On Refraining from Violence

5 mins read
Photo credit: Matthew T Rader via Wikimedia Commons

Time and again, liberal citizenship and authoritarian governance have functioned as two sides of the same coin.

This is uniquely clear when we examine the experiences of Yellow and other non-Black-non-white people in the United States:

When our success is convenient to American narratives of multiculturalism and progress, we—Asian Americans, immigrant Americans, refugees—are celebrated as “model minorities.”

But when the U.S. perceives “foreign” influence as a threat to American hegemony—that is, a threat to the violent racism & capitalist exploitation that those pretty narratives of multiculturalism are meant to disguise—the lie of liberal citizenship consistently gives way to the authoritarian force of the government on its own people.

Hence Japanese internment. And hence present-day deportation.

Needless to say that unlike us, Black people in America have rarely been given the dubious honor of “model” citizenship. Quite the opposite.

But as people of all kinds turn up in the streets to challenge American hegemony, elements of state power from the federal to local levels are now becoming less and less timid about playing “Good Citizen, Bad Citizen” with any and all subjects who voice dissent, no matter how “peaceful”:

Our President has, with great effect, ordered the use of force on peaceful protesters. 

Police, not protesters, have been “overwhelmingly responsible for attacking journalists.” 

And most frighteningly, heavily armed and unidentifiable federal agents from the Bureau of Prisons have been seen patrolling protests. As labor requested by the Federal Government, these agents face no accountability if they hurt you or your loved ones. 

Readers, let’s stop getting faked. There is a simple name for what’s going on. And that name is fascism.

So the fixation in American discourse about whether protestors are or are not being, should or should not be, violent—including the well-meaning among us insisting that most protestors are being peaceful—is completely beside the point. By proliferating opinions about the behavior of citizens, we are obscuring one important fact about the historical and real behavior of our state:

It feels entitled to violence whenever it wants.

Of course, this fact is clear to Black people on a daily basis. Now that it’s become unavoidably clear to non-Black people too, what are we gonna do about it?

The real question to keep in mind is not whether citizens should (have) refrain(ed) from violence, but whether the state has done so. What are we going to do—who will we prove ourselves to be—when the state does not refrain from violence: against dissenters this afternoon, undocumented immigrants today, Black people again and again?

Not that I as an academic am any exemplar of effective activism, but here are some things I have done that you might consider doing too:

Donate frequently and consistently (not just when you read this and feel guilty) towards ending police brutality via the National Police Accountability Project and Campaign Zero.

Bail out protestors across the country.

Support black grassroots organizations.

Push your skepticism about the movement to #defundthepolice by considering all the myriad tasks given to overworked cops that could be better fulfilled by medical professionals or other members of your community. Start reading more about alternatives to policing.

Make realistic, healthy, and sustainable plans to have real conversations with people you love who don’t support the movement for black lives, are in the NYPD, and/or profess apathy towards  “politics”.

Finally, if you can, put your body out there—but with a contingency plan for if and when your peaceful self gets tear-gassed, beaten, or arrested.

Whatever you do, refrain from just skimming that “anti-racist” self-help reading list.


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