Robert Cairns: Gains are slow, but justice and equality are growing

Apr. 26—I've long believed Martin Luther King Jr.'s exclamation that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

It can be hard to see in the moment, but if we look at the long-term picture, it's happening.

King, of course, was talking about the civil rights long denied to people of color, largely the descendants of slaves. The end of slavery was a move toward justice, as were the reforms that came about in the wake of the activism of King and those who worked alongside him — from the little-known organizers to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed landmark legislation into law.

No objective observer would say justice for oppressed minorities in this country has been achieved. Indeed, progress has been agonizingly slow. But, when compared to a century ago, two centuries ago, that long arc has bent toward justice.

Other groups have seen similar, incremental progress, and it's about time.

Women were long sidelined from many of the opportunities in our society. Many of us are old enough to remember when women could not have their own bank accounts. How crazy is that?

It wasn't until 1974 — just a half-century ago — that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, and women in the U.S. were granted the right to open a bank account on their own.

Such things make younger people's jaws drop and leave the rest of us shaking our heads, but they're real and, fortunately no longer the case.

Seeing opportunities open up for people, all people, is validation of something our nation's founders said — but didn't mean — in the Declaration of Independence: That all men are created equal.

They certainly didn't see enslaved Africans, Native Americans and women as equal. Nonetheless, their words set an ideal toward which we've been crawling at a snail's pace ever since. It may be hard to see, especially when opportunists fan the flames of division and use people unlike them as scapegoats, but things are getting fairer.

Every once in a while, a hero helps a group stake its claim to greater equality in our society. Lately, one of them has done much to advance the cause of women.

Caitlin Clark is certainly a woman who needs a bank account, and good for her.

Sports have long been a male-dominated world. They still are, but NCAA women basketball players, led by Clark, staked their claim to the nation's attention recently when their national basketball tournament stole the attention from the competition on the men's side.

Women, and those who support them, are hoping the star power of Clark and others will translate into more attention for the Women's National Basketball Association.

Just the fact that the WNBA exists is testament to the bend toward justice. It was only 1972 when Title IX, the change to education law that required equal treatment of women in programs that receive federal funding, was adopted and women's college teams were mandated. Women's sports still aren't the big business that sports played by their male counterparts have long been, but there's progress.

Clark's $76,000 WNBA salary is a pittance by professional athlete standards, but she and her supporters can be heartened by the $28 million endorsement deal she signed with Nike.

Throughout society, and in spite of some who would stand in the way, there are examples of justice inching closer.

LGBTQIA people no longer have to hide who they are, fearful of legal repercussions of anyone finding out. They still face plenty of harassment, discrimination and even persecution, but they're gaining acceptance, too. The arc is bending.

Indigenous people, those of the continent's first nations, have made strides, too. They may never regain what they lost, but their history, long hidden, is now being celebrated. Their customs are being honored. Their place in the fabric of our society is being recognized.

These achievements don't mean that we've arrived at anything resembling the Pledge of Allegiance's stated ideal of "liberty and justice for all." There's work to do. So much work. But that arc of the moral universe, as long as King said it is, is bending toward justice.

Robert Cairns is the editor of The Daily Star. Contact him at