Oh, We Rioted Too

I stepped onto an elevator at work today and caught the end of a conversation:

“…and now that they’re burning down the businesses in their own neighborhood, they’ll have to go even farther–with their hands out!…Hey, Ashley!”

I was ashamed of myself. In the trip between one floor, I couldn’t think of what to say to these caregivers. Yes, I work in a place where kindness is the norm and we treat everyone who walks in the door in need of help.

I couldn’t find my voice in that instant to call out what I had heard.

I saw the same comments on Facebook that you did, the ones asking, “Why are they burning and looting? What good will that do?”¬†One commentor even stated, “White people didn’t riot when OJ was acquitted.”

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Demonstrations in 1995 after the Simpson criminal-trial verdict split along racial lines. This one was held in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Yes, yes we did.

The difference is, we had a nice safe place to express our rage. White people owned the media outlets. We raged and rioted on TV so much that we created the 24-hour news cycle.

That’s the thing I have learned about rage–it will be expressed through whatever means are available to you. If you have the microphone, the chair, the podium, there are plenty of outlets for your rage. If a stone is the only means of power available to you, you will use that.

A Palestinian boy doesn’t throw a rock because it is photogenic. A lone man doesn’t face down a Chinese tank with a grocery bag to be poignant. A furious man in Ferguson doesn’t tip over a car because a camera is there to capture the shot. Those are expressions of simply not being able to take it one second longer. Looking around for something that translates fury into power. And using it.

Do I think it’s right? Of course not. But sometimes it’s the only tool at hand.

16 thoughts on “Oh, We Rioted Too

  1. Stephanie

    I appreciate your kindness and sympathy in the situation, Ashley. I wish we all could just be people–I have no idea why the color of our skin should matter any more than the color of our shirt. But I have to say, you know this, but for anyone else reading: My brother was killed by gun violence at a school. Countless others have been since. And we continue to rage quietly to against a government powered by a lobby group with more money and power than we have. Yet, we don’t “storm the castle.” Not quite sure I agree with you here. Violence just isn’t the answer. Ever.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I hear you, Stephanie. I don’t think violence is a solution to any situation. This essay is about acknowledging that I understand why a furious group would choose that option. To use your image, “storming the castle” isn’t the right course. But in a racist society, neither is sitting inside the castle and wondering why those people out there feel so unsafe when we think ourselves perfectly safe.

      A parallel between Ferguson’s fury and the fury of victims of gun violence hadn’t crossed my mind when I wrote this. It’s a valid comparison. Of course you see that because of your life experience–I apologize if the idea caught you off guard, and I appreciate you speaking your truth. Working within the system, as in opposing the gun lobbies that control our country, works if you have a place inside the system. I don’t think anyone rioting in Ferguson feels like the system is open to them.

      I agree with you 100% on gun control measures. I had to sit at dinner tonight and explain to Vivi why she would never have a toy gun (she was explaining how she would use one to shoot noodles) and how just this week a kid was shot while holding a toy gun. It has to stop.

      I love you for disagreeing in peace and finding a way to speak your truth with kindness and empathy. Peace to you, my friend. You’re going to be a kickass pastor.

      Reply
  2. Nic Nac Paddywack

    I am so grateful you shared this link on Awesomely Luvvie’s page. Because this post is everything. I want to be really clear… all black people are not condoning the violence in Ferguson. We are not. But some of us do understand the rage, the frustration and the helpless feeling that is being expressed this way. It is as though a segment of people are rendered mute — not because their tongues don’t work, but because others don’t hear.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I’m glad you came by. My worst anxiety dream is the one where I’m talking and no one hears me. But for me, that’s a dream because I am a middle class white woman with the right kind of accent. There’s a huge difference in condoning and understanding.

      Reply
  3. Mary Barrett

    The “why” we fear “not like me” is deeply ingrained in our DNA. Apparently the ones that were afraid of “unfamiliar” and eliminated it, survived to pass along the trait. Overcoming such an ingrained instinct is, indeed a “long road” and often a sad one. Overriding instinct takes a reasoning mind that isn’t usually in charge when we feel threatened.
    I am reminded of the song from South Pacific about carefully teaching our young regarding what or whom to fear. “They must be carefully taught.” That goes both ways and our world seems to sway toward violence and fear. Just look at video games, etc. That’s what our young are being taught.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      It’s one reason I’m glad my kids are in public school–they are way more familiar with the wide world (of our little town) than I ever was.

      Reply
  4. joanneinjax

    I appreciate your heartfelt essay. As a privileged white child growing up in another southern city with obvious racial barriers, I was blessed to be raised by liberal parents (an anomaly is our neighborhood). I thought the injustices I saw in the 60’s would be a thing of the past in this century, if I lived that long. I have, and the current atmosphere saddens me deeply. I am disheartened by the amount of vitriol spewing from all directions.
    They shot a ‘kid’ yesterday here during a daylight traffic stop. We elected our first ever black mayor a couple of years ago (I was stunned, though of course, I voted for him). Apparently, our local rednecks and tea-baggers don’t vote, and only become vocal after the fact. It seems as if his election only made the divide widen.
    It’s Thanksgiving, and I am grateful. But, saying I’m grateful to have a home, in a safe neighborhood (same one I lived growing up), that we have food on our table and somewhat of a safety net, seems lame in the face of the issues we face as a community and nation. Maybe we all need to think about what we can do that others will be grateful for next Thanksgiving.
    (PS: Just recently found your blog and love your stories. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.)

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Thanks for speaking up, Joanne. I hope we are telling different kinds of stories in the years to come. Then again, I need to do less hoping and more working!

      Reply

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