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15 Quotes Exposing Injustice in Society

Injustice takes many forms. Racial discrimination, sexism, unfair wages, poverty and other violations of human rights are just a few examples. When injustice is exposed, people are better equipped to call for accountability and make changes that build a better, more just world for everyone. Here are 15 quotes on exposing injustice in society:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was an American minister and figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement. His activism focused on racial equality, economic justice, peace and human rights. The quote above comes from the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which King wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama. King’s letter confronted the religious leaders who wondered why King, who was from Georgia, should care so much about issues in Alabama. Injustice is never isolated to one area. It threatens everyone.

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either. Just refuse to bear them.” – William Faulkner

William Faulkner (1897-1962) was an American writer considered one of the 20th century’s best novelists. Many of his works focus on Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional Mississippi county. Intruder in the Dark, which the quote above is from, is one example. In the story, a 16-year-old boy tries to save the life of an elderly Black man who is falsely arrested for murder.

“All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That’s terrible, but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier. Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for ‘Silence gives consent.’ When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.” – Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is an acclaimed writer and cultural critic. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, McSweeny’s and many other publications. Bad Feminist, which is where the quote is from, explores being a feminist while also loving things that could be seen as problematic. As Gay describes, it’s easy to see injustices as terrible things that have nothing to do with us, but staying silent creates a culture that accepts injustice.

“I guess the only time most people think about injustice is when it happens to them.” – Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) was an underground writer and poet who focused on the gritty side of American life. His style was straightforward, blunt and often violent. The quote above comes from Ham on Rye, Bukowsi’s semi-autobiographical novel, and while it’s not inspirational, it exposes a harsh truth: most people don’t pay attention to injustice until they’re affected.

Activism is vital to addressing injustice and fighting for equality. Here are 15 quotes on activism.

“A democracy cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.” – John Lewis

John Lewis (1940-2020) was a Civil Rights leader and politician. As one of the “Big Six” leaders, he organized and participated in sit-ins, boycotts and marches. In his later years as a congressman, he fought for equality, social justice and human rights. In the quote above, he describes how justice can’t be doled out to just a few people. Without accountability and justice for all, there can be no peace or democracy.

“There are wrongs which even the grave does not bury.” – Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897) was an American abolitionist and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiography. She was the first woman to write a fugitive slave narrative in the US, and one of the first to articulate the sexual violence experienced by enslaved women and girls. After the war, she worked in relief work serving formerly enslaved people. While the people who commit injustice – and those who endure it – pass on, there are certain wrongs (like slavery) that resonate through time. Achieving justice requires acknowledgment.

“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony.” – James Baldwin

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a celebrated American writer and intellectual who explored topics like race and identity. As a gay Black man, Baldwin experienced intersectional discrimination in the United States. He lived and traveled abroad for much of his life. He is best known for works like The Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room and Go Tell It on the Mountain. The quote above, which is from the book No Name in the Street, describes how people need to talk directly to those who need justice, as opposed to those responsible for doling it out.

“When I liberate myself, I liberate others. If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a civil rights activist known for pursuing voting and economic rights. She began her activism after learning Black people were being denied the right to vote, despite it being legal. She organized groups, and after being denied a vote because of an unjust literacy test, Hamer was fired and turned out of her home. She continued to fight for equality despite frequent harassment and violence.

Are you interested in learning more about civil rights? Here’s our article on Civil Rights 101.

“Injustice makes the rules, and courage breaks them.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) was an American science fiction writer famous for complex and philosophical novels and short stories. The quote above comes from the essay and short story collection Tales From Earthsea, which addresses themes like gender equality, power, identity and more.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) was a Romanian Jewish writer and activist best known for his memoir, Night, which captures Wiesel’s experiences of the Holocaust. Wiesel became a well-known speaker who advocated for peace, justice and quality. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The quote above comes from his acceptance speech. Sometimes, there’s very little we can do to stop injustice, but as Wiesel said, we must always raise our voices against it.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) was an Anglican minister and activist known for his work on equality and justice. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for opposing apartheid, which was a system of racial segregation in South Africa. After apartheid was dismantled, Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights abuses during apartheid. Tutu took a side during apartheid and remained on the side of justice throughout his life.

“You can also commit injustice by doing nothing.” – Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (121 CE-180 CE) was a Roman emperor known for Meditations, a personal collection of writings and thoughts on Stoic philosophy. Stoicism, which has origins in ancient Greece and Rome, teaches the values of wisdom, courage, moderation, justice and living in alignment with nature. As others have declared after him, Marcus Aurelius believed doing nothing could be a form of injustice.

“To forgive and accept injustice is cowardice.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was an Indian anti-colonist nationalist, lawyer and icon of civil disobedience. Globally famous for his nonviolent tactics, Gandhi played a vital role in India’s battle for independence from Great Britain. He also worked for peace between Hindus and Muslims. In 1948, he was assassinated. While he promoted peace, Gandhi taught that it should never come at the expense of justice. It takes bravery to stand for what’s right.

“One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” – Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was a journalist, researcher and activist famous for chronicling the injustices of the American South. Without Wells’ work, the prevalence of lynching would be lost to time. She also traveled internationally to raise awareness of lynching and violence. White supremacists targeted her, and at one time, her press was burned down and she was forced to leave for her safety. Despite the threats, she was willing to risk her life to expose injustice.

“Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” – Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a Civil Rights activist who served as a key organizer for the March on Washington. He was also one of Martin Luther King Jr’s closest advisors and an openly gay man. As an activist who worked for decades, he witnessed and experienced injustice of all kinds, but as he makes clear in the quote above, we cannot let that destroy us. That’s how oppression wins.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.