By now most people have seen the images and read stories about the various uprisings across the country. Some media outlets have labeled these gatherings as riots. I, however, refuse to call them riots. The protests we are witnessing are a culmination of generations long inequality and injustice that has reached a boiling point. Rebellion is a more accurate term to describe what we are seeing and experiencing right now.
When I think of a riot I immediately think of destroying property when they’ve won or lost a big game without a historical or moral focus. What is happening in New York City and major cities throughout the country are people literally screaming for their voices to be heard. In the midst of a global pandemic where the inequity in Black health care and the decreased life chances of Blacks in the U.S. are on full display, the fear, anger, and anguish are now on full display. Add rampant unemployment, a failure of leadership to address racial inequities on the local, state, and federal levels and we see people taking to the streets.
Yet another display of Black death at the hands of police officers has entered into the larger community collective. So many Black Americans feel like they are being hunted by police officers who can behave with impunity, knowing they will likely suffer few if any repercussions for their actions against Black citizens. As people march to honor the memories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many other innocent Black people trying to live and survive in this nation, the righteous indignation of the protestors is on a full display…as is the pain and fear and exhaustion of the inability to be free in one’s own country.
Unfortunately, many police departments have military grade weaponry they are not afraid to use on their own citizens and residents. Unfortunately, the current president has a white nationalist agenda and a complete lack of understanding of compassion, humility, civil rights, race relations, policy making, or leadership in the time of crisis. Unfortunately, there are too many “good meaning allies” who seem more concerned with property values and not the reason why property is being destroyed in the first place.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote extensively on “riots” and the actions of the unheard and oppressed. It is during these times that we must encourage others to keep their eye on the prize and realize that the actions of oppressed people are manifestations of years, decades, and generations of oppression and lack of institutional and substantive change. I am not sure if the recent events will mark a radical shift in the foundation of this country founded on anti-Black racism, but a shift and an awakening has occurred. Now let’s move from protest politics to the ballot box.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.