There were many moments in my life when I objected to the way a minority group behaved or protested. I had been taught that the good and noble people who committed civil disobedience did it with complete respect and without violence. I was taught about MLK and Gandhi and Rosa Parks, noble heroes who refused to be violent because they wanted to make the world a better and more peaceful place.
I was not taught about the violence against them. It was an afterthought. “Oh yeah and then Rosa Parks went to jail for sitting on a bus seat. But don’t worry, everything is equal now and we finally recognized these people as humans. USA! USA!” I am disturbed now by how nonchalant the entire ordeal was. How we talked about it like it was ancient history and how we talked about only the people who used the tactic of peaceful protest. It’s a tactic that, while sometimes being helpful, most benefits white people.
On my high horse with few injustices committed against me, I pridefully proclaimed that black people needed to rise above and engage civilly with people. They should be able to argue their case if it makes so much sense to them. I am horrified with that past self. That argument is about their humanity. Consider this: someone comes up to you and tells you that you deserve to die. How exactly do you argue that? Do you list all the reasons that you contribute to society? Do you tell them you have kids or a family or a dog that needs taking care of? No. Because you know that as a human you don’t have to justify your existence.
Bringing it down to a much smaller scale, if someone makes a joke that reduces another person to only one aspect of their identity, like dumb black person or greedy Mexican, why should they have to argue whether that is a violent act or not? If someone told a white person that all they were were giant crybabies who thought mayo was too spicy, they would get angry and insist that as a human they deserved to be more than a stereotype. Yet we will turn around and tell a racist joke and then expect a person of another race to not get angry and if they do, to justify that response with rationality.
We are constantly asking people of color to justify their humanity, work ethic, rights and existence, but when they get angry and take to the streets, we crack down on them. We silence these things because we white people are afraid of them. Because we know that their anger is a righteous one. Ask a room full of white people whether they would want to be black in America and no one will raise their hand.
We know what is happening, at the most basic level we know that there are injustices committed against them daily and that we benefit from that. But those same people will probably just turn around and try to make some inept argument about being themselves, not realizing that they would still be themselves just with a different skin tone and that they just further prove the point. Not only that, but white people often think of these things as personal attacks rather than the expression of a system that allows them to be so privileged.
We see Black Lives Matter and similar movements as specifically targeting us because we have such an inflated ego that it is plausible for us to think that an entire group of black people would ever have the time or patience to target one white person at a time. No one is going to come to your house and force you to write an apology letter for being white, Susan. They do not care.
It has sadly taken me a long time to fully grasp that civil discourse is pushed on people of color because the riots that they could reasonably start would not be good for white people. We want people of color to work through our system, to obey our laws and work inside a world that is rigged against them and in favor of us. I think deep down we fully understand what is happening and how we are benefiting. We understand that black people could reasonably reject the system and throw our entire country into turmoil. If we do not start listening, then violence will happen and it will be our own fault.
People of color are demanding rights and reparations that they should have received hundreds of years ago and if anyone thinks that they are just going to stop being angry, they are sorely mistaken. Do I believe violence is the answer? Of course not — but no one ever does. I do not advocate for violence, but I talk about it as an inevitability in the kind of system that we live in. Sure, do not fight fire with fire, but that is really easy to say when you are not the one getting burned.