Historical political imprisonment, black suffering, and death have become familiar—forming a backdrop to everyday reality. Premature violent death and captivity cease to astonish or seem unusual in this landscape. They no longer register as political phenomena. Consequently, when suffering blacks and their rare militant allies break into rebellion, most people seem surprised and outraged. They seem less disturbed by the repression, which they accept in resignation or complicity, and more by the resistance.—Joy James, “Black Suffering in Search of the ‘Beloved Community’: Political Imprisonment and Self-Defense
What is a revolution without violence? Can there be an effective revolution on these shores without it? These are two questions that have been running through my mind for the past week or so. It began with a viewing of END:CIV, a documentary based on Derrick Jensen’s END:GAME series. The questions got louder as I read Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots”. By the middle of the week, after reading Joy James’ “Black Suffering in Search of the ‘Beloved Community” and learning about the continued police brutality occurring in Flatbush, Brooklyn following the state sanctioned murder of a young Kimani Gray, it was difficult to hear anything other than these questions. What was at first simply two passing thoughts after the viewing of a film became a never-ending chorus in my mind. With every new reading, every new conversation, more questions joined the chorus until I was in danger of being subsumed into the cacophony of inquiries and thoughts. What is violence? Why is Black anger immediately read as violence and then, at best, dismissed or more likely demonized, pathologized, or turned into justification for more violence against the Black body?
By now the coverage of the murder of Kimani Gray, and the following protest against police brutality, has died down a bit (unsurprisingly). The reports that were coming in at the peak of the protest took to calling it a “riot”, accusing the folk of “lashing out at the police” and resorting to “wild confrontations”. When talking about what’s happening in Brooklyn with the Providence Africana Reading Collective it was mentioned that the area had become militarized and was under “martial law”. That, however, is a complete misconception. The area had always been militarized. This is not a new status for East Flatbush. It takes extreme spectacles like this for people to see what is truly a constant state of being. It only now appears militarized and violent, but that’s because the everyday racist violence that is occurring in Flatbush and at large has become so mundane. It is such a part of the “backdrop”, as Joy James puts it, that generally any sort of reaction against it is often deemed as unnecessary, unjustified, or unreasonable violence but the violent action itself is not seen as out of the ordinary. Instead of seeing the protestors as people practicing self-defense against the violent actions that are constantly being enacted upon them they are being seen as rioters, wild mobs, etc. And the only reason they aren’t being completely vilified is because Kimani Gray’s death has caused a rupture; it’s torn a temporary hole in the wool that’s normally pulled over the average person’s eyes. I want to emphasize that the rupture is truly temporary because already the outrage about what happened to Gray and what’s happening in Flatbush has begun to die down, which is what always happens in cases like this. If the protests continue for much longer it won’t take much before even the liberal sympathizers/so-called “allies” begin to think of these practitioners of self-defense as savages.
In Malcolm X’s speech at the founding rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity he speaks about the criticality of organization. Perhaps that is one of the big failures of today. Organization requires urgency. We get only seem to get a taste of that sense of urgency at times like now, when we have a Kimani Gray or any other spectacular Black death (or, perhaps, it’d be more accurate to say spectacular response to Black death). But…Black death is omnipresent. So, why is that sense of urgency not always there? Kimani Gray, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell; these aren’t isolated incidents. Why are we not constantly harnessing our anger and fighting back? What could be more urgent than genocide? The anger shouldn’t only come once in awhile in response to spectacular deaths. We need to recognize its constant existence. As Kenia T. stated at a recent PARC meeting, we cannot only pay attention to the “peaks of our anger”. It’s a powerful energy within us that need not consume us. It’s something that can, and should, be accessed and harnessed for it possesses great generative power. Without anger we can’t fight back. We can’t sustain a resistance or revolution. We need to acknowledge our anger and allow it to fuel us. First, we must recognize this anger for what it is (a powerful and generative force, not something to feel ashamed about) and once we do that we have the potential to take Audre Lorde’s advice and “orchestrate [these] furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have…to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives.”
In “Message to the Grass Roots”, on the question of violent versus non-violent resistance, Malcolm X argued “You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed…A revolution is bloody. Revolution is hostile. Revolution knows no compromise. Revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way”. I am inclined to agree with this argument. We have got state sanctioned human hunters walking among us; blood is already being shed! If a truly effective revolutionary uprising is to happen, violence and bloodshed is a necessity. As Malcolm X stated “if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country”. If it is right for America to commit multidimensional murder how is it possible for self-defense, as that is what violent resistance is, to be considered wrong?
It is crucial to note that Black anger is not something to be ashamed of, for often we are made to feel ashamed of our rage. We are often made to feel as if it is misplaced or wrong. This is because it is not understood by the dominant society. It can’t be. It’s unreadable to them. When things are not able to be comprehended a common reaction is to lash out, to demonize what can’t be understood. This is what happens to Black anger.
Multidimensional murder: social death, civic death, taking of mortal life, etc.
James, Joy. “Black Suffering in Search of the “Beloved Community”: Political Imprisonment and Self Defense.” Trans-Scripts (2011): 212-20. Print.
Lorde, Audre. “Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism." Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing, 1984. 124-33. Print.
Martinot, Steve, and Jared Sexton. “The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy." Social Identities 9.2 (2003): 169-81. Print.
Parascandola, Rocco, and John Marzulli. “Brooklyn Riot over Teen’s Death: 16-year-old Shot by Cops Did Not Have a Gun, Says Witness.” NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/witness-claims-16-year-old-killed-cops-hands-article-1.1286981?localLinksEnabled=false>.
Sharpe, Christina Elizabeth. Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
Stebner, Beth. “‘It Sounds Like a War Zone’: Chaos in Brooklyn as 100 Teenagers ‘Riot’ on the Streets Following Vigil of 16-Year-Old Who Was Shot Dead by NYPD Plainclothes Cops.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 11 Mar. 2013. Web. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2291941/Brooklyn-riot-Teens-protest-death-Kimani-Gray-Flatbush.html>.
X, Malcolm. “Message to the Grass Roots.” Speech. Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference, Detroit. University of Virginia. Web. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~public/civilrights/a0147.html>.
X, Malcolm. “Speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.” Speech. Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity. New York. 28 Jan. 1964. Black Past. Web. <http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1964-malcolm-x-s-speech-founding-rally-organization-afro-american-unity>.