A Word on Blackness and “Violence”

I suppose the African in America has always had an adversarial relationship with the word violence. To consider this word and how it functions concerning the black community, I recall an interview Angela Davis did in prison where she was asked about violence, specifically, whether she approved of it. To this inquiry, she recalled a childhood that acquainted her with the sounds of bombs, and her father having guns because they may be attacked “at any moment.” Davis concludes with the perfect response to those who ask her, a black woman in America, about violence, noting that the question reflects those with: “no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country.” To take this statement a step further, this inquiry betrays a systemic and social issue with designating or acknowledging the acts cast against black people as violence.

This ignorance persists with the contemporary climate that persistently equates violence with black action toward an inherently violent nation, not the bullet clad soldiers of white supremacy who are paid to kill. Nevertheless, this persistent ignorance proves ever-present in the press surrounding the upcoming election. Specifically, both candidates are consistently asked to comment on what America calls rioting, the violence label solely applicable to blacks fighting back and not the systemically arbitrary attacks performed by police. Notice, I avoid the word “reaction” to compartmentalize what America calls black violence. This is intentional. If what happens to black people is not violence then what the black collective does in defense or in response must be conceptualized otherwise.

To regard black retaliatory acts as “violence” personifies the American “way” to punish the black non-conformist with an undeserving label. This undeserving label illuminates a dearth in the critical thought needed to understand what it means to drown from the remnants of a cup that runneth over centuries ago. The phrasing, which no candidate corrects, promises more convenient misconceptualization for blacks in America.

America’s selective conceptualization of the term violence betrays a national effort to derail courage because black courage is the only form of violence that promises to end anti-blackness.

Moreover, “violence” as that which remains solely malevolent when attached to those of African descent but not applicable to what brought Africans to America in the first place, is a non-existent entity to the African in America.

Until pulling a teenaged black boy from his bed in the middle of the night to torture and murder him, or dismembering four little girls in a church bombing constitutes violence then the concept is a hollow term.

Years ago I took my first-year composition students to see Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation. The students had an option to write a journal on their viewing experience; one journal entry continues to resonate with me. The student, a white girl from Long Island, said that although the slaveowners were “wrong for what they did,” she “did not think that it was right” for Nat Turner to kill the slavemasters. Now, those familiar with the film know that the film concludes with Nat Turner’s lynching with a caption that references the dismembering that followed. Somehow, this truth escaped my student’s censure.

I bring up this anecdote to implement an example that elucidates violence as what black people do but manages to escape what the world has continuously inflicted, and continues to inflict, upon black people. Given that this ideology evidences itself as in alignment with Generation Z, it’s affect deeply permeate the societal psyche.

As I write this post, the City of Louisville, Kentucky has canceled vacations for its officers, prohibited access to its downtown area, and is in the process of locking down the entire city in wake of the upcoming decision in the Breonna Taylor Case. The city of Louisville had done more in preparation for the announcement than it has to preclude by black death or harm by the soldiers of white supremacy. Their act elucidates that once again violence remains linked to black uprising or cultural confrontation to societal wrongdoings, not the violence that continues to engulf the black experience. Violence is inherently American yet remains confined to labels like justice which only serve to maintain a dichotomy where blacks are never victim to the evils of white supremacy and white supremacists, and those who benefit from its wrath, are never villains.

So, what to the African in America is violence? Just another linguistic and conceptual representation of the sheer disregard this nation continues to bestow onto the African in America’s canvass. Another social and systemic revelation that black courage encompasses the kryptonite to this fragile white nationalist nation.

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