Tuesday, June 2, 2020

On the George Floyd Riots, Morality, and Misrepresenting Dr. King

The only answer, from the great Fred Rogers. 
I happen to be one of those cats who believes that some some things are wrong and some things are right; that there are moral absolutes. But this would not stop me from doing some immoral things in particular circumstances. 

For instance, I believe killing another human is objectively wrong; however, if I needed to resort to deadly force to protect my family, I would. My conclusion would be that I did a wrong thing, but with justification. It doesn't make the act less wrong, but it might mitigate what consequences I should suffer for the act, both externally and internally. Regardless, I would regret that immoral act for the rest of my life, because, for me, killing is never an act of goodness, however necessary it may be.

This discussion about the riots is interesting to me; if, "interesting" is a metaphor for "heartbreaking."

The first thing we need to do is to take the Martin Luther King Jr. memes off the table. Why? Because he is universally accepted in American culture as a positive force in racial healing. What people are trying to do is to show, in the chopped memes, that even he supported rioting. Here's the meme:

In fairness, it is clear in the quotation that he is not condoning rioting, but I think that what visually illustrates the purpose of most people who post this is the bold-faced red line: "A riot is the language of the unheard." It's meant to skew the reader's focus. And some are posting that line on its own with similar intentions. It's important to understand that Dr. King is explaining riots, not condoning them. In the fuller context:
King...argues that worsening economic and social conditions that black Americans experience must be condemned as equally as riots. It is here he invokes the line: "A riot is the language of the unheard." (USA Today)
Right? King's pointing out hypocrisy. We need to see that we can't only start condemning things when they affect us. We need to condemn injustice toward our fellow humans even when it doesn't intrude upon us directly.

But Dr. King also said:
"...if every Negro in the United States stands up against non-violence, I'm going to stand up as a lone voice and say this is the wrong way!"
This is unequivocal. His words, HERE further explain that he is not in favor of rioting, but that he understands where it comes from, as we all should.

Many are saying, with more argumentative nuance, that we should not draw attention away from the injustices that African Americans suffer by condemning -- at this moment -- rioting and looting. This doesn't work for me. I mean, it works -- I get the reasoning -- but, like Dr. King, I would argue that we need to condemn both racial in justics and violence; after all, part of the protest is against violence, which is a dark irony. (I didn't hit my kids when raising them because I couldn't get past telling them hitting was wrong and then hitting them; what are they, not worth what other humans are? -- they can't hit others but they are lower than others and, so, can be hit?)

When we see immorality of any kind, we should condemn it. Hypotheticals: If a woman in raped during the riots, is it not okay to talk about it because it will make the rioters look bad? Likewise, with an old man's bodega being destroyed? A young couple's first new car being set afire?

But are we fair? Should we not also speak of police arresting journalists in alarming numbers? Of police and National Guardsmen marching down neighborhood streets, yelling "light 'em up" and shooting paint cans at people who are simply standing on their porches after curfew?

I'll grant you one thing: the dystopian horror of acts like this and then of a president moving through protest crowds under cover of rubber bullets and tear gas so that he can pose infront of a church holding a Bible he's never read is WAY more horrifying than counrty-wide, directly violent anger. So fear not: I'm not ignoring anything while taking a stance against violence.

In the end, though, where are we if we start either cheering-on or turning a blind eye from destruction and opportunistic theft? Are we really better off in a world in which anger is directed at innocent shop owners? In which whole neighborhoods are beaten into submission? I see, on local news, each morning, Philadelphia neghborhoods full of sad African American people collecting trash and pushing brooms; today, citizens in West Philadephia (for non-locals, the "Fresh Prince's" pre Bel Air neighborhood) begged for help from the mayor. I actually wept for them.

We humans need to improve. All of us. People talk about unity. We are all one human race. Yes. We are. And we are all flawed. Even when we are the parents of good kids, we tend to correct more than we praise, don't we? This is out of love, but it needs to be balanced. We should tell our kids when they are doing good things, but we often forget, because being bad is scarier than simply not being good. 

So, I get to say that I think it is wrong to smash stores up and to steal things from those smashed stores without being accused of equating that wrong to the wrong of kneeling on a man's neck until he dies. Of course, they are not equally wrong. Smacking a six-year-old in the head and taking his bike is evil, and I condemn it. I also condemn burning down a building because of injustice. The latter is way worse, but evil is evil; wrong is wrong, even if there are levels.

We keep talking about empathy: we white people need to better understand the challenges of living as an African American -- as much as it is possible, which can never be 100%. But does this dissolve the reponsibility of protesters and rioters to empathize with their neighbors whose homes they are ruining? And in the case big businesses, not so much the corporate "suits," but the thousands they employ in neighborhoods across the country?

Let's face one fact: many people in riots are acting not in protest but in the window of opportunity. They are getting a free pass to break things and to aquire things. That's not okay and that is not accomplishing what protest is for: contributing to change; it only deepens social misery.

So, you want this to stop, white people? If you really care, keep at it, in a peaceful way, after the fires stop burning. I disagree with implications of the opportunistic prancers-about, especially among my fellow whites, who will energetically defend violence and theft during the riots and who will say that we who oppose such behavior are downplaying the plight of African Americans. Once again, I understand the point. But what really downplays that plight is forgetting all about it and beccoming silent when horrific things are not in the news. I emplore the prancers: KEEP PRANCING afer this is all over and stop pulling out your hashtags and your sloganed profile pictures only when the stuff hits the fan.

A satirical "joke" I posted on Facebook the other day. Spoiler: It's not funny):
I have a joke for you. A white guy walks into a bar. He sees a report about George Floyd on the TV. He starts telling everyone in the bar that racism is bad and that they are all to blame and then he goes home drunk on his own woke-ness. He wakes up the next day and doesn’t remember where he was the night before. Thank you!
This must conclude with important emphasis: Dr. King was against all violent protest; but he conceded that the cause rioting was when the establishment ignores the injustices and turns a deaf ear to peaceful protest:
"Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots."
He, himself, condemned riots, but what separates the good person from the racist (or, at least, the racially insensitive) is that balance: If you are more disgusted by the rioters than you are by the injustices that occur every day, you are truly contributing to the boiling over that causes the unheard to speak out with fists and fire and chaos.


  1. Excellent explanation and opinion on the events. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.