The outpouring of protest after the events of the past few weeks has lifted my spirit to a degree. It’s hard to explain. When you delve into the machinery of this culture on a regular basis, your spirit often feels chewed up by the gears, but when an injustice so blatant and despicable slaps everyone across the face with enough force to elicit an outcry, it all gets a little bit less lonely in the belly of this beast. I remain skeptical of any ideas of revolution, however. I don’t necessarily see change on the horizon. It all hinges upon our attention spans which are dangerously short as of late. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and Tamir Rice could serve as an apocalypse though. We take the word apocalypse as meaning destruction, but it is rooted in the idea of unveiling and uncovering, revealing. The spectrum of reaction from our citizens, on Facebook or elsewhere, reveals how deeply racism is embedded in some members of our culture on one end, and just how tired a lot of us are of the status quo on the other.
Oppression, subjugation, and centralized power in America are all expressed very subtly and with great nuance, but they are all very real, and it is time we stop pretending they don’t exist. I even catch myself sometimes listening to news stories coming out of the Middle East or African countries or North Korea, stories of extreme violence and totalitarianism, and I step back aghast and say for a second, “How could such brutality exist?” Then I remember that it exists here, in my backyard, all day, every day. But, this is America, and the hide of America is coated in an opaque slippery slime of commercialism, public relations, media spin, and sleight of hand. Putting a digestible face on atrocity is a defining characteristic and grand tradition of the American power structure. It is a structure that does not admit guilt and does not apologize, and beneath its tempered appearance, it is utterly vicious and ruthless in its effort to maintain and perpetuate itself.
There’s a case to be made that this power structure is emergent, meaning it is not willfully constructed, but that it arises out of the individual actions of many. I just heard a report last night about “temporary” tax cuts that Congress renews every year. Why not just cut the pretense and make them permanent? The report pointed out that the tax cuts are kept temporary so that they can be used as leverage during election cycles. As in, “Donate to me, rich corporate donor, so I can extend your tax cut.” And, of course, lobbyists have their demands and it’s this culture of corner-cutting, blind-eyeing, and back-scratching that creates the power structure. It’s a ruthless kind of tribalism.
But emergent or not, at its core, the values of the American power structure are still to protect the advancement of rich white men. I’m tired of America being defined as anything else. America’s number one goal is to advance rich white men: their financial schemes, their destructive resource gathering, their consumer monopolies, their exploitation of non-whites and the poor and the middle-class. Rich white men pay for power; they pay for laws that protect them and they pay for deregulation when laws obstruct them. Freedom, Justice, and Equality have never been the American way. Ever. The value system of the American power structure is composed of greed and self-interest. It’s time to abandon the narrative of freedom and justice when the actions of the power structure do not reflect those values. There are no cops putting Goldman Sachs employees in chokeholds. The financial engineers that gutted the American economy don’t have to put their hands up in surrender. They only have to put their hands out as our tax money saves them from the ruin of their own fault. The American power structure protects white criminals and it murders black criminals. Even if Michael Brown and Eric Garner were (petty) criminals (because John Crawford and Tamir Rice sure as fuck weren’t), they were murdered. End of story.
And in the face of such monumental and monolithic injustice, what else is there to do but riot? I know that it’s terrible to think that store owners lost so much, but their livelihood is built on the back of this corrupt system. The existence of their storefront, of their merchandise, of their cash register is built on the back of this corrupt system. I’m not saying that they are consciously or willfully corrupt, but that corruption is the ground we walk on. All that surrounds each of us is the physical and institutional manifestations of American greed and self-interest. It is the air we breathe both metaphorically and literally as carbon emissions continue to spew forth from the advancement of rich white men. When rioters destroy, they say no more. No more of this way of life. What is inhumane about tearing down that which robs us of our humanity?
The way the media attached the word violence to the protests immediately and repeatedly is a perfect example of the nuanced oppression of the American power structure. They control the conversation. They control the narrative. They invalidate points of view that hinder the advancement of rich white men. Violence is the murder of an unarmed black teenager. To use the same word for the loss of a bunch of bullshit material objects is despicable. The tragedy of the rioting is that they are only short outbursts; that they don’t seek to build something new where injustice once stood. If they took the shop owners and lifted them up and rebuilt a new exalted community together, then they would be entirely righteous.
In the end, there are no innocent bystanders. We are all complicit. We are all guilty. We all burn fossil fuel. We all buy products that are tied to slave labor. We all contribute to the advancement of rich white men because they put in an unfathomable amount of time, energy and resources in order to orient our society toward that very goal. There are no individuals. That is a myth created by rich white men. The idea that you are alone in this world and that you must be Machiavellian in your pursuits, ramifications be damned, is the core of the American Dream with the emphasis on dream, as in fantasy, and that fantasy is the bedrock of our value system. The sickening irony is that rich white men are looting the entire Earth of its resources and the American middle-class of its wealth, but the media calls that “progress” or “GDP” or “quarterly earnings” or “record highs.” Rioting in protest is not about walking home with a bunch of new toys. It is about dismantling an unjust and murderous value system. It’s about saying, “If Michael or Tamir or Eric or John can’t live a life of freedom and peace, then none of us can, and we will dismantle the machinery that ended their lives.”
I am not a violent person. I am the furthest from. I also know that there has been probably no act of evil committed on American soil greater than the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because his commitment to non-violent revolution was unfathomably profound. He wasn’t fighting against black inequality. He was fighting against all inequality, and when you read his words, you know that his mission was to stop the unchecked, disproportionate, unbalanced, criminal advancement of rich white men in order to build a better world, yet even he knew that when you rob people of their voice and the language to define their own suffering then the only voice they have left screams forth in the form of riot.