I consider myself a peaceful person. For me, this simply means that I don’t believe that most problems can be solved through violence or aggression. I’ve lived most of my life by the mantra that says, “conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.” I don’t avoid confrontations but I certainly don’t take up arms every time I’m confronted. Now this does not mean I don’t get angry. Of course I get angry. As an empath who’s constantly learning how to manage my hypersensitivity, I can get extremely…err…ummm…passionate about things. *removes halo* There have even been times in my life when I’ve been so enraged that punching someone in the throat has totally felt like a completely reasonable action.
But I usually make another choice.
Yet as I sit and watch my social media newsfeed explode with comments about the release of another video showing an unarmed and innocent Black man (HIS CAR STALLED!) being shot down in the street by the police (Terence Crutcher)—this only days after 13 year old Tyre King was shot in the back for “playing while black”—I’m also very clear that for many, the only response to such state sanctioned violence against black people (state sanctioned because in a large percentage of these cases, officers are not held accountable) will ultimately be one of revolt.
And as scary as that is, as much as I hope for another alternative, I get it.
See, both the perpetrators and beneficiaries of systemic racism are not invested in seeing change. Even allies, though necessary in most freedom movements, often have limits to how much they are willing to risk to see systems overhauled. This is because their power and privileges are deeply embedded in the status quo. The oppression of people of color is as American as grid-iron football. You know, physical and psychological violence that’s widely accepted and, in the case of a Trump rally, cheered on from the stands? Yeah, like that. Sorry, Hubby. Go Eagles? 😳
How long do you think any group will stand by and watch their husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, their children killed in the street; their deaths looped on media like some modern-day gladiator exhibition, before an uprising is contemplated? Until defending your family, property, and livelihoods by any means necessary becomes a reality?
Well, what about the Civil Rights movement? Black people accomplished so much without violence back then, Tracey.
Yes, they did. And I understand why even some Black folks like to sit back on their respectable haunches and say, “just march and protest more. Don’t riot. Don’t fight back.” Many come from an era and movement where non-violent protest was ONE particular strategy used to gain rights for Black people. They see their work as a being successful and, if implemented strategically now, still potentially useful. And I don’t necessarily disagree. But it’s important to understand that non-violence was one of MANY strategies during the movement. Whether we want to admit it or not, the Black Panther Party and other movements whose focus were on empowerment and self-defense were very influential. Otherwise why would Hoover and the rest of our government at the time be so hell bent on stopping them?
Secondly, and probably most important to note, America has tried everything possible to ensure that the unity among black people that existed during the 50s and 60s never happens again. The one-mindedness among people of color that made the Civil Rights movement even possible has been systematically dismantled through the insidious infiltration of drugs into our communities in the 70s and 80s—resulting in even more insidious breaking up of families, reminiscent of slavery—bussing and other pseudo-integration efforts. Yes, laws were changed. And some of us made it out of the hood. Some of us even made it to the White House. But many of us, in an effort to succeed, were forced to do so through assimilation. In way too many cases, we had to sacrifice anything that remotely connected us to our culture in order to achieve the “American Dream” and become “the good Negro.” That gap makes unifying under one common cause challenging. Oh you didn’t know? Black folks too can be perpetuators and enablers of white supremacy and the status quo.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Between the foolery that is our current election, the almost daily onslaught of what I call “Black death porn” by the media—the desensitizing of an audience to violence against people of color (Ask yourself when you’ve seen a white person blown away on the news?)—we are nearing a tipping point. Malcolm Gladwell calls a tipping point that “moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” We are nearing the point where the idea of revolt is becoming less implausible to more and more people. People who are simply tired of seeing another hashtag with another man, woman, or child’s name on it.
But Black folks should just sit back and somehow continuously accept the continued devaluing of our very humanity, right? Langston Hughes best captured the feeling I’m sensing nowadays, in his poem, Warning.
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble and kind:
Beware the day
They change their mind!
In the cotton fields,
Beware the hour
It uproots trees!
And before the saints get all flustered, countering with platitudes about Jesus and love and peace, let’s be 100% clear about what the Bible says. Yes, Jesus is about redemptive love. He IS redemptive love. Yes, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Yes, Jesus says forgive 70 x 7. Yes, Jesus said that if one takes up the sword, he or she will die by the sword (the cost of war). Jesus clearly states to turn the other cheek at an INDIVIDUAL offense. But He also says shake the dust off your feet and leave a place where you are clearly not welcomed (Matthew 10:14). He also clearly advocates for the protection and defense of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Scripture outlines the role of those who believe to be defenders of those who are oppressed. (see: Matt. 19:21, Luke 4:18-19, Levi. 19:15, Proverbs 31:8-9) So let’s be a bit more nuanced when cherry picking our scriptures, ‘kay?
Here’s another the truth: Justice/Freedom, and the sometimes violent fight for either, is not a foreign concept in scripture. Sure…God does not want war. But he has clearly allowed it to occur—especially in the defense of righteousness. There were times where God called Israel to defend themselves in battle. Mostly because mankind, with its free will and all, had already created a culture of war and bloodshed. When the Midianites cut off important resources to Israel, God raised up Gideon to fight them—not as aggressors but in defense of their families and property.
So how much more should a reasonable person expect from a group that has experienced…
- 250 years of enslavement which, in case you didn’t know, included the breaking up of families, the rape and slaughter of women, men and children, the beating and whipping of HUMANS, the building of this nation through unpaid labor
- 100+ years of jim Crow, segregation, lynching, and under-education of their youth
- 50+ years of redlining, inequities in education, mass incarceration, media stereotyping and framing, police brutality and profiling, cultural appropriation and pillaging, etc.
Very few groups in the world has had such heinous acts committed against them and not responded in kind for their freedom. Haiti fought the French (enslavers/colonizers) for independence and there are numerous national liberation movements that have occurred over oh, the last few centuries. Google it.
America itself has fought entire wars for lesser ideals (see: Vietnam, Iraq, etc). In fact, it’s been very clear over the last two decades that our country is not going to allow so-called Islamic extremists to repeatedly attempt to or succeed in blowing up or killing Americans without some aggressive response.
So there it is. For many African Americans, hope is walking a tightrope in this circus called a democracy. And every Black body in the street, every acquittal of a White murderer, every obvious disparity in our justice, education, and economic systems is like a rushing wind ready to knock the little hope we have left into the sea of our other losses.
And you know what happens when one feels as though there is nothing left to lose, right?
Without a true systemic overhaul—an absolute yanking up by the root the weeds of white supremacy planted as seeds at the inception of this country—happening alongside a spiritual overhaul of the hearts and minds of those who either deny that black lives don’t matter nowadays or actually believe that they don’t—a revolt by people of color who are hopeless and fed up will be inevitable.
And dare I say it…justified.
God help us all.