I’m tired of seeing quite clearly hollow posts and comments that only utter ‘violence is not the answer’ and words to that effect from people (and let’s be honest, mainly white people) in the few days since the tragic death of George Floyd.
I’d like to make it crystal clear that the posts calling for peaceful protest and constructive action are not the posts I mean here. These posts are the best posts in this time.
Unfortunately, uncomfortable as it is to admit when we like everything in the world to be ordered and acceptable and pleasant. Although peaceful protest has brought about change in some areas, these have in more than one instance turned violent thanks to provocation and initiation by the oppressors, which is abhorrent. They are also less common, much as I would prefer this not to be the case.
The following is not an exhaustive list, but it is a list of all sorts of times where the only time change happened was after violence.
- Votes for women in the UK (I will admit my knowledge on attaining the vote for women in other countries is sketchy at best).
- Gay Rights
- The ending of Nazi Occupation
- The end of Serfdom in the UK
- Indian Independence and the formation of Pakistan
- The creation of the Republic of Ireland
- The French Revolution
- The ending of Napoleon’s dictatorship
- The ending of Slavery
- The English Civil Wars and the forming of Modern UK Parliament etc.
- Civil Rights in the US
- The ending of Apartheid
- Kenyan Independence
- Animal Rights movements
- The Libyan Uprising
- The Russian Revolution
- American Independence
The other things all of these events had in common, from what I know (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that peaceful attempts had been made and had not worked, by and large because the oppressor refused to acknowledge and listen to the concerns of the oppressed.
I do not believe violence is a good thing, and please don’t say I am calling for it. Like any rational person, I would rather a peaceful agreement can be reached, but peaceful never seems to work, people get angry and tensions fray. I don’t want violence, but I can understand why it is resorted to and why blindly calling only for the violence (and sometimes not even the injustice) to stop, isn’t helpful to anyone. Worse still, invalidating or refusing to support an initial cause because it ended up at violence is equally counter productive.
Violence leads to bloodshed and often death, usually on both sides and usually to innocent people who didn’t deserve it. It’s not pretty, it’s not something to be proud of and it’s not something to encourage, but uncomfortable as it is, violence is what gets results because the world hasn’t yet learnt the lessons from the violence of the past. Until it does, the violence won’t stop.
The oppressors have to sit up and listen because sooner or later, violence causes enough problems and conversation that the underlying issues cannot be ignored by the oppressors any more. The other uncomfortable truth is that by and large, the only time an oppressor will acknowledge something is because they are finally being directly affected enough to be forced into action. They are less affected by peaceful protests, they are affected by violence.
Amongst many other peaceful protests against police brutality, Colin Kaepernick tried to lead peaceful protests by kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games and others followed suit to show their support. It, unfortunately, didn’t work. It didn’t stop incidents of police brutality, but it did cost him his NFL career and gained him media scrutiny, public mocking and from a disgustingly large number of white Americans, racist insults and aggression. He was peaceful and it achieved nothing. Now a black man was murdered by a white cop and people are rightly pissed. If you’re only now bothered about violence not being used, where were you when Colin and other players were kneeling? (Yes, I watch NFL as I enjoy American Football, but I did sign petitions in support of Kaepernick and do not agree with him being fired.)
So please, don’t keep saying violence is not the answer without action, because peaceful protest hasn’t been the answer in some of the most important injustices in our time so far. I don’t pretend I have a better alternative, or that I want violence to be what leads to change but braying about violence not being the answer without doing anything useful isn’t the answer, or constructive, either.
If you don’t want to see violence, listen to the peaceful protests, talk to people, interact, amplify and help where you can, ignoring peaceful protests is what leads to violence.
Also, if you are not prepared to stand up and use your ‘voice’ (by this I mean any form of action, not necessarily a vocal one) from a position of privilege to lead the change without the use of violence, before the issue became so pressing that violence looks very likely, then parroting out things about violence not being the answer is just empty words and jumping on a bandwagon because you’re finding something uncomfortable.
Use your place of privilege to call out the wrongs you see, racism being one but bigotry, misogyny and any other acts of deplorable behaviour to a person or peoples also need to be called out. Stop avoiding uncomfortable conversation because you don’t want to ruffle feathers or stand up for what you believe in. Stop avoiding educating yourself about important but upsetting issues, even ones that don’t affect you, because you don’t want to read uncomfortable truths or for want of an easy life. I’m not saying let it consume you, but living your whole life without ever standing up for something isn’t really something to be proud of, it just smacks of cowardice and ignorance.
By being willing to educate yourself and stand up for both your own rights and the rights of those around you when you have a place of privilege that can be useful to someone, you are reducing the chance of people having to resort to violence.
Until we are prepared to use our voices all the time, for all issues and not just the ones that affect us individually, we will see violence happening around us. If you don’t want to face up to the reality that using violence gets answers, and addressing that, things will never change.
To donate to Black Lives Matter, click here.
To donate to the George Floyd Memorial Fund, click here.
To read a well-researched and useful list of other things you can do as a white person to help end systemic racism in the US, click here. It’s a twitter thread started by activist and writer Brittany Packnett Cunningham and added to by lots of other knowledgeable people.
To read a heart-warming thread full of positive videos and pictures of peaceful protests, click here. It may well make you teary, you have been warned. Its lovely.
A couple of inevitably necessary disclaimers: People piggybacking on peaceful protests to commit violence for the hell of it is a) absolutely sickening and should be stopped, obviously and b) a linked, but in this instance slightly different, issue.
Also, take your ‘black people have killed white people too’ and ‘All Lives Matter’ bullshit elsewhere because I don’t want to hear it. I am fully aware that there have been crimes committed by black people on white people, but bringing them up now will never help. ‘All Lives Matter’ is just an avoidance tactic used by those who want to dilute, avoid and invalidate the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter and shows you have no real intension of helping enact change. Sorry. Not sorry.
Finally, I’m aware that we have lots of our own issues in the UK, including issues of racism and police brutality. I aim to do some research to provide useful and trusted sources of information on how we can help end this in our own country, but ignoring and refusing to help in the US just further commits to a small island, insular, mentality. And let’s be honest, if White Europeans (of which we in the UK made up a fairly sizeable and notably influential share) hadn’t gone over to the US, ousted the Indigenous Peoples and brought over our slaves from Africa to work on our estates, we wouldn’t be in this mess. We should probably do our bit to sort out the mess we created. Sorry Colonialists, that’s where this all stems from, much as you’ll want to pretend this is entirely America’s problem.