I’ve had a few conversations about this, and so I thought I ought record an outline of the difference between creation and surfacing.

One of the biggest demons that marginalized folk encounter in the fight for liberation is the classic refrain of childhood: “But you started it!”

Sadly enough, this is often enough to gain the consensus of oppressor folks who retreat into an understanding of the people they harm as being upstarts and troublemakers. Laid out with great eloquence in Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” the operation of this idea is one of privilege, and is fundamentally unjust.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

The precise point at which a system is shown to be bankrupt by the harm it inflicts is the same moment in which adherents to the system must vilify the marginalized in order to retain their identity as subjects to a proper order. To get this reaction is a mixed blessing. The anger is indicative that the creation of tension is occurring. But it is also the most dangerous time.

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The fallacy is elaborated as the “moderate” parties seek to advise the radical. An excerpt from my response to a conservative who objected to my support of queer advocates protesting schools with exclusionary policies against queers.

And it’s all absurd. You expect me to be taking tactical advice from someone who doesn’t want me to succeed? The soft sell approach has almost no advantage to me, and offers indefinite success to persons who are opposed to queer rights. You protest the disruption that is being surfaced and revealed by Soulforce, but seem to say little about the disruptions being created and enforced by those schools on a daily basis. The immediate crisis of the riders is not about them, it is about a Church that has failed to constructively address this issue on it’s own.

I borrow so heavily from the discourse of civil rights not only because i feel affinity for it, but I believe it to be one of the few available sources for counter-legitimation in this country. The moral authority of King is largely unquestioned, although his work is badly misunderstood. I consistently hear about how my work should be “more like” Martin’s, in that I should be quietist, passive, and avoidant. One interloquator even reccomended the boycott stratagem because that would avoid being in the places of discrimination, and thus be a kinder and gentler form of social protest. I nearly spat blood as I tried to find the words to explain the utterly asinine nature of those remarks.

Sadly, even the vaunted civil rights movement is so forgotten as to be reapropriated by the domination system that opposed it in the first place. When I see “content of their character” used by white supremist types opposing affirmative action, I want to scream. However, despair may be premature. Reteaching, recalling, and recreating the history of the civil rights movement may retake Martin’s public figure, one largely created by faulty memory of a safe and friendly movement of long suffering folks who never did anything subversive…and thus hijack the politically cannonized figure so that the real saint might be known.

-sly

Advertisements