In what feels increasingly like a dystopia, a line from The Hunger Games seems like a fitting place to start. Right now, there is a wave of protest spreading deep and wide. It is astounding. All kinds of people, from those on the perpetual protest circuit to those who’ve never been engaged in anything more than than voting every four years (if that) are participating in street action, sending money, posting resources on social media, and starting difficult conversations. Folks have organized and showed up in powerful swells of solidarity and anger and demand for change. Thousands of people stop traffic on bridges and freeways, stand outside the jails and police precincts, make noise and destroy property and stare down lines of police in riot gear, refusing to shut up and go away. This is a global response made up of diverse tactics, from individual conversations to peaceful marches to legislation to riots. Slowly, it’s starting to feel like the message is soaking in, with more and more voices joining, and some changes beginning to happen.
Yet there are some in this suddenly swelling antiracist movement who are vocally intolerant of diversity within the group. I don’t mean racial diversity, I mean diversity of ability, desire, current level of understanding, philosophy of resistance, resources, and approach to action. This intolerant element is vocal, especially on social media. They favor a tactic of direct confrontation with police, and they view everything else as illegitimate. They say things to other protestors like you’re cowards, you’re hurting the cause, if you are not physically clashing with the police in the streets every night, you are not enough. If you are protesting peacefully, you’re collaborating with the cops and you’re a traitor. On one twitter thread, I observed the response to to a large, black-led group’s announcement of their plans for peaceful protest. An excoriating comment condemning the plans for peaceful march (by an apparently white writer) was met with a gentle reminder that this black-led march was an important part of the movement. The original commenter then wrote that “well, the black leaders are wrong”.
This hurts my heart. Within a movement dedicated to black lives that focuses on centering black voices, who feels it’s their place to say “you, black leaders, are wrong”? Your passion and your belief in your tactics is helpful. Your turning that into unkind words against your comrades in struggle is. . . not.
We are all human beings and we are walking a path. Some have been doing antiracist work for a long time. Some engaged with this idea for the first time a week ago. It’s hard work. It’s coming at a time when many are already at a physical, emotional, or financial breaking point due to the global pandemic we are weathering. Of course it’s OK to be angry, to feel like “where have you been all this time??”. Of course it’s OK to disagree and to think one approach is more effective than another. But it is absolutely not OK to publicly disparage others walking this path because you don’t agree with their tactics.
If you disagree with someone, perhaps you can talk with them, human to human. Share your thoughts and listen to theirs. If you are tempted to criticize someone you don’t know, remember that you don’t know them, their place in the world, or their reasons. But save your firey anger for the real enemy. Channel it into your activism. Bring it to the fence when you go tonight, and bring it to city hall. Lead change and growth with your own model. And never, ever forget why you are there. Protect black lives. Center black voices. Fight like hell— against the real enemies.