‘Language of the Unheard’ Hard for Whites to Hear

If broken windows shock you more than dead Black people, you are part of the problem.

Oh, it breaks your heart, doesn’t it? All that broken glass, all those turned-over cars, all those fires and plumes of tear gas. As I read about protest violence on the streets of Chicago, the images don’t look all that different from Beirut or Belarus. Those people should be ashamed of themselves, you think. If they really wanted any kind of peace, they’d know better than to destroy private property. “Is this what King marched for?” you shout impotently into the ether.

I’ve heard it a million times, America.

Now, as I strap on my rubber boots to traverse the swamp of your white tears, I’m left with a few questions myself.

One, were you this pissed off about “destroyed property” when your favorite team won a championship? True, damage incurred in the protests is expected to be high, but no one seemed all that put off when rioters celebrated the Giants winning in 2012 and 2014. Could that be because the latter took place near The Mission and The Castro, whereas the former was closer to Downtown and the Financial District?

Two, if the protesters are so destructive, then why has so much of the violence been initiated by cops and white supremacists?

Three, knowing that trillion-dollar corporations are thriving during a worldwide pandemic, why are you more concerned with their minor property losses than with the fact that tax-funded law enforcement kills American citizens?

The answer to all three questions is the same: because you need someone Black to play the villain. You try to hide it behind every euphemism and poorly-reported statistic you can, but it doesn’t change the fact that you only take this position when it affords you the opportunity to devalue Black life.

It’s the reason you dismiss racially-motivated attacks on Black people by talking about Black-on-Black crime (which is constantly overexaggerated). It’s the reason you scream “White people get killed by cops, too!” despite the fact that Black people are disproportionately more likely to be killed by law enforcement. It’s the reason you can’t stand to hear three simple words — “Black lives matter” — without feeling as if you’ve been personally attacked.

Since the protests began, I’ve lost count of the number of times white people have complained about their delicate sensibilities having been offended. Seeing their proud institutions and traditions falling (literally, in the case of statues) has them lashing out at the very people who are actually defending the freedoms the whiners claim to cherish. From buildings named after Junipero Serra to the formerly-spotless reputation of Ellen Degeneres, no cow is sacred in the war against white supremacy. Even Castro-staple Hot Cookie isn’t safe.

Yet, it’s those same white folks who never waste an opportunity to trumpet the “great sacrifices” that made the United States what it is today. “Never forget!” they always say. Never forget what? Depends on the day: fighting the British; winning WWII; dying in Vietnam; and the Neocon favorite, 9/11. One doesn’t dare mention this country’s history of slavery, genocide, and intrusion into the foreign affairs of sovereign nations.

Say the US is the hero? “Never forget!” Say the US has blood on its hands? “Oh, that happened so long ago!”

But I digress. The point is that protest violence has been conclusively proven to be primarily initiated by police and not nearly as extensive as many think. But what about the damage and vandalism that can’t be pinned on cops or outside agitators? For those quick to jump on the “MLK protested peacefully” bandwagon, remember this:

Rosa Parks protested peacefully. Her reward was jail time.

Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali protested peacefully. They were stripped of their athletic accolades and regarded as “the most hated man in America” during their respective lifetimes.

The late John Lewis protested peacefully. His reward was a fractured skull, courtesy of state troopers.

And yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr — the man who said “the riot is the language of the unheard” — also protested peacefully. His reward was a bullet to the head, courtesy of an angry white man. Incidentally, Dr. King always said he was inspired by Jesus Christ, and we all remember how the Romans responded to his peaceful protests, don’t we?

Speaking of Jesus, if your bible is anything like mine, then it includes a story wherein Jesus got, well, pretty violent. Remember when he found the merchants in the temple? His reaction was to attack them and destroy their goods. That’s right: this brown-skinned guy took it upon himself to destroy private commercial property in the name of social justice.

What does this prove? That just like the Romans during the time of Christ, you don’t want “peaceful protest” — you want subservience. You don’t want to face up to this country’s ugly history, you just want us to stop talking about it. Any medical professional will tell you that acknowledging a problem is the first step toward healing. But seeing as how you won’t even wear masks to fight COVID-19, I shouldn’t be surprised you won’t take steps to fight racism. And neither one of those is going away anytime soon.

I suggest you look up an old Tupac Shakur interview with MTV, circa 1995. It’s the one where he creates a metaphor about being a poor man in a hotel and glimpsing the affluence of the penthouse. First, he begs to be let in, only for his pleas to be ignored. Then he firmly asks. Then he insists. Then he breaks in.

What’s happening on our streets isn’t simply the result of George Floyd being choked to death on the streets of Minneapolis; it’s the result of centuries of inequality that normalized George Floyd being choked to death on the streets of Minneapolis. The same inequality that treats terrorist Dylann Storm Roof so delicately, but refuses to prosecute the murderers of Breonna Taylor, an essential worker on the front lines fighting COVID-19. Her own American tax dollars funded her unjust execution in the middle of the night.

If looted stores and refusing to stand for the national anthem offend you more than one’s own tax dollars killing them in their own home, then the problem isn’t those breaking the windows. The problem is you.

Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theater artist and arts critic. He’s online at TheThinkingMansIdiot.wordpress.com.

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