Socio-political institutions are put in place in order that they may provide individuals with necessary resources. Whether they meet this key objective- in all its variants- shape people’s behavior and set the context within which such a behavior is exhibited. At times, however, the institutions in place may be characterized by inequities, social and political exclusion and exploitation, as well as oppression. Then there’s a need for social change and reform. The step taken to ensure that these institutions meet their promises to the people is known as ‘social justice’. Social Justice involves both structural change and reform (Maiese, 2003).
Structural change and reforms involve adjusting by removing all of the unfavorable components of the present social structure. This may include removing bits (such as certain personnel involved in the management of the system or the few unfavorable policies) of the present system or a complete overhaul. These can be done through either peaceful/non-violent call for reforms (as was the way of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the black civil movement) or through violence (as has been the case in the ousting of Gaddafi in Libya).
But the motives behind calling for such social changes and reforms can be ambiguous. While in certain cases they may be genuinely meant to effect social justice, in others they may simply be a way of attracting attention for whatever reasons (political fame, for instance). In this case it is more of tinkering with the system or, as others call it, ‘a gimmick’.
The purpose of this paper is to see how these aspects of social justice: social change, reform and tinkering with the system have been reflected in “Malcolm X: Life After Death” and the concept of the ‘New Jim Crow’.
a) Malcolm X
Up until his pilgrimage to and return from Mecca, Malcolm X was perhaps too radical in his approach to racism and the recommendations for solving it that he provided. He was, as he notes in his autobiography, no less angry on his return than he had been before he went to Mecca. But he also recognized that his rage had blinded him to possibilities, other solutions to racism besides the one he had been preaching through the Nation of Islam. That pilgrimage, where he was treated well by people who were actually white, gave him a great insight into the plague that was racism at the time. Unfortunately, he died before he went far with his new self. But this is what he has been in death.
Malcolm X has become a global icon for human rights. He saw the injustices not just of white America against black people, but also the injustices of European imperialism in other parts of the world. On returning from Mecca, Malcolm preached a new political strategy (Marable and Matsumoto, 2010). He called for tactical changes, including approach and scope, on how the blacks should fight for themselves.
For instance, he called for the empowerment of the black community through education, voter registration, self-reliance through economic self-sufficiency and developing independent politics, as well as the transformation of the Black Civil Movement into a larger voice for human rights in the whole world. He emphasizes the synonymy between the blacks’ call for equality and justice and that of Asian, African and Latino campaigns calling for the end of European colonization. In line with this he drew attention to by criticizing the growing involvement of the U.S. military in Vietnam (Marable and Matsumoto, 2010).
b) The New Jim Crow
Michelle Alexander, the key mouthpiece for the so called ‘the New Jim Crow’, takes a great look at the US criminal system in relation to race. She addresses the legalized discrimination against African Americans who have been labeled as felons. The tag ‘felon’ on a black person means that he is permanently discriminated against in all vital spheres of life: employment, housing, right to vote, and he is excluded from any jury duty.
This system, she argues, is akin to the caste system of the Jim Crow period. She writes “we have not killed racial caste in America; we have only redesigned it” (Alexander, 2010).
The term ‘Jim Crow’ is likely an overstatement; especially in relation to how much the plight of African Americans has improved in comparison to back then. But it is not about how much has changed. Besides, these changes were bound to come eventually. It is about whether there is a genuine need to make that change.
This exposed aspect of the American criminal system says a lot about the true psychology of America on racism and all the injustices attached to it.
Simply said, the election of Barrack Obama as the first African American President, the success of Oprah Winfrey and many other African Americans have become a veil behind which the political tinkering that is America’s fight against racial prejudice is hiding.
Malcolm was an African American who shared in all the pains of his color. He was surely motivated to see the ideas he proposed come to light just as he had worked hard for the Nation of Islam. Unfortunately, many of those to whom the uplifting of African American lives has been left are only half-hearted, only doing it for the votes of blacks without necessarily doing much else. Much has been done yet. But it may be part of the tinkering, %u201Bthe gimmick. ’