Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong (shadesong) wrote,
Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong

MLK on rioting. (By Asim!)

Originally posted by asim at MLK on rioting.
I confess I have not followed, with the alacrity I should, the story of the UK rioting -- work, birthday party prep, and other issues have made following that story a challenge. Yet, when I look upon this video that's spreading fairly virally:

Or this commentary from Time's article:

Racial tensions have fomented much of the anger that's being released, and that informs the deteriorating relationship between officers and the communities they police. In the past five years, the number of black and South Asian people stopped and searched by the police in the country has nearly doubled to 310,000. "Most of the time the police don't find anything," Bagguley says. "I think what we're seeing is partly a consequence of those tactics." That many of the looters come from high-crime areas that are heavily policed strains the relationship even more.
I was reminded of one of my favorite King speeches, done a few short months before his assassination. I've posted A New Sense of Direction here before, but part of it seems all too timely. And the work shows King at his best, predicting, and not just reacting to, the near future of social justice, and where his work can fit in and lead. That so few of his acolytes followed in this document's footsteps indicates so much of what was already going wrong with King's movement, and what would become of it after his death.

It also underscores something that has been lost in the legend -- that King, as much as he was a man of peace, was NOT a man who suffered fools lightly, and was more than willing to challenge the power structure. In doing so, he didn't shrink from invoking the majority white power structure as the source of oppression, while also recognizing that there were allies in that group, as well. Believing that he was willing to overlook the concept of white privilege is a common invocation of King's legacy, and it's a distortion of his long-held beliefs.

But, as always, he says it so much better than I:

When asking Negroes to abide by the law let us also declare that the white man does not abide by the law. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments. He flagrantly violates building codes and housing regulations. His police forces are the ultimate mockery of law. He violates laws on equal employment and education. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society. Negroes live in them, but they do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. And so let us say forthrightly that, if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years are calculated and compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would handily be the white man. In using the term white man I am seeking to describe in general terms the Negro's adversary. I seek not to categorize all white people by any use of the term white man. I think it is very important to say this, for there are millions who have risen morally above prevailing prejudices. They are willing to share power and to accept structural alterations of society, even at the cost of traditional privilege. To deny their existence as some ultra-nationalists do is to deny an evident truth. More than that, it tends to drive away allies who can and have strengthened our struggle. Their support serves not only to enhance our power, but their break from the attitudes of the larger society splits and weakens our opposition. To develop a sense of black consciousness and peoplehood does not require that we scorn the white race as a whole. It is not the race per se that we fight but the policies and ideology formulated by leaders of that race to perpetuate oppression.

In summing up the general causes of riots, we would have to say that the white power structure is still seeking to keep the walls of segregation and inequality substantially intact, while Negro determination to break through them has intensified. I find five basic causes of riots—the white backlash; pervasive discriminatory practices; unemployment; the war in Vietnam; and the urban problems of crime and extensive migration.

The white backlash is a primary cause because it explains the ferocity of the emotional content of their outbursts and their spontaneity. The depravity of the white backlash shattered the hope that new attitudes were in the making. The reversion to barbaric white conduct marked by a succession of murders in the South and the recrudescence of white hoodlumism in the Northern streets and cold systematic withdrawal of some erstwhile white allies constituted a grim statement to Negroes. They were told that there were firm limits to their progress, that they must expect to remain permanently unequal and permanently poor.

The pervasiveness of discriminatory practices has been so much taken for granted that its provocative effect is easily forgotten. Even as the Negro manages to grasp a foothold on the economic ladder, discrimination threatens to push him off after he has only ascended a few rungs. It hounds him at every level to stultify this initiative and insult his being. For the pitifully few who climb into economic security it persists and closes different doors.

Intimately related to discrimination is one of its worst consequences, namely, unemployment. You will remember that the United States teetered on the edge of revolution in the 1930's when national unemployment mounted to 25 per cent of the populace. But throughout the South and expressly in the North, in the midst of historic prosperity, unemployment for Negro youth, according to government figures, runs as high as 30 to 40 per cent in many cities. Understanding that most of their lives are yet to be lived, the slamming of doors before their faces can be expected to induce rage and rebellion.

The fourth cause is the war in Vietnam. We are committing grave atrocities in Vietnam. We are left standing before the world glutted by our own barbarity. We are engaged in a war that seeks to turn the clock of history back and perpetuate white colonialism. The bombs in Vietnam explode at home—they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America. I must also comment that the poor are conscripted in double measure for combat. They constitute more than 24 per cent of the front-line troops in a war of unprecedented brutality. Our young men are marching under slogans of democracy, supposedly to defend a Saigon government that scorns democracy. At home they know that there is no genuine democracy for their people and that on their return they will be restored to a grim life even if they are bedecked with hero's medals. A black man who runs rampant through the ghetto during a riot has been given the clear example of his own government running rampant throughout the world.

Finally, there exists a complex of causes, found in the degenerating conditions of perverted urban life. Our cities are choked with air pollution, dense traffic conditions, and insufficient water systems. Public facilities are outworn and inadequate. Within this chaos of neglect Negroes are stifled at the very bottom in squalid slum conditions, the equal of which are not to be found in any industrial nation of the world. Every large city reaps the results of the myriad poor and black people who have migrated there in desperate search of the American fulfillment. Although it is a known fact that millions of Negroes have been forced off the land in the South by the contraction of agricultural employment during the past two decades, no national planning has been enacted to remedy this calamity.

When white immigrants arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth century, a benevolent government gave them free land and credit to build a useful, independent life. In contrast, when the Negro migrated he was left to his own initiative and resources. He crowded the cities and was herded into the ghettos, locked out of employment, subjected to gross exploitation within a context of searing discrimination. Though other minorities had encountered obstacles, none have been so brutally scorned nor so consistently denied opportunity as the Negro.
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