The opening graphics for Marvel’s TV series Daredevil are fascinating, offering an unusual and even gruesome conceptual view of how the world “appears” to our hero.
Included in the sequence is a rendition of Lady Justice, blindfolded as she usually is. It’s a visual joke on the idea that our hero is blind and dispenses vigilante justice on the streets of New York City — Hell’s Kitchen in particular. Marvel is unafraid of moral ambiguity in recent shows and has presented some troubling grey areas expertly. I think they make a mistake in presenting violence as the solution, but that they’re offering moral questions as a significant part of several story arcs is a step in the right direction. The Daredevil adamantly refuses to kill, and just as adamantly refuses to let go of the possibility that even the most hardened criminals are beyond redemption.
It got me to thinking beyond the visual joke to the general condition of Lady Justice in modern times.
The image of her wearing a blindfold is intended to be a reminder to those who answer to her that justice should apply to all people whether rich or poor, male or female, gay, straight, or other, black, white, brown, yellow, red, green or purple. Instead, practitioners of justice in modern society — many, though certainly not all — regularly lose touch with the impartiality demanded by the Lady, favoring their friends and vilifying any who don’t look like them. They have succumbed to petty human desires: the acquisition of money, the consolidation of power, the maintenance of racial “purity”, the supremacy of one religion over all others, etc.
Lady Justice was never meant to be used in such a way, and she’s ailing badly.
The State of North Carolina, USA, recently rushed an appalling new law through their legislature and executive (bypassing, incidentally, their own judicial system via “special session”) that eviscerates local and regional protections for any marginalized population — LGBTQ in particular, but also veterans, the disabled, and essentially anyone who isn’t white, straight and Christian. I won’t go into the details of the law — you can read about it here — other than to say that most Democrats walked out in protest because they recognized that the action was deplorable.
It’s likely that it will be overturned via lawsuits and taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, where similar laws have been struck down as unconstitutional. One can hope, anyway.
Justice in this country hasn’t been impartial for a long time, if ever. Inequalities have been baked into the system and reinforced at institutional levels by corrupt officials since the country’s history began, even before. Religion has been used to rationalize crimes against humanity; nationalism has been used to rationalize crimes against foreigners (or even people who look a little different); fear has made us collectively insane.
In a conversation on Facebook, a commenter debated with me about the meaning of racism and white privilege, asserting that it doesn’t exist because he is white and was born and raised in near-poverty, and that everyone just needs to get off their asses and get an education and a job.
Justice suffers here too, perhaps most of all.
It’s a lot more complicated than simply bootstrapping a new life; although the dynamic is probably different in the US than it is in many other places because of its beginnings in a slave economy and invader mentality, this kind of institutionalized inequity is pervasive. There is a fairly common argument that black/brown/marginalized people are expecting everything to be handed to them and that all they need to do is get off their “lazy asses”, but that is a gross mischaracterization perpetuated by people who want to maintain the status quo (I would even argue that such a mischaracterization is perpetuated by people who DO want the state to do everything for them — how many times have you heard about hard-right Republicans accusing someone of being a “welfare queen”, only to learn that said hard-right Republican is on the public dole and has been for a significant amount of time?).
It would be awfully nice if, for example, people of color weren’t routinely killed by police simply for the crime of being not-white. The dark-skinned members of the American population start at such a profound disadvantage that to say “go get an education” in such a facile manner does a great disservice to people who have such an uphill struggle from the very beginning.
When one of our chief justices insists that black people have lower IQs and just don’t learn as well, there’s a problem. This country has been overrun by lynch mobs in the form of police chiefs and officers who would rather shoot a black man on sight; by legislators egged on by “Christian” conservatives who are thoroughly convinced that all brown people (because they’re probably Muslim) are terrorists; by education systems that systematically under-educate their black and brown students; by privately run prison systems that are fed by that same poor education system (you’ve heard of the school-to-prison pipeline? It’s a real thing).
Saying “man up and get an education” spits in the face of the men and women who constantly fall into a deeply institutionalized fault line that goes back to the founding of this country (built on the skeletons of a brown native population who were considered savages, and decimated by European invaders).
#BLM and feminists and LGBTQ advocates and Muslims and all their allies are not asking for special treatment; on the contrary, these groups are simply working to have the chance to start from the _same_ starting line as the people who have enjoyed institutional privilege up to this point, rather than 10 laps behind.
The American Constitution guarantees “equal protection under the law”, a phrase which exemplifies the best application of Lady Justice.
But she’s ailing, friends, and her blindfold is tattered. She needs our help.