Hashtag BlackLivesMatter: “A riot is the language of the unheard”

Eyes from around the nation and world have been watching events in Ferguson, Missouri, for some time now.

The bifurcated nature of the responses is particularly problematic when it specifically comes to the inability of many people colorized (or racialized) as White, regardless of their otherwise everyday political leanings. Our nation, especially its institutions, have serious issues with all things related to racism/colorism, privilege, acknowledging history (and remember I define history as everything and anything from less than a microsecond ago), and seeing how this affects the future.

When (mostly) White people criticize Black people for “looting” and “burning” property and for “rioting,” of course my sympathies go out to those who lost property; HOWEVER, the situation is much, much more complicated. And I understand why some people are having violent and nonviolent protests.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

As Tim Wise said, “If your concerns about violence are limited to property damage and looting, and you have never shed two tears for the history of institutional violence, murder, colonialism, segregation, lynching, genocide and police brutality against peoples of color, your words mean nothing; they mean less than nothing. Your outrage, in such a case is grotesque, an inversion of morality so putrescent as to call into question your capacity for real feeling at all. So long as violence from below is condemned while violence from above is ignored, you can bet that the former will continue–and however unfortunate that may be, it is surely predictable. If you’d like the former to cease, put an end to the latter, and then I promise you, it will.”

When I think of the Ferguson grassroots protests, those nonviolent and violent, I am reminded of the Stono Rebellion, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, and hundreds of other documented and undocumented acts of resistance, acts of agency by those who are otherwise permitted no voice. With the gap of time and perspective, rebellions are frequently celebrated as powerful and positive.

(And if you really want to talk about looting….let’s talk about all of the CEOs who make hundreds and hundreds of dollars an hour while their workers—the people who actually run the company—do not even make a living wage….lets talk about the corporations and individuals who are “above the law” due to their money and racialization….etc….etc….. That is looting. That is the looting that actual does harm.)


As Vincent Harding has said, in the long Civil Rights Movement, dating from African nations in the 1500s all the way to the present, sometimes just insisting on surviving, the firm will to live, is more than enough to anger Whites and assert a voice. Sometimes it takes very overt acts to be recognized as an everyday person.

By looking at research from Critical Race Theory and by studying the works of wonderful minds such as bell hooks, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Cornel West, for example, we can understand how deep racism/colorism and associated forms of oppression run today. We know from anthropological, historical, and psychological studies, for examples, that any kind of trauma changes DNA and is transmitted to the next generation and takes a really long time to cure.

People who say enslavement was over in 1865 and there has been plenty of time for “racism” to be cured and for discrimination from racism to be solved simply do not know their history. Neoenslavement (or convict leasing), lynching, rape, segregation, White Flight, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the so-called New Jim Crow, etc., etc., have continually recreated and perpetuated the status quo and all of the mores it requires and supports.

Going back to the Ferguson case, in particular. It is about much more than this one case. It does not matter that Michael Brown, Jr. stole per se. It matters that he is dead. Guns do not solve problems.

Too many Black Men are shot by White Men. Yes, White Men kill White Men, Black Men kill Black men, and Black Men kill White Men, too, but these killings do not involve the complications—the intersectionality of identity—that come up when a White Man—the supreme holder of power and privilege in the United States—kills a Black Man.

Black Men and Women, due to all of the above and more, are provided so many fewer opportunities—just because of how they are colorized.

People who deny White Privilege are so privileged they do not know it. For example, my U.S. History students read Coming of Age in Mississippi each semester. This semester as part of the assignment I asked students to write about their own personal racial awakening. Almost without exception, the Black students (and Asian students and some Hispanic students) shared very personal and painful stories about the discrimination they face everyday, whereas the White students shared stories about how race does not really matter and racism is over. The sharp divide in these responses is powerful in terms of how powerful racism still is and how White people, in general and as an institutionalized group, are not and never have been cognizant to it.

Once again, going back to Ferguson, there have been more and more concerns about the ethics involved in how the case was and was not conducted. Again, these matter, but, again, they do not matter.

Ferguson has, at least temporarily, awaked the nation and generated momentum, momentum that just might have the potential to produce systemic and revolutionary changes. With any change or possible change, however, those deeply concerned about causes of justice and injustice have to been keenly aware of other changes because the status quo continues to metamorphosize.



There have been many, many articles around the Internet about these issues. Here are a few of my favorites: