"What It's Like", Everlast
Do you know the backstory of Paul Revere's ride or the Liberty Bell or the first American flag? As we sift through collected American history, we find that maybe not all of it actually happened. George Washington probably didn't chop down the cherry tree or throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. There's more. Beneath many of the cultural values people hold in the United States is a single myth: the myth of redemptive violence, or the idea that order [good] must triumph over chaos [evil] by means of violence. Thus, violence is good because it leads to greater good. It is the myth that powers patriarchy, imperialism, and racism.
Let's examine racism through the lens of redemptive violence. Specifically, I want to consider how anti-blackness is fueled by the idea that violence is for someone's own good. But let's put it simply. In nearly every hero story in comic books and movies, one thing happens: good guys kill bad guys. That sounds familiar, right? Superman has Lex Luthor. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have The Foot. When they destroy their enemies, they are righteous because their enemies represent unalloyed evil. They are taking a shortcut to justice. There is no lengthy court procedure of due process.
The failure of due process is one of the things that has been bothering me for months, as I consider the murders of black people at the hands of police and the ensuing no-indictments. But through the lens of redemptive suffering, I can see that these people who take black lives with impunity are acting on their belief that they are the good guys; to hold this belief and act on it to the point of murder, they must simultaneously hold that black people are bad and that destroying them is not a bad act because, unless they are destroyed chaos will triumph. That's sick and evil, under any definition I can conceive. Within the context of a cut-and-dried hero myth, the gunfighters or vigilantes serve a specific purpose: they break the law,
"betray[ing] a profound distrust of democratic institutions and on the reliance on human intelligence and civic responsibility that are basic to democratic hope. It regards the general public as passive and unwise, incapable of discerning evil and making a rational response."
-Walter Wink in Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination
So while they assert that their actions are essential to the guarding of liberty, they are, in fact, villainizing black people to make them a foil of the hero myth and to allow themselves to continue to concentrate power among themselves.
So what does it mean? It's a clear explanation to me of why our society looks the way it looks. What to do about it may vary from person to person, but we must begin by looking at the way we embrace violence and the way we are complicit in projecting that [anti-blackness] on black people. You can approach the problem of anti-black racism from lots of angles. Given your gifts and interests, pick something. Do it. Do it with all your heart. Challenge the idea that violence can solve anything. It's really important. It's really important that you do it now.