By Leonard Adame
My father, the former professional pugilist, taught me and my brother and sisters how to defend ourselves against anyone. Jabs, left hooks, feints, proper footwork and an understanding of a fulcrum were all important. Throughout our school years, every so often we were required to defend ourselves against one bully or another, usually a pudgy, tall, freckled kid with bad breath. Because my brother eventually ended up in a wheelchair because of a neurological condition not understood by esteemed doctors and scientists of the time (the late 1950s), I sometimes had to do his fighting.
He had a temper the equal of Henry the VIII, and if he had been able to, he in fact would have offed a few heads. He also had a lexicon of the profane that Quentin Tarantino would have been proud of. Because he at times was teased because of his physical status, he let loose with barrages of profanity that I wish I had written down. Needless to say, the opponents felt the need to rebut his accusations that their paternal lineages weren’t what they thought they were. So being my brother’s keeper, I stepped in with violent responses. Most of the time, I came out on top, but every so often, I came away more than a little bruised, so much so I couldn’t even say “you shoulda seen the other guy.”
I bring this up because of late many people, usually White people, upper middle class, professional, far removed from the racist and classist ravages that so many people of color face daily, say that violence is never the answer to any confrontation, social or cultural. I’ve heard these last few days people expressing their disapproval at the response of the Black people in Ferguson, Mo., those people who “riot” and accost those who were hired to serve and protect.
What has happened and is happening in Ferguson is a replay of so many confrontations throughout history and through the world of the poor and disenfranchised having to live under oppressive systems that benefit White people. This has been true in Mexico and all of Latin America, in all of Africa, Australia and to an extent in China and Japan: White colonialists, armed with bibles, armor, spears, swords and fire-breathing horses having their way with any dark-skinned person who they decided was an impediment of some kind.
At some point, as the centuries passed, Los de Abajo, or those of the underclass, as novelist Mariano Azuela termed these people, decided to no longer be the fabled stepping stones on the path to riches that White people laid out. Even European peasants tired of being robbed and raped, as did those virtually enslaved in France. Pick a spot on the globe and you can say with confidence that here, people were enslaved, tortured, robbed of their dignity, and finally either worked to death or simply hung or beheaded.
It seems that the one prevalent constant in the world is greed, that and the lust for power that follows it around like a hungry dog its indifferent master. Incredibly enough, those with enough to eat and a place to stay and the luxury of knowing they’re secure in their lives have shown clearly they don’t give a damn about the suffering of those less fortunate. The well-to-do have always claimed that their lot in this treacherous world was sanctioned by God, and that therefore they’re blessed and that they can do nothing for the poor because it’s always been God’s will that the impoverished remain so as a type of punishment for some sin or sins they’ve committed. Well-to-do people revel in that supreme rationalization, obviously because it absolves them of having to care for those not of their financial and/or economic level.
In Charles Dickens’ time, entire generations in London lived from birth to death on the sidewalks and gutters of London. Thousands of them huddling and experiencing misery the upper classes will never understand, much less experience. For people of color, this miserable experience was even worse: They were made slaves.
Flash forward to Ferguson, where people aren’t whipped or raped or enslaved by kings and queens. These days, they’re ensnared by institutional racism, by disenfranchisement and by disproportionate and racist treatment by law enforcement officials at all levels. The police in this country have a long history of beating and killing Black men as if it were the cops’ officially sanctioned hobby. The courts sentence those Black people found guilty of some crime to harsher sentences than they do White perpetrators; many White people receive probation while Black people go to prison for decades.
Here’s the gist that so many ignore: This society has been infected by racism from its beginning. The racist attitudes came with the first Whites from Europe, along with their religiously sanctioned bigotry. These White people from the 16th century on refused to believe that dark-skinned people with different cultures and beliefs were the equal of White people. This is still the case. What’s funny is that when confronted on their racism, they almost always retort: I’m not a racist, but… You complete the sentence.
There has been any number of films and television productions dealing with the theme of people of color having to live in a society that doesn’t want them, doesn’t care about them, doesn’t care that all avenues that lead to schooling and good jobs are closed off and doesn’t care that this society was designed so that Whites always remain superior. Ironically, this has become maybe a little clearer to White people these days with the growing fascist power of the Koch brothers (whose father was a Nazi sympathizer), a power that is excluding all people, even Whites, from economic, schooling and employment opportunities. To people of color, this has always been the case.
So isn’t it easy to understand that when Black people in Ferguson take to the streets to protest yet another murder of a young Black man by a delusional cop, they are again demanding that the violence stop, that the bigotry stop, that they be afforded the status of human being, that they be protected by the Constitution and civil rights laws, that they be allowed to live free of the tyranny of the state that sanctions their status as unequal and inferior beings who deserve no more than what they have.
Add to this that the many who believe that statement also believe that Blacks and all people of color are inherently evil and that they want to destroy White people and “White culture.” There is no credible evidence of this, but they need to believe this propaganda to justify their hatred and believe that God wants them to destroy people of color, figuratively and literally.
That some people opposed to police thuggery aimed at people of color resort to violence is understandable. Desperation breeds violence. Take a look at any revolution in any country. People, desperate people who’ve lost hope and have seen their families decimated by violence, starvation, segregation and slavery, it seems naturally turn to violence. But remember: That violence was caused not by the people fighting injustice but by those who’ve mistreated people of color for centuries.
This is why violence as self-defense is justified.
Even Gandhi said that anyone who doesn’t defend himself is a coward. He meant that violence as self-defense is a principle by which to live. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., owned a few guns to ensure he could defend himself. Many people who preached nonviolence did in fact understand that violence as self-defense was not a wanton or criminal act. Even some Buddhists believe in violence as self-defense.
So when people who think they are doing a good thing by condemning violence in any form, they are really affirming the status quo: great and inhumane suffering that’s lasted too long, not to mention their own superiority as evidenced by their need to interpret and set guidelines that people of color should follow.
Would Nelson Mandela have been successful in gaining equality and freedom for his people had he not defended himself, had they not defended themselves through reciprocal violence against the apartheid thugs and racists?
Even Jesus became at least a little violent when he railed against money lenders and tossed their places of business. He also told his apostles to defend themselves if they needed to.
When one is comfortable, when one thinks that one is doing a good thing by condemning all violence, that person is practicing superiority. He or she doesn’t understand the lives of those in misery, nor does that person understand how racism and all social and cultural evils have been institutionalized so that to defend against makes it seem a crime and those who defend themselves criminals.
Let’s be clear: The criminals these days are those who take the lives of people of color under the protection of authority. In this, police, DAs and judges are guilty of murder. And they’re guilty of perpetuating a corrupt and racist system that ensures White privilege and superiority.
Until these things change fundamentally, people of color will always be victims, even the Uncle Toms who’ve gone over to the dark side.
As I learned, thanks to my father, it was always better to defend myself and my brother. It was better to give beatings than to receive them. It was better to stand for justice than to let so many pervert that justice at all levels and places.
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at email@example.com.