Radical Optimism

My radical speech is only quelling the righteous rage within me.

Scene from “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.”

While I was on vacation in Las Vegas last week, I had the privilege of speaking with an educated, “woke” brother. Woke is a term broadly used in Black culture that loosely describes individuals of African descent who are knowledgeable in the current state of black affairs. It was refreshing to talk about current state of American politics, racist power structures, patriarchal systems, etc. However, as often happens in my conversations, we found ourselves at an impasse on the reaction and responsibility of the oppressed in response to these issues.

There is a tension between “radicals” and those who occupy more middle ground. As often happens, I am repudiated for my unwillingness to condemn violent protest, my vehement language and lack of sympathy when referencing or speaking to those who occupy and perpetrate the current power structure and not giving people due room in discourse to grow and progress in how they conceptualize these issues. In short, I am radical.

Demonstrators march in protest in St. Louis, Dec. 3, 2014. (Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)

Martin Luther King said that “one of the first principles of non-violent resistance is the willingness to be the recipient of violence while never inflicting violence upon another” (King, I am not your Negro). I have observed that the staunchest supporters today of non-violent movements are those who they themselves never had serious violence visited upon them. Are we only willing to engage in non-violent resistance because we live in a time where we can reasonably expect not to get dogs sic’d on us, fire-hosed, and spat upon?

I concede that the protest in places likes Ferguson, North Dakota and Baltimore have put in the forefront the abuse of force by policing entities. However, on a large scale, one can expect not to have violence done to him while peacefully protesting. I submit that the nature of today’s peaceful protests only thrive because of the unwillingness to endure exactly what MLK believed to be the core principle of non-violent resistance.

I am considered radical because I do not condemn those who damage or destroy property. I do not condemn them because, in their desperation, that is their only means of attacking the power structure in which they are powerless. How can the privileged condemn the oppressed for using any means, even violent, to resist a system that violently and thoroughly works to oppress them?

My father, John Anderson circa 1965

Is my anger racist?

I submit to you that racism exists on an institutional level. The prejudices and bigotry of the marginalized has no quantifiable effect on the privilege of whites in the current power structure. Is there an inherent hatred for white people within me? I think back to the stories my father would tell my brothers and I.

One story he told us frequently is when he learned what racism was. He was in a train station with his father and two brothers. He was thirsty and saw that there were two water fountains. He proceeded to drink from the cleanest one. His father, who he describes as “never being afraid of anything,” rushes over and pulls him away from the fountain. It is then, when he is no more than five years old, that he realizes that it is fear and not hatred.

There is a fear that has long been twisted up in black folks knowing your life can be snuffed out in a single moment, for no reason but being black, and no one will bat an eye. The root of the black man’s hatred is fear.

As I was no older than he listening to these stories of his childhood I grew into an understanding that there were no more water fountains; they had been replaced by poisoned drinking systems. There were no more mandatory ghettos; they had been replaced by gentrification. No more separate schools. Re-districting and white flight had taken its place. It was in those stories, that my proud, strong father told me that I wanted to hate white people.

I wanted to hate white people for all the things he had endured, but I could not. The root of our hate is fear, and pain and rage. The disadvantage of the oppressed is also our saving grace; it is the understanding of what blind hatred makes you do. Thus we temper our anger so as not to become the thing we hate most, the oppressor. It is not the idea of white people we hate. It is anything and anyone that would keep us from or dreams.

That is a natural human response.

Image taken by Daniele Anderson

I have been accused of being too rigid, not giving people room to grow. However, I do not temper my speech so as to soften the blow of racism or to be sympathetic towards the sensitivities of white people. Should it be up to the oppressed to consider the feelings of those who are oppressing them?

When people speak about patience and progress, I say the black man has been in this country for 400 years, you keep telling him to be patient and wait on progress. If he does and continues to assimilate into mainstream white American culture then one day he might be an equal.

“When any white man in the world says, give me liberty or give me death the entire white world applauds” (James Baldwin).

When blacks do it we are extreme, radical and militant. Continued progression, however, does not lie with the few “radicals.” It lies with the middle stream. Most who have been willfully or un-willfully silent and non-committal about the reality of our “Democracy.”

I find it amusing that I am considered militant.

That I am the one people should be afraid of. While others seek to police my tone and my words, I know that the outpouring of my passion is the only thing that is quieting the riot in my heart.

When I talk to people about racism and inequality in this day and age, I’m perceived to merely be speaking from a position of paranoia and memories that I resurrect in my own mind to explain or excuse my own shortcomings. I use my craft to articulate the very real terror and emotional turmoil that is experienced by those far less fortunate than me. Those people are who James Baldwin was speaking about “wrecking this façade of democracy”.

Not I; I who has so much to lose; I who has assimilated in every possible way from occupation to vernacular into mainstream white culture. I am the antithesis of that fear. It is only people like me who are stemming the tide of the hopeless, who in their desperation, seek to inflict just a portion of the pain they experience in a system that has ever denied them the American Dream.

The day us radicals and militants no longer seek to educate the white masses and use our platforms to bring attention to injustices and refuse to operate in a system which oppresses our brothers and sisters is there truly reason to fear.

My radical speech is only quelling the righteous rage within me.