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Open Season: The Question of Whether to Confront Racism With Violence

Updated on August 19, 2020
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Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed today when I came across a video from England. It was of a White guy on the tube preaching how it was ok to be racist and just being rude to everyone on the ride, especially three black men. As it comes to the next stop, the Black guys whom the guy was harassing walk by him to seemingly get off, when at the last minute, one of them lands a fast and brutal right hand. Needless to say the racist was knocked the fuck out and that's no exaggeration.

The user who posted the video said it was sent to him, but praised the action and as I went went through the comments below, many agreed. Racism can no longer be enabled and must be struck down whenever and wherever it is encountered.

Equally, there were just as many people who questioned the action or were just outright horrified because of the potential legal ramifications had the racist died or suffered brain damage or just by the violent outburst. No matter how awful the crap he was saying, without a physical provocation or threat to life and limb, it's a case of assault and battery on the man who punched him. And risking jail time and a mark on your record isn’t worth one man.

Many people, and not just White people, still have faith in the system or at least some kind of karma that everyone gets theirs. For this faction, harming another human being without physical provocation or breaking the law themselves by ‘sinking to their level’ are Maginot Lines that you don’t cross, no matter what.

This split demonstrated to me that the question of how to handle racists is currently in a grey area that many who are immersed in it aren’t recognizing.


Rise of the Resistance

Since the 1990’s, there's been an ever growing, strong push back against public racism in society, even though it was still prevalent in higher institutions and career occupations. By the 2010’s, progressive people had become more open to violent options, especially since the law seemed to do little and the racists were still existed. The phrase, “punch a Nazis'' became a popular meme online, clearly equating modern racists with the Fascist regime of Germany’s Third Reich eighty-seven years ago for obvious reasons, and the struggle it took to tear it down. Despite Far Right elements here and there in America and Europe, by and large it seemed like a less-racist world was about to emerge.

That was until the mid 2010’s. In America, Donald Trump won the election using divisive and racist language against immigrants and Muslims. In France, its own Far right party, FN, rode a similar rise to power the year before and still remains a powerful force to this day. In Greece, Golden Dawn has remained a very vocal promoter of it’s anti-immigration, nationalist ideology, despite losing much power politically.

Suddenly it seemed like the utopia everyone (in the west) had been hoping for was falling apart at a breakneck pace with no one understanding why. What finally tipped it over however was the one-two combination of COVID -19 and the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police department this year. The result was a counter-push back against the push back of racism.

These umbrella events play into the everyday occurrences like the fight on Twitter. A single racist is no longer seen as a stupid individual to be ignored, but an avatar of a larger, prejudiced machine and striking out at them is seen as striking out against that system: not the individual themselves.

There’s a combative sentiment still in the process of coming to the surface, a feeling that believes that talking out matters and education doesn’t work. Indeed many of the commenters from the Twitter feed said as much, rejecting calls that the matter should have been handled differently.

Now punching Nazis-or racists-is practically a social obligation rather than just an internet meme.

Pause for a Second

I found myself conflicted. On the one hand, the racist was just fucking stupid to spout that shit in public, ignoring the fact that people didn’t want to hear it, and then getting in the three guys’ faces not soon afterwards after he already verbally abused them. What did he think was going to happen?

So the dude deserved it, yea. Yet at the same time, I found much of the support the fight was getting to be naive at best and at worst, willfully ignorant: no matter how understandable it is. Many people want racism to just go away and are now willing to follow through on that with their fists. The system has failed or at the least there are still cockroaches slipping through the cracks. However, there’s an unconscious expectation that knocking out racists whenever and wherever you see them Punisher-style is not going to have any consequences and that racists will just suddenly shut up. No blow back effect as the CIA calls it, like there’s going to be some divine force that will forestall any consequence from racists simply because racism is evil.

What is also happening along with this is calling out those who don’t support racism while at the same time not supporting violent actions against them either as collaborators and enablers. That by their own inaction and ‘privileged’ insistence on Martin Luther King -style non-violence only continues to further the current inadequate system that has continued to hold minority communities down. This is perhaps worse than being called a racist themselves.

Some would even say that these critics of a more active form of resistance are only attacking them because they come from comfortable worlds where they can afford to take that way out. That they never had to truly suffer under the mental, social , and physical oppression that the majority of the minority face on a day-to-day basis.


Blow Back

However, one only needs to look to both the last six years and other places in the world to see where that kind of action can potentially lead to. It ‘An eye for an eye’ attacks is commonplace in most areas of the world like Mexico, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. And even places where the violence isn't physical, the blow back can be just as virulent, such as certain parts of the United States. It can lead to getting people in public offices who more actively and legally undermine efforts to rid societies of their racism.

It also assumes that racists will not themselves become equally violent (again) and begin assaulting minorities and the people that they deem to be collaborators and traitors. We’ve seen some of this with street battles between Alt- Right and Left groups in America. Similar occurrences were also commonplace in pre-World War Two Germany between Fascist Brown shirts and their communist counterparts resulting in literal street battles.

More dangerous though isn't these potential realities, but the people who can be drawn into it. Rivalries and hostilities between factions often bleeds into the world around it. Going back to the Afghan example, during its war with the Soviet Union, it’s cities were left untouched and so the civilians there were mostly fine. Once the war ended though, rival factions between warlords who had been united against the USSR literally destroyed those cities and killed many more innocent people involved. In Mexico, turf wars between gangs often leaves many people who want nothing to do with them killed.

A Choice of Evils

I won’t say that violence doesn’t solve problems because history clearly proves otherwise. If anything violence is quite effective to promote the change you want. However, the solution through violence always costs more than the participants will anticipate. The military likes to refer to these casualties as ‘collateral damage’. And victory is never a guarantee once real battle begins, no matter the bravado or accusations of enablers and traitors.

If it's open season on racists, then we must at least be prepared for the blow back. For the other non-involved people who it will put at risk. And for the unforeseen conclusion to the path we have chosen.


© 2020 Jamal Smith

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