Respectability and Remembrance: The Continued Condemnation of Black ResistanceNews at Home
tags: civil rights, radicalism, Protest
Anne Stokes is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant at the University of Manchester, UK, researching memorialization of the American Black Freedom Movements. Tweets at @AV_Stokes.
As this violence unfolds, many communities remain sympathetic with the protestors, contributing en masse to bail funds for those arrested, while others, including the president, have condemned the protestors as violent, and a third grouprecognizes the righteousness of the protestors' cause but rejects arson, looting and violence: this group sees the violence has distracting from the Black Lives Matter cause.
And while King is remembered as the pre-eminent champion of non-violence, popular memory has forgotten that he recognized the limits of a nonviolent civil rights movement, saying that riots were the “language of the unheard,”illustrating the need for more radical resistance when peaceful protests do not suffice.
In fact, the civil rights movement included much debate among activists who grappled over tactics. Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, became frustrated with nonviolence when, despite securing legal rights, black people continued to face police violence, poverty, and incarceration. Nonviolent protest, which had helped achieve voting rights, legal access to public accommodations, and the end of Jim Crow, had proved unsuccessful in solving these problems.
And yes, the Black Panthers, maybe the most famous Black Power organization, carried weapons, but they also organized free breakfast programs for poor, black children and carried out tests for sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that almost exclusively affects black people in the United States. The Panthers saw such programs as crucial in serving oppressed communities and providing equal opportunity.
Major African American history museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, portray the Black Power era as one of chaos. This section of the museum is disorganized, difficult to navigate, and accompanied by loud music, signifying a rupture with the preceding narrative. Simply put, Black Power is remembered for not falling in line with a history of respectable nonviolent protest.
Violence has long been a part of civil rights protest going back to the days of abolition because white supremacy is rooted in violence and perpetuated overwhelmingly by law enforcement and white vigilantes with tacit support of legal authorities. This is on display today in the excessive force that has been continuously used against black citizens by police and which resulted in George Floyd’s death. Countless videos of unarmed, peaceful protestors or journalists being pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets or, driven into by a police SUV have been shared on television and social media since the protests began.
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