June 2, 2020 11:25:33 AM
Looting is stupid.
Riots are not the "language of the unheard," a quote I have seen so many people post on social media over the past few days. With due respect to the late, great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., my take is that violent riots and looting are more the fury of opportunists looking to score their personal "pound of flesh" against the "system," without any regard to a coherent, shared objective of reducing racism or stopping the very real problem of disproportionate police violence against blacks.
It's destruction for destruction's sake, and it allows racists to create a narrative that absolves themselves of systemic wrongdoing and replaces it with the images of a mob ravaging a Target or burning down a Little Caesar's.
I am white. I'm not entitled to a position where I can tell black people how to feel, think or act about racial injustice. So outside of the very basic "looting is bad" my thoughts here are directed specifically at those who look like me.
It's hard not to notice that many of the white folks sharing memes juxtaposing the recent riots with a photo of an MLK march labeled, "this is a protest," are the very same who regularly post things like "An American soldier died for your freedom. You WILL stand for the national anthem!" So let me be blunt: to hold that MLK did it right, but Colin Kaepernick and all others who look to conspicuously, yet peacefully, protest racial injustice are offensive, therefore wrong, is conveniently hypocritical. More than that, it's idiotic.
Such arguments are especially hollow from those who view armed protests by white folks at state capitols over the pandemic as anything short of the privileged laying siege to public buildings. Sure, they may not be "destroying property," but what you bet those guns were loaded? Reckon that wouldn't have been tolerated from, say, a browner shade of people?
Protests and demonstrations -- while I wish they all were peaceful -- are supposed to be conspicuous. They are supposed to be, on some level, offensive. They are supposed to challenge the status quo to cross examine its position and hopefully join an alliance of substantive change that snuffs out a particular injustice.
Demonstrations are supposed to make you think, make you understand there is a problem and stir you to some type of action that helps solve it. But a lot of white folks, especially conservative ones, demonize the very attempts to "do it the MLK way" by making it about something else. These whites are the ones who made "taking a knee" about dishonoring the military (it wasn't about that at all, in case you're still wondering). These whites are the ones who created the hard, false, dyadic between whether Black or Blue Lives Matter.
Let us not forget that MLK -- whose sullied memory has apparently become the new soft face of white resistance -- was greeted in his demonstration days with the very worst of what a threatened white society could bring to bear. Police trampled the front lines of marchers in Selma the first time they tried to cross the bridge.
MLK didn't write his "Letters from the Birmingham Jail" from the parking lot while perusing Southern architecture either. He wasn't slain at a Memphis hotel by a stray bullet intended for a looter.
So this MLK you speak of didn't "succeed" or "change the world" -- as the memes point out -- because he somehow kowtowed to white expectations of what protesting was supposed to look like. He and his supporters stayed the course in spite of angry mass resistance because, frankly, they were better people than the ones resisting. Along the way, they picked up and welcomed white allies, people who, despite the social privilege they enjoyed, found the dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal more important than their own comfort. Those opportunities didn't die with MLK. They still exist today if we care to be a part.
I am tired of listening to white resistance arguments that put the rights of a gun above the freedom and safety of human beings. I am frustrated and exhausted by "back the blue" arguments that dehumanize victims of police misconduct and blindly protect a system that excuses it. And I am done hearing the eye-roll worthy retrofitting of MLK as "one of the good ones" that is thrown at contemporary blacks as a way to dilute their voice.
As for me and my house, we will be allies of social and racial equality. I will continue to work diligently to teach my children that race and means are not metrics of human value, and I will continue to model that for them the best I am able.
When I fail, and when my prejudices enter my decision making, I will acknowledge it. I will own it. I will change.
No one will ever be perfect, not on this side of Heaven anyway. But we, as a collective, can strive to always apply the Golden Rule.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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