That's literally the only conclusion I can draw based on a recent series of unfortunate events.
Earlier this year, CA lawyer Matthew G McLaughlin introduced a voter initiative cheerily entitled the “Sodomite Suppression Act.” It calls for individuals who engage in sodomy to be able "to be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method." (Good to know he's taking convenience into account.) If McLaughlin can collect 365,880 signatures in favor of the initiative it will go to a vote, but the state's attorney general is currently exploring CA's legal options to act against McLaughlin or otherwise stop the initiative.
Over the past several weeks, there have been protests throughout Baltimore and solidary events across the US in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, yet another unarmed black man killed at the hands of the police. These protests are connected to a much longer history of police brutality and corruption in the city.
Then, just this week, CA game developer Randall Herman briefly uploaded a first person shooter entitled “Kill the Faggot” to the Steam website via their Greenlight initiative, meant to support the work of up and coming developers. In the game, players gain points for killing “gay fag homos” and bonus points for killing “transgender freaks,” with no points being awarded if a straight person is killed.
Herman called those speaking out against his game “overly sensitive and easily offended.” There has also been backlash against the Baltimore protesters, with even the mainstream media accusing them of being “thugs” or shaming protesters for their use of violence, when their actions are merely a response to the continued violence of the state against men like Gray.
I'm not sure I understand this drive to harass, threaten, and even kill minority populations, and then to turn around and accuse them of over-reacting or reacting incorrectly when they respond. It must be a way to feel superior even in one's hatred, or else a sign of just how much privilege and power are held by the majority when victim-blaming is considered par for the course. And it's not only white conservatives who react this way, either. Sometimes even allies or minority members themselves shame protesters, invoking the names of men like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr as examples of creating change through nonviolent means.
It's always interesting to see the memes of King floating across social media at times like these. We have a tendency to romanticize the past and to cherry pick quotes from historical figures, using them out of context. I recently read Tavis Smiley's new book, Death of a King, a somewhat fictionalized account of the year leading up to King's assassination, based on interviews and first-hand accounts.
As a culture we venerate King, hold him up as the highest example of what social and political protest movements can be. So much so that I hadn't realized how much some of his views were hated, both by middle class white folks and radical black activists, and how much he feared being killed near the end. King was intersectional probably before scholars had even coined a term for intersectionality. His call for nonviolence extended to putting an end to the Vietnam War, a step too far for many, who accused him of diluting or confusing the cause of civil rights.
But perhaps what struck me most about Smiley's book is the way it shows just how far we haven't come since the Civil Right's Movement. The systemic racism which causes poverty, violence, and uncertainty in black communities is still going strong. So many issues King was fighting against haven't gotten noticeably better in the 40-odd years since his death. In fact, some have said we are now living under what has been coined “the New Jim Crow.”
In the wake of the Baltimore riots and continued homophobic and misogynistic legislation, I think of a quote by King which is often taken out of context (the usual quote is in bold below). It's from a 1968 speech entitled, “The Other America”:
“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. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
It's that last sentence that gets me every time. It bears repeating. America “has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” If the actions of Matthew G McLaughlin, the Baltimore Police Department, and Randall Herman can teach us anything, it's that we can no longer be so concerned about the status quo that we stop being concerned about justice.
Too often today, political correctness is used as a tool to keep minority populations silent and compliant. People are afraid to speak out, afraid to act out. It can't be only those with nothing left to lose who stand up to violence and corruption in our society. If we can learn anything from King and his legacy, I hope it's that non-violence isn't, and can't be, only a tactic of activist populations. To work, it has to be a culture-wide phenomenon. To stop violence in the streets, we also have to stop violence by the state – whether that is police violence, military violence, or other forms of violence perpetrated by the majority on the minority.
Everyone hated King for saying it does no good for the black community to gain civil rights if black men are still shipped off to Vietnam to die. But instead of diluting his message, that point of view made his case stronger. We can't condemn the people of any city for rioting so long as unarmed black men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray are being killed in the streets.
The increase in violence against minority populations appears to be escalating, which means the majority is feeling threatened. Instead of being bullied into backing down and staying silent, we must stay on course, showing that we're not going to take it anymore.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 05/07/2015.