Why do Black Folk Riot?

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Above: Detroit Race Riot, 1967

On the one hand, this is a simple question that can be answered with a simple response. On the other hand, this is a complex question that requires a great degree of explanation. I have opted to give what I see as a simple response to a very complicated question: Why do Black Folk Riot? Blacks riot over systematic problems in society; we do not have the luxury to riot after football games, something white people tend to do.

As I sat and watched the recent riot unfold in the city of Milwaukee, I was pulled to Janette to share my frustration. My tone was harsh as I responded with a lot of emotion toward a privileged white policy official delivering a response to a news commentator. He stated that “they” are burning down their own neighborhood, closing businesses in their community, which employs them, and targeting the very police force that shot and killed an armed black man, who could have brought harm to other black people.

Listening to the coverage was unnerving. He failed to fully answer the question. Black folk have rioted since the days of Nat Turner, who led the 1831 slave rebellion against white supremacy. Turner, motivated by God, and inspired by humanity and dignity for better treatment, sought a desire for hope and freedom.

Black people do not just riot. Years of abuse, discrimination, targeted police brutality, racism, and the injustice of an American capitalist system have furthered deep-seeded levels of inequality in black communities. As a law-abiding citizen –  and one who is opposed to violence, I support riots. It seems to be the only way to bring attention to a country living the “dream” of color blindness. Yep. A grand lie and myth.

This video points to the myth of color blindness and American inequality.

Race riots are a natural part of the American genesis. Yet, folks act as if this is a new phenomenon. Since the arrival of black people as slaves, circa 1619, we have been subhuman actors. After emancipation, we became second-class citizens. In truth, we were never citizens. White supremacy took hold shortly afterward, as it established the age of Jim Crow. In the years immediately following World War I, tens of thousands of southern blacks and returning black soldiers flocked to the nation’s northern cities looking for good jobs and a measure of respect and security. Many white Americans, fearful of competition for scarce jobs and housing, responded by attacking black citizens in a spate of urban race riots. Chicago and Tulsa were driven by white fear and a sense that black folk failed to stay in their place.  In Tulsa, hundreds of whites led a racially motivated attack on blacks killing some 300 people, mostly blacks.

In an editorial immediately after the Chicago race riot of 1919, Crisis editor W. E. B. Du Bois argued in favor of acts of self-defense and armed resistance, despite the editorial’s conciliatory title, “Let Us Reason Together.” Du Bois noted:

If the United States is to be a Land of Law, we would live humbly and peaceably in it—working, singing, learning and dreaming to make it and ourselves nobler and better: if it is to be a Land of Mobs and Lynchers, we might as well die today as tomorrow.

By 1965, the end of de jure measures emboldened de facto racism. Often, white communities sought to further and empower the police to guard their property against “thuggish” black folk. In part, such measures driven by white politicians have allowed for decades of mass incarcerations.

Below are brief summaries of black riots due to police brutality, as reported here in The Riot Act.

  • Chicago, 1919. On a hot July afternoon, a black teen-ager named Eugene Williams went swimming in a customarily “white” area of Lake Michigan. Angry white beach-goers pelted him with stones until he drowned. When police refused to apprehend the culprit and instead arrested a black onlooker, blacks, who had long considered the police to be insensitive to their concerns, attacked the officers. Whites retaliated, ushering in four days of brutal violence in which policemen at times abetted the white-on-black assaults.
  • Harlem, 1935. On March 19, department-store employees apprehended a 16-year-old shoplifter and whisked him off to be beaten in the store’s basement. An outraged crowd massed on 125th Street, as rumors circulated that that police had broken the arms of a black woman who tried to help the boy—made plausible, again, because of the police’s record of hostility to Harlem’s blacks. Rioting ensued for the next day, resulting in two deaths.
  • Watts, 1965. On Aug. 11, police stopped motorist Marquette Frye on Avalon Street in the Los Angeles ghetto. Frye resisted arrest, a crowd gathered, and more policemen came. When some of them roughly manhandled Frye’s mother, the story took hold that cops had kicked a pregnant woman in the belly, further angering the mob. Violence reigned for four days, with 34 people killed.
  • Detroit, 1967. On July 23, police raided a black drinking and gambling club, arresting some 80 habitués. Hordes of neighborhood blacks massed outside the establishment, first taunting the policemen, then throwing stones. A swarm of police cruisers swooped in but made no serious effort to disperse the crowd. Spontaneous looting and arson followed, and five days later, 43 people lay dead, many killed by police or National Guardsmen.
  • Miami, 1980. On May 17, a Tampa jury acquitted four Miami policemen in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, a black businessman, whom they had beaten to death after chasing his motorcycle—the latest in a series of cases of police brutality. Mayhem followed, with black mobs attacking whites and white policemen retaliating with deadly gunfire. Eighteen people lost their lives.c-rnvlzvffxx-940x392

Since the Watts riot of 1965, racism and the growing economic disparity in L.A. contributed to levels of violence that came to a halt after police officers were acquitted for the brutal beating of an unarmed black man named Rodney KIng. As pictured above, the L.A. riot brought rival gangs together to protest community inequality. This riot reduced years of black-on-black violence in L.A., as the murder rate declined. The killing of Freddie Grey by cops launched the city of Baltimore into a riot, which brought in the Department of Justice, who concluded that years of targeted hostility toward black and brown people and economic inequality were systematic issues. As I noted above — riots can be good. Cities such as Chicago might need a  riot to address gang violence, economic inequality, police brutality, and racism.

