Riots Are Not Counterproductive

Credit: Flickr/Thomas Hawk

To assume that what black America needs is better PR in order to obtain equality assumes that likeability is a precursor to basic human rights.

To everyone dismayed by what is happening in Baltimore right now, Imma let you get back to your online outrage—but I need to lay down this truth first: Riots are not counterproductive.

Whoa, what did she just say? Let me repeat: riots are not counterproductive. 

The burning of property, the throwing of rocks, the looting of stores—all wrong, all criminal, not counterproductive. When we chastise protestors by saying that their actions in the street hurt their cause, we are perpetrating two very harmful falsehoods: 1. That we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of White America, and 2. That there are actions people of color can take to earn equality.

To assume that what black America needs is better PR in order to obtain equality assumes that likeability is a precursor to basic human rights. It establishes that White Supremacy is the legitimate arbiter of freedom and equality and it may be bestowed upon us by currying favor. This dialogue says that we have been judged for our humanity and found wanting. 

To say that our actions are negatively impacting our ability to obtain freedom assumes that there are actions we could take to obtain it. But a simple view of American history proves otherwise. We were not free from brutality as slaves. We were not free from exploitation as maids. We are not free from unreasonable search and seizure as college professors. We are not free from brutality as children. We have yet to see where where any life choices have effectively inoculated a black person from racism, police brutality, job discrimination, educational bias and more.

There is not a magic formula of ideal behavior black American can exhibit that will unlock freedom and equality. 

Oppression comes from the oppressors. Nowhere else. We are not conjuring it with incantations, we are not courting it with riots, we are not justifying it with inner-city violence. Our actions are not “giving the bigots what they want” or “helping oppressors justify their actions.” Bigots have never needed evidence and oppressors have always been able to manufacture reasons. 

Does this mean that rioters shouldn’t be punished? No, certainly not. But whether or not they will be punished is not the problem. This country has shown no hesitation in locking up brown people. There is not a lack of consequence for criminal actions that any black person commits. Black people who break the law are entitled to the same punishments as white people who break the law, no more, no less. This means that rioters should be arrested—they should not be shot. Looters should be arrested—they should not be beaten. Black business owners should, like white business owners, be able to call police to protect their property without risking police brutality themselves. 

You do not have to like the actions that some protestors are taking in Baltimore. You don’t actually have to like a single black person. You either believe in equality or you don’t. You either believe in justice or you don’t. There are no preconditions on this. If you believe in what this country supposedly stands for then you believe in it for every man woman and child. Full stop. If you believe that equality can be better achieved a different way, I suggest you get out there and get to work on it. Riots aren’t counterproductive, but conflating symptoms of hundreds of years of oppression with the cause of that oppression certainly is.

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