by their own definition, “whiteness” is, by all measure, like in quality, nature or status and not showing any variation in appearance, structure, or proportion. By their own definition, we can determine that within the context of White Supremacy, their culture in America, and their dominance in every area where the definition would have any substantive structural placement in society, whiteness is equality, and equality is whiteness.

Once one is able to comprehend the underlying and arrogant nature of this word, equality, as defined by the dominant ideology, or White Supremacy, then it is not that far a stretch of the imagination to consider why equality is one of the most important pillars upon which the ideology of White Supremacy stands, because Black people are undoubtedly NOT considered “like in quality, nature or status, and Black people definitely show “variation in appearance, structure or proportion” to white people.

The next word is “justice.” This word has been elusive to Black people for generations, just as equality has been as well, but what does that word mean when taken literally, without exaggeration or added emotional connotation? According to Merriam Webster, justice is, the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” There is, of course, a suffix attached to this word as well, creating an offshoot of the root word, “just.” The suffix ice,” like ity” denotes a “state or quality.” The root word, “just” means the following:

  • having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason

  • conforming to a standard of correctness

  • acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good

  • being what is merited, deserved

  • legally correct, lawful

Using the literal definition of the root word just, one can then surmise that the literal definition of justice is:

“the state or quality of having a basis in, or conforming to fact or reason; conforming to a standard of correctness; acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good; being what is merited, deserved and legally correct; lawful.”

Again, on the surface, this literal meaning, as defined by the same power dynamic that codifies all of the language within the lexicon of American English, sounds grand, and something for which everyone should have a right to enjoy, as in “the natural order of things.”

However, when examined through the lens of the racialized language of White Supremacy and the system of Racism which supports it, then it is easy to realize only white people are granted justice in the “natural order of things.” While justice is held in the abstract, as universal, where the symbolic representation of justice is blind and impartial, if we look again at the definition of equality, we know that impartiality, a word used in the literal definition, is in lock step with the literal meaning of justice, and therefore clearly akin to whiteness.

Black people in America hold no delusions of justice, of receiving justice or having justice served. It is no secret that Black America has been woefully denied opportunity in the area of justice in America since Reconstruction ended in 1877, during what is historically known as “The Great Betrayal” and the “Corrupt Bargain.” Indeed, Black America has been subjected to the literal opposite of equality and justice, being subjected instead to “inequality” and “injustice.”

This time, there is a prefix attached to create derivatives of the original words, equality, and justice. The prefix, in,” within the context of their opposites means, not,” and creates the essence of that which Black Americans in America have been fighting for centuries. Inequality, for example, is defined as:

  • the quality of being unequal or uneven: such as

  • social disparity

  • disparity of distribution or opportunity

  • lack of evenness

  • the condition of being variable

Additionally, injustice is defined as:

  • absence of justice: violation of right or of the rights of another; unfairness

Clearly, if one examines the definitions of inequality and injustice as defined by the same power dynamic which codifies all of the language within the lexicon of American English, as well as in history, and of the present day existential struggles of Black people, what Black people do NOT have is “equality.” What Black people experience is “inequality.” Using the same explanation as given for inequality, it can be granted Black America does not enjoy “justice” either. Moreover, when we understand that equality is centered in whiteness and whiteness is equality by virtue of its dominance with regard to its state of being “like in quality nature or status… “…and not showing variation in appearance, structure or proportion,” then there is no wonder why white power would rather risk the destruction of property and lives than to dismantle one of its most important pillars. Black people receive the direct opposite of equality and justice in America because equality and justice are to whiteness as injustice and inequality are to Blackness.

When combining both terms, equality, and justice, to the power dynamic of White Supremacist America, it is not difficult to appreciate that the nation is at yet another flashpoint in history. However, at the risk of this essay becoming yet another in a series of essays by educators and activists who use terms within the context of “the kind of issues being raised today,” or using a year as reference, like, “issues raised in 2020,” discovering many years later, that the material covered in this essay at this moment in time is being used yet again to define the same struggle, it all becomes painfully evident that this power has known for centuries that to render real equality means to relinquish their "superiority." Furthermore, the term, "inequality," supports their very notion of superiority by its very definition specified earlier. In short, to be equal in America means to be white and superior in America and inequality in America means to be Black and inferior in America.

Moreover, any semblance of equality couched within justice would mean, as the literal definition describes, would have to be “equally” applied, and that cannot happen if as defined, whiteness is equality, and equality is whiteness. For Black Americans to enjoy equality and justice means the white power dominating the country would have to literally abandon the all of the mechanisms structurally built into the system of Racism relative to laws and criminality that have been used for generations to subjugate and control Black people after Reconstruction failed in the 19th century.

Equality, equity and justice and the opportunity for each, are the power pillars that hold up the entire structure of Racism and which fuel the ideology of white supremacy. The white dominant power is extremely reluctant to remove these institutional structures and provide equality in justice because again, this is where they would run contrary to the concept of superiority that white people hold over Black people. Think of it like this:

The Photo in this graphic by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

If real equality and justice are afforded in even one individual incidence, then they would eventually have to pull down each of the remaining pillars. This is why they only give lip service, and in the end, real justice is never served. In short, Black America will not get justice because being Black in America virtually means inequality, and to become a part of the “equality” dynamic, white power would need to dismantle the entire legacy of white supremacy, and the system of Racism designed to support the inequality and injustice, and the world is shown every day that racist white supremacists are willing to virtually destroy the country rather than change the “natural order of things” in America.

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Sources:

American Historama. The Great Betrayal - 1877

Merriam Webster: Various definitions-equality, justice, ity, in, ice, inequality, injustice

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Copyright 2020 Cynthia Alease Smith, Ed.D.