Tuesday, January 10, 2012

double standards on violence and revolution

Alicia is reading Malcolm X's autobiography and noted how, amidst his justifiably critical perspective on Christianity, he ascribed to it one notable achievement (or flaw, he may have thought): it made the civil rights revolution a movement rather than a war. Black people did not turn to violence on a wide scale.

But what Malcom would not let you forget (and count this as another thing I wish was better understood by most white people) was that by any normal American standard, had black people resorted to war, it would have been entirely justified.

There is a massive double standard running through American life, revealed perhaps most clearly in the realm of violence. The American Revolution is praised and venerated. But if the American Revolution was justified, then a black armed insurrection in the 1960s was justified, times 100. We are thankful that did not happen not because it would have been wrong, but because it would not have succeeded.

I say this not to actually espouse armed revolution, but to expose the double standard. From a Christian perspective, I'm inclined to think the American Revolution was obviously unjustified and am generally opposed to armed resistance even when actual oppression is occurring, like in the 1960s. But the point is that by Americans' own standards of justifiable violence, revolutionary warfare would have been appropriate for black Americans to undertake.

Once you realize this, a lot of things look a little differently. You see that the nonviolent path, while the most moral and best available option, let white America off the hook and left the revolution incomplete. There have still been no reparations, which is an obvious moral travesty. You see that the Black Panthers weren't so crazy after all, and should not be considered analogous to the Klan. You understand that your average big city police department of the era, from Oakland to NYC to Chicago, committed much more murder and violence than the Black Panthers ever did.

You don't have to agree with every detail. But I hope you can see the other side.

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