Aghast at the sight of the Baltimore riot, I struggled for days to find meaning in what appeared senseless. I searched history for answers, discovering that what’s happening through the protests and riots of African Americans throughout the country is similar to the “Arab Spring” that occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Are we on the cusp of an “African American Spring” akin the Arab Spring? Perhaps.
The Arab Spring was an “awakening” of long-held yearnings for equality led mainly by young, disenfranchised citizens. It began as popular uprisings in the form of local protests, riots, social media campaigns and, eventually, military strikes against oppressive rule that spread transnationally. While the uprisings had precipitating factors, such as we have here with the police killings of unarmed black men and boys, they were linchpins rather than causes of the Arab Spring. The cause was freedom from oppression. America viewed the Arab Spring as the people legitimately raising their voices in pursuit of democratic ideals such as freedom.
Like the Arab Spring, people in Sanford, Ferguson and Baltimore did not riot for the black men killed. They were waging a legitimate insurrection against racial oppression affecting their own lives–poverty, lack of opportunity and mistreatment by law enforcement–that may be the cusp of an “African American Spring.” But we have a difficult time accepting these “raised voices” because we are conditioned to dismiss black rage.
Media and public officials have arrived at the lowest common denominator of reason in assessing the riots as wonton acts of lawlessness and the rioters as criminals and thugs. Newscasters, politicians and community leaders, perhaps rightly, decried the riots. As in the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, African American ministers circled the wagons of respectability politics in their appeals for calm. But few people acknowledged the riots as a legitimate form of protest that has long been part of the fabric of America and that we support in other countries. This hypocrisy is not lost on the youth of our nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that riots are the language of the unheard. A truer statement has never been uttered. But for language to have meaning, we must learn it and learn from it. President Obama, a former community organizer, did the nation a disservice by not recognizing the legitimate cry for freedom against oppression that has been the cause of the uprisings associated with the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
Source: Huffington Post | John Fitzgerald Gates