I am a white person. I am also male. Some people would immediately dismiss my opinion on that basis, but they would be wrong to because prejudice is wrong. Like all decent people, I am appalled by racism and prejudice in general, but I see the behaviour and reactions of many people (although well-intentioned rage) causing more division, not easing the problem. In fact, they are only fanning the flames of conflict.
When I was six years old I kissed a girl – we climbed under a desk in the empty classroom. We held hands and for a brief moment kissed. Her name was Serena. She was an Indian British girl. She was dark brown with jet black hair, and I loved her. I didn’t care about the fact that she looked different from the other girls. Everything about her was wonderful and fortunately for me she liked me too. Less than a year later I moved to another county, a new school, got on with my life, and I never saw her again.
In 1990 I went to Connecticut, USA to work in a summer camp for 4 months just outside a minuscule rural town. During this time our sports coach, who was black, was refused service in the only decent diner available. Despite the disappointing loss of good food, every single person who attended the camp or worked there boycotted this diner from that day onwards. After the job ended, myself and several friends visited this same sports coach in Harlem at his home, which he had kindly invited us to do. What happened to him was not discussed again. There was no need to. We all understood.
Later that autumn I visited the King Centre in Atlanta – 4 white Europeans, feeling distinctly under-dressed amongst all the otherwise African American and mostly very smartly dressed people. I already knew a fair bit about Martin Luther King and his legacy but that day I learned that there had been 32 attempts to kill him over a 10 year period, the last, of course, which took his life. Despite the full knowledge that he would eventually be killed, MLK continued his work relentlessly for his people and for all people around the world who suffer injustice and prejudice. He refused to succumb to negativity, violence, vengefulness and retained his dignity to the end.
Even those who thought he was misguided such as Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X, respected his position. They were not filled with hate either. They sought freedom for the African American and all humanity. Listening to their speeches it becomes abundantly clear that their end goal was the same as King’s – the end of division, hatred, inequality, injustice and a unified future for humanity.
King’s predecessor, Mohandas Gandhi in India, was a exponent of non-violent resistance, which King enthusiastically took up. Years after King’s death, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, came to realise that he could not defeat a stronger enemy through force and went on to achieve his astounding success through non-violent resistance and a peaceful transition.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a crossroads for humanity but it only achieved a partial victory. King and his colleagues demonstrated to America and the world that African Americans were more civilised, more intelligent and more humane than the people that sought to destroy them. They met their oppressors with resistance but a resistance based in love of humanity, not the resistance of vengeance and hatred. The same crossroads was reached in South Africa – as with King, the dignity of Mandela and his colleagues was irrefutable but again this was not a total victory.
We are now at a crossroads once again – the tragic murder of an African American man by police, captured on video, has sparked outrage across the world, not just in America but everywhere and we are at a pivotal point where the civil rights movement could come to its conclusion or remain unresolved.
At this crossroads humanity can choose to tackle this ongoing disgrace or to ignore it. We can choose to tackle it with intelligence, compassion and dignity to achieve a new era of cooperation and understanding through non-violent resolution. We can also choose to tackle this through violent insurrection, looting, rioting, vandalism and murder. While vengeful behaviour may be totally understandable, we must ask will it achieve a fairer and more just future? Or will it just perpetuate negative cycles?
I do not believe that violent solutions will bring anything other than more violence, more hatred and continued conflict. We have an opportunity to make a real change at this point in time. All good people of conscience need to stand up and be counted for what is right and I believe that what is right is non-violent resistance to the failings of the system. The heroes of the civil rights movement were largely non-violent but they were far from cowards; in fact, they were brave enough to risk their lives for freedom and justice and many of them lost their lives in that fight.
To undermine their work and sully their legacy with a wave of violence and retribution will not help those who suffer from racism or any form of oppression. We need to be smarter than that. If we want a better future, a better world we need to achieve unity of purpose and mutual understanding. Resorting to the basest instincts of humanity will not elevate us to a better place, it will only bring more pain. This fight against racism must be won, but it can only be won by taking the higher ground and maintaining the dignity that all humans should aspire to.