“All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black. Here is what I would like for you to know: in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body–it is heritage.” ~Ta-Nehsi Coates
In 1964, Malcolm X was fiercely critical of the march on Washington. He wanted it to be strong, militant and powerful. The words, that struck me the most from his passionate denunciation were, “This was a national bitterness; militant, unorganized, and leaderless. Predominantly, it was young [Blacks], defiant of whatever might be the consequences, sick and tired of the black man’s neck under the whyte man’s heel.“
The ending of that sentence came back to me when I watched the murder of George Floyd. It was a measure of how “far” we had come. 50 odd years after Malcolm’s speech, a black man was murdered in cold blood, in broad daylight by a whyte man’s knee on his neck. It was a change. A cruel one. From a heel to a knee.
I realized then how meaningless the word “change” was. Changes had occurred in those 50 odd years. Laws had been changed. Equality and diversity policies were written. And no one is disputing that these changes have not made a difference to individual lives. But racism as a reality means that as Black people in western society, we live in an open prison. And as prisoners, some of us have been given library jobs, or put in the laundry room or able to mop the floor for a few change in our pockets. But for the majority of prisoners/Black people a change is still gonna come. Change is transient.
Transformation then is what we must seek. Transformation is more creative and speaks more to the process of liberation. Transformation requires a commitment from Us, because it is both an inner and outer process. Transformation is giving birth to a child, than just being pregnant and going through changes. Childbirth is painful. So too is transformation.
Here are a few quotes on Riot:
“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
“Another mystification whyte society uses is the word ‘riot.’ When rebellions break out in the large cities of America, the first thing people say is that they’re riots. And whyte western society is very good. The next thing they say is ‘We must have law and order.’ Hilter had the most efficient system of law and order we’ve ever seen. He happened to have been a facist. He did not have justice coupled with his law and order. The United States knows about law and order, it doesn’t know about justice. It is for whyte western society to talk about law and order. It is for the Third World to talk about justice.” ~Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)
“America. Where property damage is a greater offense than genocide.” ~Darnell Lamont Walker
“If you call it a riot, it sounds like it was just a bunch of crazy people who went out and did bad things for no reason. I maintain it was somewhat understandable, if not acceptable. So I call it a rebellion.” ~Maxine Waters
“How would you define somebody who puts a [person] where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn’t really want the TV set. He’s saying, ‘Screw you.’ It’s just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn’t want it. He wants to let you know he’s there… The mass media-television and all the major news agencies-endlessly use that word “looter”. On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, and no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you’re accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it’s obscene.” ~James Baldwin
“Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leader, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them.”~Frantz Fanon
Picture credit: George Floyd mural in Minneapolis, US – Photograph by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images