The Tattered and Torn Moral Arc Toward Justice

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice; however, its trajectory is not unerringly true. As I step ever so gently, perhaps timidly, into the new year, I feel a terrible vulnerability; my naiveté gone, replaced by a honed understanding of how the arc of justice can, at least for a time, be torn asunder.

2020 showed how the arc wanes when doing battle with selfishness. I have always known the human experience to be a fragile undertaking, but I was naïve to its true frailty until a microscopic virus transformed every relationship in my life, some becoming stronger, but many stressed. During the past months, we could have bent the arc significantly toward justice, but millions opted to put their perceived needs ahead of the protection of their neighbors. We lost a priceless opportunity, I fear. Millions were left exposed to the ravages of a danger many refused to acknowledge.

2020 proved the arc can warp when facing greed and corruption that often accompany quests for power; at least for now, we appear to have escaped by the narrowest of margins. The first transition of governance I recall was dealt to us through tragedy on November 22nd, 1963. Yet, even in the face of Kennedy’s assassination, the United States was strong and robust. Prior to 2020 I witnessed eight transitions between Democratic and Republican administrations. I never imagined here, in the United States of America, that that monumental transfer of power would ever take place with anything but the utmost dignity and grace. That naiveté, too, has been ripped from my life. Power will, once again, transfer, but dignity and grace seem somehow an afterthought.

2020 reminded me that, for millions of Americans, there never has been a moral arc, let alone one that bends toward justice. Mid-year, as I wrote my racial autobiography — recalling my relationship to, and history with, issues of race and injustice — I remembered the myriad times I became aware of inequity and inequality based solely on race. Then, sparked by the unjustifiable deaths of so many persons of color, I embarked on a chilling journey into an oft hidden and largely ignored history of the United States. Once again, my naïve worldview was disrupted by the realization that, while I am aware of racial inequality, millions live with its brutality, hostility, and cruelty every moment of every day.

Finally, 2020 opened my eyes to the escalating war the moral arc is waging with hate, fear, and bitterness. In the midst of my learning journey, I came to know of the many centers of hate, not just in this country, but globally, that would have us believe there are castes of humanity; a hierarchy of people, and that millions believe other races to be sub-human. The year 2020, invited that hatred to reveal itself and fan the flames of war against the arc toward justice. In this war, I refuse to take up arms, and willingly proceed in my nakedness.

So, as I step tentatively into the new year, I do so feeling incredibly confused and extremely vulnerable. I do not believe the arc of the moral universe has been irreparably harmed by a single year in human history. I continue to believe, and I will work relentlessly to witness that arc, once again, bending toward justice.

Roger speaks and writes extensively. He spoke at both TEDxIIT and TEDxQuincy, published a collection of his essay in his book “Questions That Matter.”