"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."
- Cornel West
Wow, what a thought invoking phrase. One that could be interpreted and debated in so many ways, depending on the lens through which we see the world. I have much to learn about Cornel West. I saw this phrase a while back and it really stuck with me. "Justice is what love looks like in public." I wondered if my interpretation of the words aligned with the way the author intended them to be interpreted. In my continuing search for truths, I imagined this phrase must surely be calling to task those in positions of power, such as the flimsy leniency Brock Turner was shown, as opposed to the Black women and men who are incarcerated for years just awaiting due process for minor infractions.
When I looked deeper into what Cornel West stood for, I felt like, yes, surely that was what he meant - calling out the power systems that allow such blatant injustice to continue. This is a man who will look directly into the way systems are not working and take issue with the unfairness. He fiercely advocates for equality and human rights and he will stand in solidarity with those fighting for truth and justice. Not afraid of facing the public scrutiny, but rather dismantling the pillars of supremacy that allow the public to feel elevated in their judgment, Cornel West embodies the integrity of a man who is not afraid to do the right thing; not afraid to shine a light on injustices that have been largely accepted by those of us who are not directly affected.
And that last sentence defines why I will never truly understand the weight of these words - and how they feel in my body as opposed to a person whose life is lived in a Black body. The words can resonate with me, inspire me to think deeper, to learn more, and they can fuel me in my commitment to shining my own personal light on injustice. But they will never mean to me, a white bodied woman, the same thing that they mean to a Black bodied individual.
Perhaps West was referring to power figures with the ability to determine the fate (sometimes so arbitrarily) of another and inflict a sentence or a punishment upon them. But it really must go much deeper than this layer. If I assume the accountability rests only upon only those who hold positions of power then I excuse myself from the larger structure of power that allows such discrepancies to continue. The very system that allows me the comfort of turning off the news, disconnecting from social media and "taking a break" from reality is the system that devalues the people fighting for fairness, for justice and for their lives.
In my own community, and in most communities, there are plenty of opportunities for me to speak up, share information and engage in discussions that question the stubborn systems of power that seem intent on keeping things exactly as they are. I can make phone calls and write letters to the political leaders who promise to work for their constituents. I can show my love in public by immediately stopping a racist joke; by believing a person who has been harmed when they tell me their story; by standing up for someone who is being harassed in my presence; In a small and cumulative way, these simple acts of defiance are ways we can collectively contribute to a more just moral code in our society.
Sometimes justice is not confined to the sentence given by a judge; sometimes justice is achieved incrementally, little by little. Sometimes justice happens when people stand together in solidarity and say "No more" to the acts of aggression that have been levied against human beings whose existence challenges the supremacy of those in power. The thing is, it's not comfortable to constantly challenge the system, yet the more we do, the more it collectively matters. And the more that it matters, the more we can change patterns and cultural norms for the better.
Just this week, the United States and the world witnessed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez confront Florida Republican representative Ted Yoho in a congressional speech that rang with such striking truth, every woman in America could surely relate. Possibly for the first time, the term "f*cking b*tch" was entered into the congressional record, as Cortez described how unacceptable this "socially acceptable" slur against women is; a slur hurled at her by representative Yoho in the presence of the press on the steps of the capitol building. She challenged a system that has always allowed men in power to accost women without accountability or remorse. I think that her speech beautifully embodied the spirit of showing what love looks like in public, and raising the bar on what is acceptable. I appreciate her using her position to address topics that others before her have not addressed.
hank you Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for bravely confronting unacceptable social norms in a very public space. And you did it with a sense of grace and strength that humbled me to my core. And thank you Cornel West, for your relentless pursuit of justice and equality. For your research, your example, your commentary. Thank you for uttering these words that have inspired me at this time; I think I will ponder them for a long, long time.
May we all find our own ways to show our love in public in ways that enforce and uphold a much more just and equal culture. May we "never forget that justice is what love looks like in public."