It takes a special kind of delusion to behave as if every uprising both started and ended peacefully, as though rebels wrapped things up kindly and on the best possible terms, with good behavior by all and not a hair out of place.
Where are these rebels we’re meant to remember as saint-like heroes and heroines? Who are these men and women who always acted in the most dignified manner, in accordance with the social mores of their times?
I keep seeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name thrown all over the place, probably by people who never think of the man or his sacrifice unless he can be trotted out as a stick to beat “the bad black people” with. Yes, Dr. King is often used by people as some sort of model protester because they say he chose peace.
I say peace chose Dr. King because there was not, in his lifetime, a feasible alternative that wouldn’t have led to a national slaughter of black people akin to the Tulsa Riots of 1921. Like many black children at the time, he likely learned of the destruction of Black Wall Street. Nearly a hundred years later, it remains the ultimate symbol of black people minding their own damn business, succeeding at life, and doing everything that white racists say we should do if we want to stop being the victims of mindless racial hatred.
Here’s the reality for those who don’t want to hear it and refuse to see it: You can be every bit this passive, desaturated version of Dr. King your entire life and still be mistreated or killed in America. There is no type of black to be that makes you any less of a target to people who hate you, wish to harm you, and want you dead.
You can be angelic or you can wear red hats with questionable quotes on them and have your life snuffed out by an entitled lunatic, one coddled and protected by a racist system.
There is no amount of peacefulness that will protect African Americans from violence. If it didn’t protect Dr. Martin Luthur King, why preach it at those still fighting his battles decades after his murder?
It’s also pretty bizarre to see this argument raised after Colin Kaepernick lost his NFL job and remains an outcast in the football world for peacefully protesting police brutality during the National Anthem. People came out screaming about “all lives” and “blue lives” because “fuck black lives.”
Now American cities are burning, and very suddenly y’all remembered that peace was an option at one point?
I’m not pro-violence and looting, by the way; I’ve just come to the realization that there is no perfect way to behave that will keep you from getting murdered while speaking out against injustice.
It really bothers me how people continue to trot out a heavily edited version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as their “Perfect Negro Protester” while blatantly ignoring that the man was killed anyway. So you’re saying we should all die, but just do it in a dignified manner that’s pleasing to your personal aesthetic?
By the way, as we’re on the topic of peaceful resistance, I’m pretty confident Dr. King would have taken a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner” to make his point. The man was attacked by dogs, violently beaten, and thrown under the jail while fighting Jim Crow. I’m comfortably certain he wouldn’t care if angry drunken idiots booed him from their living rooms because they chose to believe his actions disrespected America, football, and the police and that there was no greater point getting made.
The athletes and others who got down on one knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner” did so in the spirit of peaceful protests led by Dr. King. Nobody wants violence when they can get their point across peacefully. But as John F. Kennedy famously stated:
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
What happens when people become more angry than afraid? What can you look forward to after resisting and badmouthing every peaceful attempt to bring an end to a people’s suffering and pain?
There are no quiet riots or polite uprisings; peaceful revolutions are exceedingly rare. The American Revolution was a very violent affair, and at the beginning, Loyalists wouldn’t shut up about how appalled they felt by the behavior of the disloyal American rebels.
It’s no surprise to me that some will endure the demise of America and continued violation of black bodies side by side as long as they’re promised an enduring illusion of being better than “those people.” We’ve seen twisted individuals like Central Park Karen below try to weaponize that privilege by calling 9-1-1, hoping for the cops to maul and murder on their behalf.
These people insist on calling the police on law-abiding black citizens for the same reason they try to “rationalize” the killing of George Floyd: To celebrate their ability to oppress and, they imagine, continue to get away with it.
These racists feel safer than ever acting out their hatred and bloodlust because every sign points to the police being there for them and not everyone else.
The only hope for ridding ourselves of these types of people is to acknowledge that there’s a broken system and then to fix it. And we haven’t even completed step one yet.
If you want peaceful resistance, then you must make it possible.
Pass the necessary laws. Get the needed convictions. Respect constitutional rights. Empathize with your neighbors. Value human life over lifeless inanimate objects and buildings. Learn from history, and don’t sanitize and rewrite it for your convenience.
Buildings can be rebuilt. Objects can get replaced. George Floyd and every other man, woman, and child murdered because of the color of their skin will never get their lives back. And that’s even if we all behaved perfectly and rationally in the face of centuries of systematic abuse and oppression.
Remember, there always comes a day when anger outweighs the fear of losing one’s life. History shows again and again that when those in power can no longer effectively terrify the oppressed, they will suffer every conceivable consequence in the violent fallout.
A peaceful resolution is always possible. If you want to avoid repeating the violent past, you MUST learn from it. Do better than those who came before you.
Those who wish to avoid seeing things head in a horrible direction would be wise not to cling to delusions about quiet riots, admirable dissidence, and model protesters. Those things never existed; no tyrant or broken system ever made it possible.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons