*If you’re tired of hearing about race, riots, unarmed black men getting killed by the police, the Black Lives Matter Movement, or just black people in general, stop reading this post now.
You still there? Can we talk? Okay, good! There is SO much I could say about the status of race and race relations in America in 2015. If you know me personally, you’ve probably been waiting for a post on this subject matter or are shocked that I haven’t done one yet. I’ve been fighting bringing up the issue of race ever since I started this blog, but I have a little MLKJ, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Harriet Tubman all mixed up inside of me that just HAS to come out sometimes. Like now. It’s part of the passionate trait that comes along with being an Aries. Let’s blame it on that. Anyway, contemporary race issues in America is a topic that has been weighing heavily on me since the slaying of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the consequential acquittal of George Zimmerman on all murder and manslaughter charges in the summer of 2013. After the shocking conclusion to the Trayvon Martin trial, it seemed as if black men being murdered by either everyday civilians or the police and nothing being done about it had become a new trend and a hot topic in the news. These men include, but are certainly not limited to, Jordan Crawford, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, and the baby of the bunch, 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The justice system’s failure to, at least by black people’s standards, appropriately handle these murders have sent one loud, clear message that blacks have perceived as this: “They don’t care. We don’t matter to them.”
So what have black people always done when they feel that the justice system hasn’t done/won’t do anything in the way of defending them? Coming in at the top of the list, they riot! Being that it’s the hot topic in the news today based on the events in Baltimore concerning Freddie Gray’s death, let’s talk about rioting. Blacks have been rioting for years stemming back to the 1965 Watts Riots over unemployment, 1968 riots in cities such Chicago, D.C., and hmm…Baltimore following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the 1992 Los Angeles Riots following the acquittal of the four police officers who brutally beat Rodney King, to all the way up to the 2014 Ferguson Riots following the decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown. One of the definitions used by Merriam-Webster to define riot is:
1. a situation in which a large group of people behave in a violent and uncontrolled way.
This definition goes perfectly along with what we see in the media when black people riot. Television will show live coverage of buildings being set on fire, cars being turned over, grocery stores being looted, and people showing an outright disrespect for police officers or for whatever other authoritative figures that have been placed there to calm the scene. Magazines like TIME will choose the most poignant and emotional pictures to use for a cover story and the rest of the issue. Social media will give you all types of accounts of what’s going on, over half of which are unreliable. But no matter where people get their information from, what I’ve found is this: most people view rioters as wild, stupid animals who are doing more to harm than help to themselves and their situations.
So, why do black people riot when something goes wrong? Does burning down the corner store make the situation better? No. How about stealing bundles of weave from the hair store? Nope. Looting the grocery store for liquor and toilet paper? Uh-uh. But oh, what about burning and tossing over vehicles? Still no.
As absurd and ridiculous as rioting may appear, I strangely get it. Speaking as an outsider based on the fact that I’ve never been involved in a riot, I don’t believe that rioters truly believe their actions are going to fix the problem at hand. But what I do believe is that black people riot because they are angry. Whenever some form of injustice takes place, it’s as if that same old message starts popping back up; “They don’t care, we don’t matter to them.” In situations where injustice becomes a threat, pent up frustrations from years of oppression, being treated like second class citizens, and feeling unheard ultimately leads to some form of backlash, which sadly, is usually in the form of a loud, full-on riot.
On the topic of rioting, I feel that there is a lack of empathy and education. On the subject of empathy, I feel that people who aren’t black, and even some black people, should at least try to understand why certain groups of people feel the need to riot. Why some may feel like rioting is the only way to get their point across. A lot of rioters are simply tired. They think “if society won’t listen to us when we’re quiet, then it’s time we make some noise.” I feel that this Instagram post I came across last night below sums up what I’m trying to say perfectly.
And while it’s easy to throw out the typical “race doesn’t matter anymore” or “I don’t notice race, why is it a big deal” or “people need to move on,” people who aren’t black need to realize that when the racially motivated riots happening in 2014 and 2015 in major cities like St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York City are mirroring the race riots of the 60s, then clearly there’s a problem. Wake up.
Lack of education is also an issue when it comes to rioting. This morning as I walked into class to take my American Nation II final, I noticed the same quote on the wall in black stick-on lettering that I always notice when I walk into the room. It’s a quote by George Santayana that reads “A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” Another similar Santayana quote came to mind: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” While I get how people can get so frustrated to the point that they feel like rioting is their only choice, I also feel that rioters should be honest with themselves and stop and think; “We’ve been doing this for years and it’s clearly done no good, so why continue?” How has rioting helped us advance and get our point across in a justifiable manner? It hasn’t. So why do we continue to do so? Lack of knowledge of our past.
Growing up you always hear cliche sayings such as “you have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.” It wasn’t until I became a student of history that I realized sayings like that really hold truth. History does indeed repeat itself. Black people still have not learned that rioting gets us no where. That’s why we keep getting caught in this constant loop of being wronged, throwing a fit about it, then being portrayed as animals in the media, which has ultimately led to society never having changed its view of us. Two steps forward, two steps back.
So on the issue of rioting, I’m honestly torn. No matter what your position is on the issue, though, you’re blind if you don’t recognize that the time for change is now. Instead of progressing, I feel as if black people are regressing. For black people, 2015 is starting to resemble 1965 a little too much for my liking. Benjamin Franklin once said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” So, let’s learn a little empathy and embrace a lot of education to start moving 2015 forward.
Take care of yourself,