This article is primarily for my Black friends and family who worry about the violence happening across the country and worry, justifiably, about the what it will mean for Black people moving forward. Many of you see the property destruction and something in your gut turns. We know the price Black people pay for “stepping out of line” and who know who will pay for it even when it is white youth causing the damage.
There is a reaction that many of us Black folks have to this. I recognized it in my self watching the video of Samuel Debose execution by the police in Ohio a few years ago. Trying to search what he did wrong to instigate the violence unleashed on him. Believing that he had to do something, because it was too scary to accept that the death of Black people could happen so arbitrarily. It is devastating to accept that the U.S views Black men through a lens of inherent kill-ability.
It echoes so deeply, so viscerally and so unavoidably, the ways that this society shows each and every Black person, trans and cis, queer and straight, rich and poor, adult and child, compliant and not, and across the entire galaxy of gender as inherently usable and disposable. It is impossible to know that truth, as deeply as our bones know that truth, and walk into spaces where the expectation is that we are anything less than outraged or besot with grief. And yet, racial capitalism being what it is, most of us have to do just that, day after day.
The youth who, in cities like D.C, face depression era unemployment, don’t have to do that. They are not practiced in dividing their souls in two like we had to learn to. They know that they deserve better even if they can’t quite articulate what better is. They also know a deep truth that many of us force ourselves to forget. As one of my students in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago once said when I asked him why he yelled at the police “they are going to mess with me every day, whether I do something or not, so I might as well let them know how I feel.”
As Zora Neale Hurston said “if you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
I am not claiming that burning buildings and putting graffiti on buildings is a strategy that is going to get us free. I am not claiming that it is without its problems. I am claiming that it is a human reaction and, if we are honest, a much more healthy reaction than the false belief that if we color inside the lines we won’t end up laying on the ground, chest compressed with the weight of 400 years of oppression crystallized in the knees of white police officer, screaming for our mother and saying we can’t breathe.
I am claiming that if we want it to, every building burned can be leverage that we bring into each meeting where we are asked to lessen ourselves for the comforts for whiteness. Every spray painted slogan is a step away from the lie that we have enjoyed our time in this country, that we were singing and dancing on the levy.
If you worry that “looting is nonstrategic” than incorporate the energy of this moment into your strategy. But if you haven’t been pushing for progress and have just kept your head down hoping that the powers that be won’t notice you or waiting for other people to win victories for you I need you to honest with your self.
I see a lot of us saying that we should protest like Martin, peacefully and in a suit, but I don’t see many of us willing to walk down the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I don’t see these people proposing to boycott capitalism and build improvement associations like Garvey. And, for the record, voting for Joe Biden is not a strategy for Black Liberation, uplift or advancement.
“Vote Blue No Matter Who Raped You” is not a strategy for Liberation. I don’t mean this is a flippant way. Any man who consistently shows that he either does not understand or does not care about personal boundaries should never be allowed to ascend to the office of President. It means he will not understand or care about our communal autonomy as well. The choice between an old white male sexual predator who voted for racist legislation like the 90’s crime bill and an old white male sexual predator who said the central park five should be sentenced to death is not a choice at all.
And since so few organizations have offered these youths a strategy that resonates they are using the one embed deeply in all of our bones. Burn It All Down!!
And this also not to say that it all bad all the time. Or that there is not room for Black people to organize and build the world that we want. It is merely to say, that this uprising does not in any way deter from our path towards collective liberation. The plight of Black people in America has never been tied to our to going along to get along. It is not as if everything was going fine until that auto-zone was burnt down. Do not let the media pretend that was the case.
As Fredrick Douglass said:
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
This uprising is, if anything, members of our community doing us a favor. They are telling tyrants like Donald Trump we will not have it. They are notifying the world that Black people have long reached our limit.
So instead of wondering if this was best or most appropriate way to give that message, we should use the energy of this moment to build what we actually want. To, as my mother says, do the next right thing. To come together and invest in the mutual aid systems that have already been popping up. Because the more things burn down the more space we have to build ourselves up. We don’t, as a people, own much of the systems we rely on. This moment can be an opportunity to build systems that no one owns but we all, collectively control.
As an aside, I know many of us are angry that some, and in some cities much, of the destruction is being caused by white people. Some of these white people are undercover cops and some of them are even white supremacist trying to start a race war. But, first of all, this is not going to start a race war. Any white person who is going to arm themselves because of Starbucks got burned down was just looking for an excuse to kill Black people. And never, in the history of white fuckery have Black people ever gone out of our way to hunt down white people en masse because the police arrested some of us over what a white person did.
Further, some of these white people, and my general sense is its the majority of them, want to burn this shit down for their own reasons. They are doing exactly what we often hope they would do but never believe they really will. They are burning down a society that never saw fit to include us in the first place.
And it not just white people. It is Asians who are tired of being attacked because of the “yellow peril” fear mongering. Or Asians angry that they are seen as perpetual foreigners in nation they came to because it invaded their homeland. Its Muslims who are tired of being banned. Who are outraged at the way their religious communities are infiltrated, monitored and attacked. They are indigenous folks who know that their people are killed by the police at the highest rates. Who are pissed that police put the property built on land stolen from them over the lives of human beings. It is Latinx folks who are enraged at wild xenophobia unleashed by this president and distraught by the literal concentration camps full of sick and hungry people who look a lot like them. Do not believe media lies that say people are rioting for “no reason.”
The system giving you nothing better to do than burn it down is all the reason anyone needs.
Now, I’m not suggesting these white kids are all John Brown. I am not suggesting we honor every kid who smashed a window with an NAACP image award. I am not suggesting that taking part in a riot means that all these non-Black people of color are going to campaign for reparations (though all of POC friends who engage in property destruction support reparations). I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t still organize to make sure that our homes and business aren’t burned down.
I am suggesting that when they set fire to the banks that refused to give us credit, or the check cashing stations that preyed on our poverty or the corporate stores that discriminate against us and refuse to pay us a living wage that we don’t spend our energy trying to put out those fires. I am suggesting that we don’t let this moment be used as an excuse to give us any less than we deserve. I am suggesting that the next time a political table is set that we demand everything we need to meet our needs with dignity or we point to these moments to give credence to our threat to overthrow the table.
Basically, Don’t Work to Save the Master’s House. I know, its natural to feel that fire might catch your house soon but if we are honest, we know that Trump was going to try and burn house down our houses anyways. Instead, let’s protect our communities and hope the winds take the fires to the banks or burn enough of these empty luxury condos that we can afford our rents again.
Because the truth is, there is no going back to before and we should be thankful for that. Whether the path forward is full of destruction and devastation or the ashes of the old system become the fertilizer for a new and better world for Black people rests on whether we respond to what the youth are saying with healing and humble wisdom or condemnation and condescension.
We all know the police will push back and our people will be hurt. The youth will be robbed of any lingering naivety and whether they become jaded like many of us, scared and shamed like many of us or the leaders of tomorrow that we need them to be is dependent entirely on our communal response. Whether we will be the leaders that they need us to be, that we need ourselves to be, is dependent on that we do now.