Last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, The Clock Didn’t Start With the Riots. Obviously it didn’t. But just as obviously, those who claim that it did are trying to define a narrative. The establishment wants to claim that while the African American community may have some grievances, this violence is unacceptable. Of course, when the violence was being acted on the African American community day after day, the establishment didn’t care enough to make grand pronouncements about how violence is never acceptable.
The following cartoon featuring Martin Luther King Jr has been making its way around the internet. It is from the time when he was doing all the work that people now whitewash into inoffensiveness so that even Republicans can celebrate him.
When I look at the history of African Americans, I see a continuum. It is much the same as the treatment of the poor generally, in that it shows how the power elite manage to constantly adapt to threats they see. But for black citizens, it is at a much worse level. First there was slavery. Almost immediately after its abolition, other means of control were established — most notably Jim Crow laws. After the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s, the power elite again adapted in the form of economic segregation, the “war on drugs,” and the continued assault on voter rights. But these don’t lead on the evening news. In fact, they are never even mentioned.
My older sister — who doesn’t pay attention to politics — asked me why people were rioting in Baltimore. She had heard about that and that it was based on the police killing some kid. But she asked, “Don’t they see that this is counterproductive?” That’s the way most people look at it. Of course, the protests were going on for more than a week before there was any violence. It just didn’t get the kind of blanket coverage that is necessary for it to become big news.
The main thing is that the protests — peaceful and not — are based on a longer view of history. America generally has the memory of a scorpion. If someone hits us, we have no memory of doing anything to have caused that — because we have no memory at all. But we need to develop a memory. Because lacking a memory just allows the power elite to continue to oppress us. We don’t treat the African American community in Baltimore bad because of the way it sometimes acts out; it sometimes acts out because we treat it badly.
Today is No Different Than Yesterday,We Have Just Rearranged Our Memory to Accommodate the Discordance in the Fact That What We Did in the Past Was Wrong and We Are Still Doing the Same Thing