Friday, July 12, 2013

But If You Stop Being Oppressed That's Oppressing ME!

So I watched Spike Lee's Malcolm X yesterday, which I had somehow missed seeing before.

At three hours and 33 minutes, it's an extremely long movie, but excellent -- even essential -- watching.  This isn't a review of the film, though.

No, I want to talk about one scene, which appears in the last hour of the movie.

Malcolm X the man is vilified by many, especially those on the Right, for statements he made about black Nationalism, and about white people's actions and behaviors (some of which statements he recanted later in life). He was dogged by the (white) media of the time, though, which found one thing he had said especially egregious: his insistence that black people ought to defend themselves when they were attacked: that black people should fight back, with violence, if necessary.

This went contrary to the ethos of the time; and indeed it goes contrary to the ethos of our time. White people are allowed and in fact are lauded for defending themselves against scary black people (see Trayvon Martin et al); but if a black person even raises their voice, they're scary, dangerous thugs.

During the Civil Rights Movement, non-violent resistance was hugely instrumental in gaining the attention and the approval of the whites who held power.  See?  These black people aren't scary.  They don't fight back no matter what we do to them. See?  They preach love no matter how much we hurt them.  See? I guess we can give them a few rights...maybe.

Malcolm X said something else. He said black people shouldn't love the whites, because the white had done evil things. He said black people should hate the white people for what they had done to the black people. He said the black people should not try reconciliation, they should not ask for rights, they should take rights.

And he said they should fight back.  They should take up arms -- which was their right, under the Constitution -- and defend themselves when they were attacked. (As his family had been attacked by the KKK when he was a child; as he had seen black families attacked over and over, by police and by white mobs, all his life.) For this, he was called an extremist.

In the key scene in the movie, Malcolm X is asked whether he "still" argues that black people should arm themselves. Exasperated, he says that yes, they should use guns in defense of their homes and their families, the same way, he adds, any white person would if their home was under attack.

Yes, they should fight back.  Yes, by any means necessary.

In self-defense, he would always say: I mean in self-defense.  Just like your white compatriots would defend your homes if they were attacked.

"Then you're an extremist!" he is accused.

A black person who argues, who fights back, who raises his voices -- who acts like a white man -- is always accused of acting like a radical.  Getting out of line.  Going too far. Being just too dangerous.

Here is Fred Clark, over at Patheos, talking about why this reaction occurs among the oppressor -- why, that is, Malcolm X and people like him scare the people in power so much.

Fred argues that it is because the empowered know what they have been doing.  They know they have done, and are doing harm. They know they hate and resentment they would feel if someone had enslaved them and their people, robbed and beaten and raped them and their people, for all those centuries, been unjust to their people like that for all that time.

So they find it difficult to believe that all Malcolm X wants at this point, all that the LGBT people want, all the feminists want,  is a level playing field -- is justice.  Is to be left in peace to live our lives without their boot on our necks.

Fred argues that this is why the empowered are so terrified of taking the boot off the neck of those they're oppressing.  They KNOW they would -- if it were their boot under the neck -- be unable to keep from knocking their oppressor down and beating the crap out of him, and they cannot believe we won't do the same.

That we want justice alone?  That's not a thing they can believe in.

And -- since they have for so long run this world without justice, since they have never even dreamed of a just world -- you can see why that would be so.

(Edited for clarity).

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