June 7th, 2020
Something More than Civil Discontent
The international solidarity surrounding the fight against racism is, perhaps, the most refreshing thing to have happened since the election of Barack Obama in 2008; at the same time, the moods with which one might categorize these respective events could not be any more divergent—hope twelve years ago and utter despair today. What has happened to us?
For the record, not only do I see these protests as a positive development, but I also support the violent nature that embodies them. Before Malcolm X used the phrase “by any means necessary,” it was actually employed by a likewise famous writer and activist, Frantz Fanon, best known for his book, The Wretched of the Earth, in which he analyzes colonialism from a linguistic perspective, arguing how language is used to shape the mind of both the colonizer and the colonized, so that they can each assume their respective role; in that sense, the identity and experience of the colonized is always lived through the colonizer, denying the subjugated population their own history, culture, and humanity—all things which they must perceive through the agency of the colonizer; this naturally causes great psychological distress. Fanon writes: “Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values.” Through this discourse, the colonizer gives himself the justification to fill the so-called void (which he himself has created) with the values that the colonized are supposedly “lacking,” and, naturally, the colonizer doesn’t take into account a native’s outlook on life, but, rather, fills his worldview with western values.
Even the religion he brings has more to do with espousing the virtues of whiteness than with the actual worship of God (for if the colonizer actually did have genuine religious inclinations, they would never allow him to commit violence against a people to begin with). Fanon writes: “The Church in the colonies is a white man’s Church, a foreigners’ Church. It does not call the colonized to the ways of God, but to the ways of the white man, to the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor. And as we know, in this story many are called but few are chosen.” Thus, the parallel can easily be drawn between Fanon’s discourse on colonialism and the completely paradoxical nature with which Trump famously used violence and force to clear protesters in order to pose in front of a church, just to be photographed holding a bible. The man neither worships God nor perhaps even believes in him—what he worships is a fanatical idea of whiteness perhaps so extreme it rivals the militancy of 19th century Belgian and English colonial administrators.
I can imagine no greater suffering than to be denied your own identity; it’s for this reason that Fanon espouses violence as perhaps the only conceivable way to loosen the colonizer’s unrelenting grip on the society which he seeks to subjugate eternally. As Fanon argues, it’s not enough for the colonizer to know that he’s committed violence in the past or that he’s committing violence in the present; no, colonialism is the most brutal form of subjugation, for it’s perhaps the only method of tyranny that seeks to operate across all periods of time—past, present, and future; in other words, its aim is to continue forever under the guise of “civilizing” the natives; in that sense, everything is always done for their own good and this will continue until the ways of natives can no longer be distinguished from those of white people—civilized, that is.
In 1960, Fanon addressed the Accra Positive Action Conference, where he stated the following: “Colonialism, however, is not satisfied by this violence against the present. The colonized people are presented ideologically as a people arrested in their evolution, impervious to reason, incapable of directing their own affairs, requiring the permanent presence of an external ruling power. The history of the colonized people is transformed into meaningless unrest, and as a result, one has the impression that for these people humanity began with the arrival of those brave settlers.” Given that colonialism doesn’t merely seek to deprive the colonized but also desires to replace the Third World’s values with their own, Fanon, thus, espouses violence as the only way to escape the “eternal” colonizer’s chokehold; the discourse, “by any means necessary,” is in this respect another rallying point for colonized people to untangle themselves from the colonizer’s web that has trapped their own past, present, and future: “Violence in everyday behaviour, violence against the past that is emptied of all substance, violence against the future, for the colonial regime presents itself as necessarily eternal. We see, therefore, that the colonized people, caught in a web of a three-dimensional violence, a meeting point of multiple, diverse, repeated, cumulative violence, are soon logically confronted by the problem of ending the colonial regime by any means necessary.” What do we say about the peaceful (really?) protests of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King?
