What is racial injustice? It’s racism in action. Racism is the belief that certain people are superior based solely on their race. Historically, white supremacy has been a dominant form of racism. When racist beliefs dictate political actions and systems, racial injustice becomes widespread. Those belonging to the “superior” race are granted more privileges, freedoms, and opportunities than others. Racial segregation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansings are all forms of racial injustice. Here are ten quotes that describe and challenge racial injustice:
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” – Maya Angelou
Writer and activist Maya Angelou experienced racial injustice and prejudice firsthand throughout her career. She was a prolific creator, writing autobiographies, essays, poetry, plays, and more. Her work frequently addressed race and gender. In this quote, she describes prejudice as a burden that affects every space in time – the past, present, and future. It’s disorienting and dangerous.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
James Baldwin didn’t finish his manuscript he called Remember This House, but it gave us this quote. It was also the basis of the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” Remember This House was going to be an account of the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. While many apply this quote to a variety of difficulties, Baldwin was specifically talking about racial injustice and America. America has a long history of racism and has not truly reckoned with its past. To move forward, that past must be faced.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She wrote frequently about the intersection of race, class, and sexuality. As someone with many different identities, she understood how differences can be twisted to justify discrimination. In this quote, she emphasizes how it’s not the differences themselves that are divisive, but that society fails to celebrate them.
“The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” – Toni Morrison
Celebrated author and speaker Toni Morrison wrote at least twelve books in her career. In 1993, she became the first Black woman to win a Nobel Prize. In this quote, she describes a major consequence of racism for those who experience it.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In this quote from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King expresses his belief that people will one day leave racial injustice behind. He aligns racism with war, and peace with brotherhood. In line with his adherence to nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, he states that truth and love will ultimately win.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu is a South African Angelical cleric, theologian, and human rights activist. In the 1970s and 80s, he spoke out against apartheid and drew international attention to the racial injustice of the system. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. This quote expresses the importance of being vocal about injustice and taking a side.
“As long as there is racial privilege, racism will never end.” – Wayne Gerard Trotman
Wayne Gerard Trotman is an award-winning British author. He’s written in a variety of genres, including children’s literature, horror, fantasy, sci-fiction, screenplays, and more. In this quote, he hits upon the fact that privilege based on race and racism can’t be disconnected from one another. As long as certain races get more opportunities and freedom than others, there will always be racism.
“Defeating racism, tribalism, intolerance and all forms of discrimination will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator alike.” –Ban Ki-moon
Former Secretary-General of the UN from 2007-2016, Ban Ki-moon’s tenure included making sustainable development a priority and increasing the number of women in senior management. In this quote, Ki-moon lists racial injustice in its different forms, saying that ending it benefits everyone.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijoema Oluo
Ijoema Oluo is an American editor and best-selling writer. Her work includes the book So You Want To Talk About Race. This quote makes it clear that to be anti-racist, we must all be willing to take a hard look at ourselves. To fight racial injustice, we must all take responsibility for how and where we hold racist beliefs.
“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” – John Lewis
John Lewis was an American politician, civil rights leader, and Medal of Freedom awardee who served in the House of Representatives from 1987 until his death in 2020. In this quote, Lewis emphasizes how the struggle against racial injustice is persistent. Every generation must participate in the dismantling of racism and racist systems.