Segregated Justice

By Abel Merawi

Oromo-rallyOctober 18, 2020 ( -- I will begin our present discourse with John Rawls and his idea of ‘veil of ignorance’ in discussing justice and fairness. Imagine yourself standing behind a veil or a curtain that makes you ignorant of your identity. You stand behind this curtain, unconscious of your physical, mental, social, religious and economic status that constitute part of your identity. You do not know your gender; you don’t know your family and their social status. You don’t even know your mental ability and the special skills you possess. Racial or ethnic identity are yet to be discovered, so you remain ignorant to such affiliations. The same ignorance prevails regarding your economic status, so there is a possibility of you ending up a homeless without a penny or a billionaire with power. Assume that you don’t even have an inkling about your religion. The list can go on indefinitely, so I just humbly request you to include everything you deem to manifest your identity.

In this ‘veil of ignorance’, John Rawls implores us to do the most difficult task – formulate laws. Can you create a law that manifests justice and fairness? I would like to point out that it doesn’t have to be a single law that addresses every social reality. Nevertheless, it has to include an extra clause that incorporates every possible reality we confront as human beings. In this manner, anyone with any disability who requires extra support will not be neglected. Remember, after you write the law, you will come out of this ignorance to face reality. You might end up being a man or a woman. Your family might either be rich or poor, criminal or law abiding citizens; or even worse, you may be an orphan. In terms of race, you might belong to a minority or a politically and socially dominant ethnic group. Economically, you may find yourself in unimaginable poverty or in superfluous affluence. Religiously, you might belong to any of the sects, or might be an atheist or polytheist. So? What would it be? What would be the law that you will accept as just and fair under any circumstance?

It is true that the ‘veil of ignorance’ is nonexistent, but we should remember the injustice in laws that are based on personal identity. In our times, is justice blind to personal bias? Have we not given justice not only eyes but also stereotypical magnifying glasses? Do we demand justice for all, or a segregated one? Are we not seeking justice that serves our personal affiliations, justice that protects and serves only our personal, social, economic and even political identity? Erich Fromm in his book ‘For the Love of Life’ proclaims, “Anyone who loves only one person really loves none.” The same is true for justice, which dies away as prejudice flourishes. It is utterly sad to witness the pain people feel for their own suffering and the cold indifference or even cruelty towards others. This is what I call segregated justice – a wicked game of favoritism.

I claim with a heavy heart that we no longer demand justice, but manipulate this noble ideal in a self-serving manner. We don’t have intolerance for injustice, we are rather, as Dr. Cornel West remarks, ‘well-adjusted to injustice’ as long as we are unaffected. We no longer feel human suffering for we have classified people into neatly labeled groups. Most often, it is not the written law but rather our shallow demands from it that creates this segregated justice. Perhaps, the idea will gain clarity as we cite concrete examples in both our country and in the world.

The world is not short of suffering; it only lacks advocators. We hear in the news about the innocent people who die every day at some corner of the world, but their cries go unheard in an indifferent world. The Middle East is a prime example of Western tolerance for injustice. After bombing an entire city in Iraq or engaging in proxy war in Syria, the only time Westerners feel the pain is when a US soldier dies. What exactly makes the life of an American soldier more valuable than children who are victims of war in the Middle East remains a mystery to me. Let us bring the problem home, and examine the current anomaly in Ethiopia. The various political parties who appear as enemies to one another have more in common than we often suspect. I will avoid calling names primarily because I don’t see any difference among parties that manifest partial sympathy. Simply assume that group A, B, C, etc. are ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Group A observes the suffering of its members, but remains ignorant to the sufferings of B and C. With a naïve conviction for justice the leader of group A cries out for justice, and the same goes with leaders of B and C. However, each group remains deaf to the suffering of the other and even blames them. Each group demands better economic, political and social status with disregard and even at the expense of the others. Each has forgotten the bigger picture – suffering of any group in a country demands a national call for justice.

In our pursuit of segregated justice, we depict our group as noble and neglect our own contribution for injustice. Erich Fromm argues, “As long as we are unwilling to make ‘confessions of national guilt’ we shall continue in our old ways, keeping a sharp eye out for the crimes of our enemies but remaining blind to the crimes of our own people.” Injustice remains the same for every human being, identity will not make any more or less significant. We shall take the blame for the suffering of any individual or group and demand justice and fairness for all.

In order to live up to the meaning of justice, we must heed the advice of John Rawls mentioned earlier. We must formulate laws that strives to guarantee justice and fairness for all. The children in Palestine are fellow human beings who cry as I do and smile as I do. The main problem originates from confusing political reality with natural reality. In ‘The Fire Next Time’ the great African American intellect superbly remarked, “Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.” Once we forget this fundamental truth we can only conceive partial justice, which leads to injustice. The way I see it, suffering from injustice is a universal human reality, and the alleviation of suffering and justice shall too become universal.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia

The Underestimated Human Ignorance

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

Trust as an Economic Force

Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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