Well, it seems even violence is a right which the West reserves strictly for itself—the right to exert force is interpreted exclusively with the intellectual apparatus of the hegemon so that savagery can only be used to protect the status quo, and thus, it becomes a method of action which is only acceptable when employed by the colonizer. Fanon writes: “When German militarism decides to resolve its border problems by force, it is no surprise, but when the Angolan people, for instance, decide to take up arms, when the Algerians reject any method which does not include violence, this is proof that something has happened or is in the process of happening.” It’s, therefore, clearly in the interest of the West to establish a discourse which makes them the bearer of values while depicting colonized subjects as those who lack them—and it’s precisely this intellectual effort that justifies the use of violence on the colonizer’s part when the natives refuse to be “civilized.” Here’s ethnic cleansing interpreted somewhat differently—whether it’s peaceful from the perspective of both sides, I can’t say.
Likewise, this is the very reason why the West continues to call for “peaceful” protests because it’s exactly such “obedient” attempts at dismantling the colonial system that the West can easily neutralize, discredit, and eliminate. Even Gandhi, who considered nonviolence to be superior, ultimately believed that violence, in the absence of other choices, had to be utilized if that was the only way to bring about change; regarding India, he wrote: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.” The West, however, would rather keep people from realizing that an individual like Gandhi could’ve held such beliefs because it would rather deal with people who are docile than those who are violent, especially when the docile ones have no real opportunity to change anything.
Truly, it’s very often the case that peaceful protests benefit the colonizer and no one else. With its cunning, crafty intellectual mechanisms, the West has managed to convince the entire world that Gandhi’s and MLK’s protests were peaceful—on many occasions, they were anything but that. Indeed, they were non-violent on the part of the protesters themselves, but there was plenty of violence on the part of colonizers (those who attempted to silence the protesters). One must only remember the Amritsar massacre or the countless beatings, arrests, and instances of brutality that these “nonviolent” activists needed to endure for the sake of real change; it’s precisely this asymmetrical violence that allowed the world to feel solidarity with the protesters—to garner the attention these leaders needed so badly in order to bring about real changes; without the uneven barbarity, without this violent response from the colonizer, very little would’ve been achieved in terms of real change. The presence of violence is, thus, imperative for any substantial transformation to occur, whether it comes from the protesters themselves or in this case from the hegemon.
Firstly, peaceful protests by themselves (by this I mean the absence of a violent response on the colonizer’s part) have been mostly ineffective, and secondly, are the main forms of revolution that the West prefers. The hippies, for example, and their nonviolent movement was largely tolerated by the government and perhaps even encouraged until the Kent State shootings happened. When violence ended up being used against the movement, the message of peace, love, and pulling out of Vietnam suddenly became a threat to the US government and the previously docile music-loving, marijuana-smoking youngsters at once became public enemy number one—in other words, by forcing the state to commit a violent act, the counterculture effectively managed to put the government’s depravity on full display for the whole world to see; furthermore, only when the state itself was forced to step back and witness its own barbarity did the course of Vietnam really begin to change. According to CNN, “The shootings turned the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War, and some political officials even argued that it played a role in the downfall of the Nixon administration.” It’s unfortunate that governments only listen when their own existence is threatened but that seems to be the recipe at work even with the so-called “nonviolent” protests, which the Kent State one certainly was—again, depending on which perspective you look at it from.
After the shooting, however, the government could no longer ignore the counterculture; their own violent response created a rift in the system that continued to resonate exactly ten years later when Ronald Reagan gave a speech in 1980 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, stating the following: “And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.” Put another way: the hippies caused the government to stab us in the back, for lack of better words, and this great nation could’ve won the war, but it was prevented from doing so by a treacherous entity which didn’t want to see victory.
This sounds awfully close to the stab-in-the-back myth employed by Nazi Germany, which became the widely-held belief in right-wing circles that Germany didn’t lose WWI in the trenches but was betrayed by civilians on the home front, mainly those who overthrew the House of Hohenzollern; not surprisingly, the Jews were also blamed and the connection between this now-discredited myth and the reasons for trying to exterminate an entire race during a subsequent world war aren’t difficult to see.
It’s after all Friedrich Ebert, the first president of Germany, who uttered the following: “No enemy has vanquished you. As you return unconquered from the field of battle, I salute you!” Not far from that discourse is Ronald Reagan, when he said this: “We continue to talk about losing that war. We didn’t lose that war. We won virtually every engagement.” Defeat is the most difficult burden for a nation to bear and it will do anything to avoid it, even, paradoxically, when it’s actually been defeated. A nonviolent protest doesn’t have the power to bring powerful nations like the US to their knees—only war and violence can do that. Hence, both Ebert and Reagan could tolerate dissent so long as they remained victors, but when defeat threatened the existence of their nations, they both resorted to measures of blaming the protesters and dissidents within their respective societies.
