Black Lives Matter, contrarian, Essay, Ferguson, Hands Up Don't Shoot, Individual Will, Injustice, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr., Michael Brown, Missouri, NAACP, police brutality, Politics, Race relations, Tearz, Totalitarianism, Wu-Tang Clan
Tearz, Wu-Tang Clan
My original intent was to discuss the idea of the essay and whether it still possess cultural relevance, however the situation arising in Missouri has possessed too much of my attention at the moment to continue with this enterprise. Watching the coverage, as most of us have, the images and rhetoric that have been assaulting our sensory input seems to be painting a clear picture. For every white officer of the law, garbed as if preparing for a drop into Kuwait, there correspond scenes of black protestors marching with their arms raised as if prepared for the inevitable confrontation. The film clips of tear gas and armored vehicles running through residential districts quickly follow. The arresting of the two reporters from the Washington Post was a warning sign for us all, not just because for once it seems that white people have at last deserved police attention, but because as I have said in previous essays, the moment writers are targeted we should all be on guard. Fortunately the gathering of press and civilians, of every shade of virtue, demanding justice for the senseless killing of Michael Brown has inspired enough push for justice that the lethargic police force, desperate to defend their own before recognizing the situation for what it is, have today announced the identity of the killer of Brown. Darren Wilson has yet to make a public appearance, but justice is patient.
Observing this spectacle I am confronted by the standard, and pathetically coordinated, defense of many whites that racism is only ever brought to the surface by uppity blacks. This defense is bullshit and Missouri is quickly reminding our society there still remains to this day a, difficult is too pale an adjective for this travesty, complicated relationship between White and Black America. Watching the riot’s of the previous evening I was tempted at first to locate my copy of the Autobiography of Malcom X, however I didn’t have the time to travel to the old library at my parents house and find the book. Upon reflection I decided that perhaps I was moving in the wrong direction. While active protest does have its place the men and women marching in the defense of their community and for the defense of justice in their country summon to mind a more important figure, that of Martin Luther King Jr.
Before I continue the analysis allow me a moment of indulgence. The death of Michael Brown continues to hit me, not because it is yet another offense in the long line of black-white relations, but because he was my own age. Michael Brown was eighteen years old and about to begin college. A young man entering into a new world, experiencing academia, meeting young women (or men) and forming relationships, pursing his degree, and trying to figure out, like we all are at this strange stage of our development, what exactly we want and expect out of life. A boy just a few years younger than myself is dead, his body laying exposed on the concrete for ten minutes while the world just watched. I have stated before my loathing of pathos, it is a poor rhetorical trick that is regularly prostituted to create sentiment that blinds the laymen to the real atrocities performed by those in power who find him inconvenient. Never-the-less, this heinous atrocity has forced me to recognize my youth, my generation, and discover that the “young-men dying” as they always are, are now my friends and brothers.
Letter from Birmingham Jail struck me, as flare’s popped on my television screen and small legions of police officers brandished weapons silhouetted against the burning streets of Ferguson, as simultaneously a manifesto for civil disobedience as well as a love letter to the African American community of his time. Rather than burden his reader with his “languishing in prison,” in fact King’s prose almost makes one chuckle as he treats his incarceration with annoyance rather than sadness, he instead uses his time as an opportunity to instruct those participating in the cause of integration on the value of being a contrarian. His careful prose repeatedly attacks the shock that black protests inspired.
You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being […] I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.
King is quick to turn his argument towards his oppressors and demonstrate that the situation was only created by their own actions. The argument is as effective as it is poignant. The great tragedies of society are not spontaneous; a regular study of history lesson will reveal this sad truth, they are built upon complex factors most often that of a majority persecuting or restricting a minority. King is not attempting to create pity for his cause, but instead inspire the human idea that the regular de-humanization of his people has caused a necessary shift in the paradigms of society. Blacks need free, unfettered access to society and all its benefits or else the quagmire will result only in their stunted growth as a community. This concern for human justice is the essence of contrarianism, a solid attack on the established quo.
Well duh. What blacks suffered through was abominable, nobody is going to make that argument, but what good does it to re-examine it outside of history?
The good, my contester, is contained in the axiom Martin Luther King Jr writes in his letter, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Though we may feel in certain instances a desire to step aside and simply allow an injustice to pass us by, whether out of a sense of lethargy, fear, or incompetence, it is the obligation of the concerned citizen to ensure that justice is not being molested by those who enjoy the position of power. My wife follows numerous feminist and Pro-Life blogs and recently she shared one of them entitled “I need feminism because….” A counter site has emerged in which women post the anti-thesis of this argument, “I don’t need feminism because…” Looking through the dismal attempts in the latter my wife has observed a similar trend with these women, a majority of them are white. In the past certain feminist movements, whether north or south of Mason-Dixon Line I might add, were comprised mainly of white women due to racism. Black women were often ignored, barred, or placed into lower ranking positions of the movements thereby stunting their own opportunity. The recent trend of “I don’t need feminism because…” suggests that once rights have been achieved, many no longer see an issue. I am not attacking the feminist movement, for I am a participating member of it, but instead illustrating a tendency that seems rooted in a solipsistic sentiment: Once my needs are met, that is all that matters.
King attacks in his essay, what seems to him, the real problem with his movement.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Kulx Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternistcally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advised the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
The call to “wait” is a poisonous influence to the contrarian and based in totalitarian will. It is lethargic and seeks only to constrain the individual who recognizes the injustice at hand so that he or she may stave off the desired confrontation and eventually abandon their willpower. The repeated call, both then and now it seems, for blacks in this country hoping for justice has often been to wait, and we have seen that while they wait, injustice has been repeatedly been committed to them. It has become a rite of passage in black communities for mothers and father to teach their sons the “proper” way to behave to police officers. They are instructed to “wait” and not inspire confrontation. As a white man I was never given this lesson because there was no need to. I understood, and still understand, the social role of the police officer is to ensure order and maintain it. I will admit that while I respect members of the police, my upraising and educational environment has created a nasty distrust of authority figures, and the image of the police officer inspires a combination of admiration and panic. But to return to the argument at hand, King’s remarks speak true to human experience. It is often noted, almost to the level of platitude, that those who refuse to choose a side are often impaled by the fence they stand on. Christopher Hitchens in his little wonderful book letters to a young contrarian perhaps noted it best that there was a reason Dante Aligheri placed one of the worst punishments, not necessarily for those damned, though they certainly did have their fair share, but for those who refused to pick a side. If you’re interested, the angels who refused to favor Satan or god were chased in circles by droves of wasps that stung their flesh to the point that it would become so sick and infected that it would peel and slide off until the undecided’s would eventually be running and tripping in a slough of their own desiccated flesh. I note briefly that Dante must have been a real riot at parties.
Vivid image aside what does this really have to do with Brown? The answer to the question is, everything. King was most troubled by the idea put forward by those who were seemingly in support, that his ambitions should be staved off until society matured and recognized their plight. It was the old adage that, “time heals” all wounds. For starters King addresses this issue:
Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of good people.
Convictions cannot wait and actions will always speak louder than words. I lament the fact that I live at such a distance from those brave men and women protesting in Ferguson as I write this, and I hope this essay in some way forgives my ineptitude, it at least shows that I shall not remain silent. If injustice is to be punished, it must do so during the time in which it is committed. The success of the Watergate scandal was that men and women investigating this abuse of power refused to be bullied into silence when their elected officials committed felonies. The Trial of Emmett Till, yet another black man executed in the south for ridiculous and repulsive reasons, did not wait. Even if the trial ended in the murderers being acquitted, the country recognized the situation for what it was: a travesty of injustice that would leave a permanent smear, not only on the face of this country, but for the conscience of those who would profess of the warm boon of “the South.” As a Texan, the concept of race is unavoidable. Daily I am regularly shocked and deeply offended when I hear of whites talking of “Mexicans,” (how long must intelligent people suffer before the word Latina enters the common tongue), as “parasites” and “invaders.” Attending a private school of mostly white upper class children, there were perhaps seven black students in the entirety of my high school education, I would gag on the free use of the word “niggars” and wonder about what breed of Christian this school was attempting to excrete. This collected examination leads me to my final conclusion of the Brown affair and what Letters from Birmingham Jail really mean in relation to it.
My initial viewings of the protest of Michael Brown’s murder resulted in two impressions. The first were images of suited black men, most likely representatives of the local chapter of the NAACP, marching in unison with other members of the community. The second was a thought, “I can only wonder how long the news will bother with this before they return to Gaza.” Fortunately and unfortunately, the violence that erupted in Ferguson on August 10th resulted in a media hunger before the collected news organizations realized a threat to their own interests. Now with the arrest of two of their own, the press seems to have a shared interest in the case. Injustice creates a brotherhood that transcends skin color. We all seem to have taken a personal interest in this case, but what troubles me most is that the efforts of reporters seems to be focused, not on the abuse of power that led to Michael Brown’s death, but the abuse of police officers upon those who are attempting to understand the injustice and bring light to it. Michael Brown is quickly being stripped of his self and humanity as the “police” become the center of this debate.
I am repulsed. I am disgusted. I am heartbroken, that Michael Brown is dead. I am not alone in this opinion. The African American Community has lost another son, and those who seek to shine the spotlight on their community are hungry to hear of the abuse heaped upon them by the police. Attacking the police force may be necessary, for this chapter of their order has certainly deserved it for their stubborn incompetence, but the pursuit of this individual injustice must be of the utmost concern. A trial and some form of prosecution must take place, without emotion, without pathos, for that would be the real victory. The African American Community in Ferguson that are exercising their freedom to protest, are the real story, for their concerted efforts are an end to the tyranny of de-humanization that continually seems to bog their community and stunt the possibility for their sons and daughters. Letters from Birmingham Jail resonate from this outburst of protest in Ferguson, because it reflects both King’s attitude that waiting is no longer a viable option for social change, and that his community has adopted a paradigm of extremist position as he describes in the essay:
So I have not said to my people “get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channelized through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized. […] So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?
Michael Brown was about to begin school.
I do not say “wait,” and allow this offence to fester away into nothing. Instead I say, “Object,” I say to “Fight this injustice,” but do not let this young man’s humanity become the cost of public knowledge.
To a man, only a few years younger than myself, who wanted to learn, I address this essay to you, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
**Writer’s Note/CODA 9/15/2015**
It’s been a little over a year since this essay has been published, and since that time more people have died, and details about Michael Brown have surfaced. To the reader who smugly wonders if I take back what I said in this essay, I can offer only disappointment. Yes Michael Brown was not a saint, but he was still unarmed, and that’s all that matters. Michael Brown deserved to be arrested and have his day in court, but he did not deserve to be shot.
As long as we attempt to besmirch the victims of abuse and murder in order to assuage some kind of collective guilt, then the discourse will remain poisoned and no progress will be made. Michael Brown deserved justice, real justice, not a bullet.