On an overcast spring day in Washington, D.C., Georgetown University professor Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò paced the length of a triptych blackboard, telling his students a story: In the 18th century, European men published iconoclastic arguments declaring that all individuals were born free and equal.
“These are not merely abstract philosophical questions,” Táíwò lectured. “People are fighting wars over, among other things, different answers to these questions.”
Remarkably, many of these wars were won by those on the side of “free and equal,” Táíwò pointed out. Think of the American and French revolutions: Their ideas about inalienable rights and consent of the governed quickly transformed from heresy to common sense. This common sense, however, failed to provide the promised rights and freedom to most of the world. Women in the U.S. only won the right to vote more than a century after the American Revolution, and around 750 million people lived under some version of colonial rule by the middle of the 20th century. Even as they gained independence, redrawing the borders of the modern world, disparities endured. Black South Africans, for instance,... Read more