Social Injustice in Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.
Student’s Name: Shaba Asiimwe
Year 13 GEMS
CAMBRIDGE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Social Injustice in Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.
Social injustice is the lack of the idea of impartial and unprejudiced associations between persons and the general public. Issues of social injustice come in diverse forms. Some examples of social injustice would be racial discernment, prejudiced work practices, disparity in access and use of public amenities like schools and health care centers and discernment with regards to gender, age or orientation. Looking at some of the significant historical political journeys, there is evidence of many kinds of social injustices. Though plights to push for national and societal freedom, the prevalence of social injustice is highlighted. In order to showcase some of these social injustices, it is viable to analyze the same from two books: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr. Both books recount experiences of significant political and activist figures in global history. Through political struggle, these two books highlight and give a firsthand experience of the kinds of social injustices that were prevailing not so long ago.
As noted earlier, racial discrimination is one of the kinds of social injustice. Focusing on Nelson Mandela’s book, Long Walk to Freedom, it is evident that by then South Africa was struggling against prevailing racial discrimination. Writing the book as an autobiography, Mandela cites that he got to learn of the deep-rooted racial discrimination that was evident in South Africa; “I was just becoming aware of the history of racial oppression in my own country, and saw the struggle in South Africa as purely racial” (Mandela, 1994, p. 9). Racial discrimination was so much pronounced back then that the political ANC had even incorporated the issue into the party’s constitution. Mandela notes that the ANC’s presidents had existed from diverse ethnic sets. However, he also notes that to some extent the discussion of the matter of racial discrimination was not talked about openly as it should have. He reports that at the college, lecturers had kept away from matters like racial subjugation, shortage of prospects for Africans, and the shell of regulations and rules that suppressed the black man. This lack of discussion and circulation of public knowledge on racial discrimination slowed Mandela down in learning on ways to deal with it. With everyone devising their own ways to describe and deal with racial discrimination, there were a number of conflicts in opinion. For instance, one of Mandela’s colleagues, Lembede, had a different view on Africanism where he felt that it was not completely reinforced for the reason that his philosophies were branded by a racial exceptionality that concerned more or less of the rest of the Youth Leaguers (Mandela, 1994, p. 11). To counter Lembede’s point, Mandela notes that some of his colleagues argued that in case blacks were presented with an interracial formula for tussle, then they most likely would stay hooked to white principles and prey to a persistent feeling of subordination. In South Africa, the political struggle for freedom that was highlighted by racial discrimination attracted the attention of South Africans from diverse professions. For example, the Doctors’ Pact gave rise to a chain of nonracial, revolutionary movements everywhere around the country, these campaigns pursued to pool Africans and Indians in the independence tussle. Aside from that, the book also indicates that the law making process in South Africa was affected by the prevailing racial discrimination. At that time, whites were able to forcefully take possession of physical land. After the passing of some legislations like the Group Areas Act, whites were now able to secure the same land through legislation, which Mandela described as “the very essence of apartheid” — requiring separate urban areas for each racial group” (Mandela, 1994, p. 13).
Looking at King’s book, Why We Can’t Wait, the activist starts with a comparison of life as experienced by two black children. The lives of these two children are characterized by poverty and restricted opportunities that other white children are able to enjoy (King, 1964, p. 6). In his comparison, King manages to demonstrate the presence of racial discrimination that was experienced by blacks of all ages. In his comparison, it is noted that racial discrimination had a deteriorating impact on the association between African and white Americans. This culminated into a national problem. Unlike Mandela’s book, King’s book also sheds light on the damaging effect that racial discrimination had on the white community. King uses Birmingham as an example to show just how racial discrimination had reduced the value of life for the white community. A perfect example would be the refusal by the city to allow integrated parks and instead opt to close them making both blacks and whites lose out on recreational experiences. King indicates that there is need for the country to overcome racism as it slows down development in many sectors; “We need a powerful sense of determination to banish the ugly blemish of racism scarring the image of America” (King, 1964, p. 158). In King’s book, he also notes that there was need for collective effort by all races to overcome racism. This is because the plague had affected almost all significant sectors that contributed to the development of the country. In King’s opinion, by doing away with racial discrimination and standing united, the country stood better chances to succeed at its endeavors, “…because we too are in bondage…we shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday” (King, 1964, p. 64).