It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s now—when the country is once again at a critical juncture—that the NFL is finally admitting it was wrong about Colin Kaepernick, not because they really see racism any differently, but only because they fear an unprecedented backlash from players that could threaten the existence of the entire league. In the end, it all comes down to survival—and money. Whereas before, in more peaceful times, Kaepernick looked like a nuisance disrespecting the US flag, now, in a country governed (if you can call it that) by a deranged president capable of dismantling the entire nation, the very same player has become a beacon for human rights and the NFL has just realized that—a very convenient time to learn that lesson indeed (precisely at a moment when the survival of not simply the entire organization but also the whole country depends on it). Kaepernick’s protest was a peaceful one, precisely what the status quo preferred because it could neutralize him very easily; however, when his actions suddenly contributed to creating a monster that the colonizer could no longer deal with, it was time to make a deal with the devil, so to say, and admit the fault to save your own skin; this is precisely the reason why sometimes only violence brings about real change.
The other convenient rhetoric that the West employs to smother violent discontent which doesn’t serve its own interests is to say that the protesters are damaging property, looting, and have by their very actions turned away from what they’ve been protesting to begin with. Again, this is another devious element of the Western intellectual apparatus, for who’s really the responsible one? Is it not the West and its colonial/capitalist tradition which has exploited, stolen, and corrupted not only societies abroad but their own people? Is it not corporations which employ child-labor in order to maximize profits for themselves?
Indeed, who’s, in fact, responsible for stripping the Third World of its resources and leaving nations to fend for themselves when they no longer have anything to offer the West to steal? Similar to Fanon’s argument about the tolerance of historical German militarism to secure their borders, along with the hypocritical outrage when violence is used by non-Western powers, we can likewise say there’s a double-standard surrounding theft—it’s okay for big corporations to steal from people but when a black person swipes a few Iphones, it suddenly becomes all the rage. For all I know, the protesters haven’t stolen enough, given how long this country has historically exploited the slave labor of African-Americans and continues to make use of a different captivity—child labor overseas, and the good thing about that is that we don’t even have to put them on boats; they can be enslaved right where they are. Who’s the real hooligan, looter, and thief? It’s not the protesters because no revolt can steal on a regional scale the amount that corporations pillage on a global one. We must only remember how the environment is destroyed, how families are exploited, and how developing nations are bankrupted to realize who the “thugs” really are.
Contrary to what the media says, the looting and destruction has just as much to do with the murder of George Floyd as the so-called protest does, because it’s the legacy of capitalism and colonialism that has always disenfranchised minorities—not just racism itself. Colonialism was always motivated by profit, and, in that sense, the destruction of the natives’ society was justified through the socially constructed inferiority which the West imposed on the Third World; thus, it’s impossible to dismantle racism by leaving capitalism untouched because it’s precisely the former which gives the latter justification to steal. As Fanon writes: “It becomes clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” This colonial attitude has permeated to modern society because it’s now the underdeveloped world that’s viewed as poor (and paradoxically ripe for exploitation) and the developed one as rich (but only so because it exploits the abundant resources of the “poor” countries that can’t utilize them effectively due to a global system that only benefits the West). The devastation of a family’s livelihood, earned justly through hard work, is an unfortunate consequence of protest activity, but I have no empathy for the destruction of corporate property, which is accumulated through the exploitation of cheap labor and Third World resources.
Suffice it to say, the US has to burn before the colonial administrators (rich, white Republicans) begin to feel their existential crisis threatened and bring about some real change. As Fanon states: “Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals. Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power.” It’s now beside the point to discuss US foreign policy and its destruction of democracies, such as Guatemala and Chile, among many others, which didn’t align with their economic interests; the only relevant thing, perhaps, in this discourse is that the devastation which this country is currently witnessing isn’t just necessary but also justified. If the US now calls you a terrorist for being against fascism, then it’s better to be a terrorist; after Mussolini fell, we stopped having that problem here in Italy.
At this time, I stand in full solidarity with Black Lives Matter—by any means necessary.
About David Garyan
David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.