What Lives Matter?

“To posture oneself alongside the ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬ movement is to erase the true oppression of our black population….Similar to “separate BUT equal” you have “ALL LIVES matter” as seemingly espousing that all lives do, and should, matter. Yet, white folks didn’t create this hashtag on their own; its a reaction, similar to how one would view segregation. Segregation is not the normal state of things, its an active decision. One would not need to say “BUT EQUAL” if something were inherently equal. Similarly one would not need to defend that “ALL LIVES” matter in response to “BLACK LIVES” mattering, if there were not something inherent underlying their assertion — namely, racism.”

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Give the full piece a read here.

God and Black People

The Negro soul is a complex soul. Black folks will tell you that the black soul hides the burdened of millions of Negroes who suffered at the hands of white supremacy. The march from the oppression of slavery to the injustice of Jim Crow has left the soul marked with millions of burdens that only God can remove. Black oppression was God’s design. In part, a comparative design he handed the Jews. Black folks have long held to the Jewish-Exodus narrative as they relive the accounts of their bondage, which involved centuries of slavery, a migration from mass injustices, lynchings, unemployment, and mass incarcerations.

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As noted by the drawing published in Crisis Magazine by editor W.E.B. Du Bois, the white South represented a moral contradiction to the Gospel of Christ, who reminded the white South, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”. This 1916 depiction showcases the fear that encapsulated blacks to the point of drawing on biblical narratives about freedom.

However, not all blacks hold close the Christian narrative. Better yet, many have seperated themselves from the narrative of being God’s righteous people. Being a black atheist in America is a challenging position to reside. A black atheist within the black community has amounted to levels of criminality. Black folks have long used religion as a way to find answers for their historical suffering within the confines of white America. And though there are black folks who live a life of moral contradictions vis-a-vis scriptural rules, there is no place for nonbelievers. Remember, God rescued the American Negro from bondage. Centuries of lynching and years of Jim Crow created a universal sense of “togetherness” as it relates to the black church.

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Above: Ray Lewis, the once arrested but never convicted of murder is seen here on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Lewis, who is quick to thank God for his many blessings, was captured in an image of baptismal renewal. Lewis will tell you that God gave him a second chance, seeing that many felt he was involved and guilty of at least destroying evidence.

Black entertainers represent one of the greatest misrepresentation of normative black-religious culture. After one scores a touchdown, he pauses to give thanks to Jesus, pointing to the heavens or saying a prayer, while marking his uniform with a cross like action. Speeches, interviews, and award acceptances are easily engulfed in a thanks be to God reference. So when NFL running back Arian Foster stated he does not believe in God, it caught many by surprise. Foster’s denial of God will receive greater criticism from the black community. God has blessed him with riches and fame, yet he rejects a God who rescued his race from oppression. Thus, Foster and others have rejected their righteous place in the kingdom of heaven.

Black Memory

This is a fantastic essay by a colleague writing for the African American Intellectual History Society. I have worked very hard seeking to avoid my use of terms such as Uncle Tom or Sellout, when discussing black republicans or wealthy black folks who have abandon us. But, it is a constant struggle. This essay points to a post-racial myth often promulgated by white and black liberals, and consumed under conservative ideology. As noted here, “What has driven these Black folk out of their minds? Two words: racist ideas. They have consumed the racist idea of post-racialism that claims dysfunctional Black people are to blame for persisting racial disparities since racial discrimination no longer exists. They have consumed the racist idea that angry Black people are more violently reckless with colorblind police officers and that’s why they are being disproportionately killed.”

Dear White People,You Must Listen to Black People

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I have been asked via a number of emails what can I do as a white person? My advice is to engage in different communities. Most of the white people I know do not have much interaction with others outside the workspace. White people have privileges due to being white. If you teach at an independent school, college, university, or in a profession dominated by whites from top to bottom — your chances are few, thus you will have to try harder. It is cool to invite folks to your white church — but how about attending a black church. Better yet — invite them into your home. Have you done that? Make your home their home. Breaking bread in your home says a great deal. Often, black people struggle to afford college, have a job that does not allow them to pay their bills on time, and thus have to work a second job. We carry a historical past that plagues us in ways not so pronounced to white people. If you want to be a true ally, you must surround yourself with black people. And, you must understand our narratives. Do not tell us we are wrong. Do not tell us we misunderstood a situation. Just listen to us and support us.

In Ferguson, Baltimore, and L.A., riots occurred after a cop killed a black man. Folks are quick to tell me it is not about race. Yes it is about race. I think about my white boss (es) everyday; I think about my white colleagues as white everyday. Why? [Because they remind me that I am black] Are you doing that? White people with guilt say they do not see color. If you believe in God, please know he/she sees color; if you believe in God, you know she/he sought the beauty of diversity, though white people created race as a construct for systematic and categorical purposes. In each of the aforementioned communities (Ferguson, Baltimore, LA), segregation and black inequality played a major role. We are not an equal society. Years of Jim Crow cannot vanish because King gave a speech. White people hold power. For example: the white upper-class part of North Baton Rouge tried to succeed from the poorer black community of South Baton Rouge just two years ago. They viewed the black community as dangerous and having an economic impact on their way of life. Instead of reaching out with the power white people have — they sought to separate. Do your kids travel to the other part of town to play? Do you make it an effort to find ways to have your kids interact with blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, etc.? Are you will to break bread with folks in the hood? So, if you want to know what you can do, my advice is to do what you are not doing. Telling me you do not see race is your first mistake. That is just your privilege talking. Do something.