Looking at discriminatory labor practices, it is important to remember that South Africa is known for its gold mines. These gold mines obviously needed a lot of costly labor. However, due to the prevailing social injustice in form of discriminatory labor practices, cheap and available labor was solicited from blacks. Mandela even notes that it was almost mandatory for black men to work in the mines. To some extent, it was regarded as a rite of passage like circumcision (Mandela, 1994, p. 4). Africans who no rights championing for their interests had to work for long hours but for little pay. On the other hand, the companies that were owned and managed by whites gained immense profits to make the owners wealthy on account of the efforts of overworking black laborers; “…white-owned companies that became wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus on the backs of the African people” (Mandela, 1994, p. 9). Like racial discrimination, racial discriminatory practices also made a significant impact on the law making process within South Africa. For one, the Color Bar Act of 1926 forbade Africans from engaging in any form of skilled trade and the Urban Areas Act of 1923 that led to the emergence of ‘African Slums’ meant to provide convenient cheap labor for to the white industry (Mandela, 1994, p. 11). In response to the Color Bar Act of 1926, the Youth League backed the redevising of land on an impartial foundation; the eradication of color bars keeping out Africans from undertaking skillful labor. To add to that, the African society in South Africa did not stop fighting for equality or at least fairness when it came to labor laws. In this fight, there were formations of associations and groups that championed the rights of African laborers. An example of these associations is the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union. Clements Kadalie and the African Mine Workers Union brought this first trade union that was concerned with black people in South Africa into being.
On the other hand, King’s book also sheds light on some of the discriminatory labor practices witnessed in the United States. For instance, black males’ hire numbers are of poorer quality than their white and Latino equivalents from the 1980s to today. These disparities brought a negative impact on the economic and professional development of black people. Up until recently, there were limited job and professional development opportunities for black individuals. However, the Dellums Commission: Better Health through Stronger Communities: Public Policy Reform to Expand Life Paths of Young Men of Color come into play to salvage the situation; “We work with all kids regardless of color. I have no colleagues. I don’t have a network” (King, 1964, p. 17). However, like in South Africa, the black society in America also fought to regain their equality in labor practices as well as other sectors. This struggle contributed to the conception and development of the Revolution. According to King, “The united power of southern segregation was the hammer. Birmingham was the anvil” (King, 1964, p. 43). Despite all these atrocities, King is still hopeful that the country will overcome them and change for the better; “We will win or freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands” (King, 1964, p. 109).
Concerning disparity in access and use of public resources, in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela notes that at one time, they were barred from attending public gatherings; “…and were forbidden from attending public gatherings” (Mandela, 1994, p. 23). At one time, the ANC political party was denied its rightful democratic procedures like holding public gatherings; “We would have to depart from the democratic procedures…and public gatherings.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 37). In his recounts, Mandela also enlightens the readers on the then presence of color bars at public amenities like social facilities like hotels. He writes, “Never before had I been in a public place or hotel where there was no color bar” (Mandela, 1994, p. 46). This example gives an idea of how Africans were supposed to conduct themselves in public. There was obvious segregation in access and utilization of public amenities. Amenities were separated for the independent use of whites and other less elaborate ones foe Africans. Like other types of social injustices already discussed, discriminatory access and utilization of public amenities also influenced the formation of South African regulations. A good example would be the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act that enhanced apartheid. There was evident separation in use of squares, auditoriums, eateries, means of transportation, public libraries, lavatories, and additional communal services with reference to race (Mandela, 1994, p. 98). In one instance, Mandela notes that there was school segregation in South Africa even at the tertiary education level; “…Extension of University Education Act, another leg of grand apartheid, which barred nonwhites from racially “open” universities”. (Mandela, 1994, p. 31). Segregation in schools meant that the end academic accomplishments were also different for blacks and whites, “…only a tiny number of Africans were graduated from high school.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 20) White people went to schools that trained them skillfully to assume much more influencial positions in society. On the other hand, black people went to separate schools that crafted them to assume much lesser positions in society, “The mission schools trained the clerks, the interpreters, and the policemen, who at the time represented the height of African aspirations.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 3). However, this segregation in school systems did not go unanswered. The response did not only involve the efflicted (black society) it also included whites and Indians. There was mass organization of rallies and campaings to protest against segregations in schools, “…white students from the University… old ANC campaigners…Indian school-children from primary and secondary schools; people of all ages and colors.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 14)
King also notes that Birmingham City functioned beneath two distinct administrations. Evident segregations were present in equally its white and black residents; “…all over the country, our fight became the fight of decent Americans of all races and creeds” (King, 1964, p. 119). This quote is an example of how the discrimination in use of public amenities disadvantaged both blacks and whites. In order to fully maximize the benefits of these amenities, it is in order for consolidated effort beyond racial lines. Like in South Africa, the situation in America then also highlights the presence of segregation in public amenities like schools. Schools were separated into those meant for white folk and the black folk; “They had heard of it school segregation and, since its passage, had consistently expressed their defiance…” (King, 1964, p. 45).
In order to fight social injustice, both books highlight the struggle that the protagonists went through. Both King and Mandela are significant leaders in their respective communities. It is by design that both of them are black. In both instances, it is seen that the black community gets hit hardest by cases of social injustice. Looking at Why We Can’t Wait, the fight against social injustice is evident. The struggle is so hard that it involves people from all walks of life, race and age, “In the face of this resolution and bravery, the moral conscience of the nation was deeply stirred and, all over the country, our fight became the fight of decent Americans of all races and creeds.” (King, 1964, p. 119). Looking at the Long Walk to Freedom, there are also instances of collectieve effort to fight social injustice that at that time was mostly directed towards the black society. Owing to the Group Areas Act, there was massive protest from the Indian community. The massive campaign was carried on for a two whole years, “…two-year campaign of passive resistance to oppose the measures… Housewives, priests, doctors, lawyers, traders, students, and workers took their place in the front lines of the protest.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 12). Even though there were significant efforts to protest against social injustices, the oppressors did not give in. This can be seen in King’s book, “At this point many observers began to charge that Birmingham had become the Waterloo of nonviolent direct action.” (King, 1964, p. 138). The unending social injustice despite the numerous campaigns and protests is also witnessed in Mandela’s book, “Despite protest and criticism, the Nationalist response was to tighten the screws of repression.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 13). It was rather unfortunate that in both cases, the governmnet did not take an active part in settling social injustice. In the little times that it did, the government did nothing to avert the situation. In most cases, it actually favored the majority. This can be seen in King’s book, “There is a right and a wrong side in this conflict and the government does not belong in the middle.” (King, 1964, p. 177). The same can also be witnessed in Mandela’s book, “The government, in order to keep Africans in the countryside or working in the mines, maintained that Africans were by nature a rural people, ill suited for city life…The government had always utilized divide-and-rule tactics when dealing with Africans and depended on the strength of ethnic divisions among the people.” (Mandela, 1994, p. 10). The government could have done better to manage situations that encouraged social injustices. The lack of participation by the governmnet or partiality to favour the majority which was in most cases the white folk aggrevated cases of social injustice. This could be owed to the fact that most governmnet and influential positions had been taken up by white folks and people who had their interests at heart.
Although there are many kinds of social injustice witnessed in the two historical books, racial discrimination is the most noticeable. Even when critically analyzing the evidence of the rest of the kinds of social injustices, it hard to do so without leaning back to racial discrimination. In explanation, take the example of discriminatory labor practices. The element of discrimination in labor practices arises from the difference in race. The discrimination favors whites and bears down on black South Africans. Unlike Mandela, King is keen to note that both antagonistic sides are needed in order to alleviate the current situation in the country. Mandela concentrates more on the efforts of the black community in South Africa to overcome social injustice. On the other hand, King instead of only looking at the efforts of the black society also calls to the white people in America to do the same. Through analysis of the two books, it is evident that even though social injustice was in most cases subjected to the black society, it ended up affecting everyone. Be it through legislations that sacrificed the interests of the white community just so to achieve segregation or other means, social injustice was felt by everyone. All in all, the two books extensively highlight and describe first hand experiences of social injustice through the eyes and interpretations of two significant leaders in history; Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
King, M. L. (1964). Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Harper & Row.
Mandela, N. R. (1994). Long Walk to Freedom. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.