Nonviolence As Racism

posted by Mike on June 24th, 2008

I find this article from the Cleveland Catholic Worker to be deeply stupid: Nonviolence As Racism.

It jumps from a mild claim–that sometimes people promote nonviolence in a racist way–to extreme conclusions.

“. . . the system that white people have built to benefit us and only us — our courts, our laws, our whole political system . . . .”

Isn’t it racist (or perhaps just ignorant) to claim “the system” in this country is exclusively white? Haven’t people of all races and genders contributed, albeit to a lesser extent than white men, for both good and ill?

“As white radicals, we need to stand in solidarity with all liberation movements –regardless of the tactics they chooses.”

Really? If some ethnic group in the Balkans decides to use mass rape to liberate what they see as their homeland, should I support that? As someone whose ethics are based on my understanding of the teaching of Christ, I would find that hard to do.

“Criticizing ‘insurgents’ in Iraq who use any means necessary to combat the occupation and the white colonization of their land is racist.”

Can I criticize the methods they use to combat colonization by non-whites? What about that chunk of insurgency that’s about international smuggling and other crime rather than human freedom? Can I criticize their violence? What if I’m not close enough to the insurgency to tell the difference?

“Promotion the nonviolent struggles of King and Gandhi as if they were our own, commending these movements while criticizing other struggles for choosing other tactics is racist.”

I don’t want to dismiss the corrosive effects of white privilege, but are King and Gandhi on the other side of some absolute wall from me? Can’t I promote King’s philosophy as that of a fellow Christian American, while keeping in mind that he was to some extent struggling against my grandparents? Can’t I promote Gandhi’s struggle as that of a fellow inheritor of British imperial culture and a fellow human being? Isn’t linking my effort to theirs, despite their non-whiteness, in the spirit of them linking their efforts to Thoreau and Tolstoy?

“because this structure and the systems it creates are the real source of violence in this world.”

Why not claim the source of all violence is based in gender rather than race, or in Original Sin, or in power imbalances that predate “whiteness,” or in class, or in the fundamental orneriness of people? Why not acknowledge that the roots of violence are complex, and explore that complexity, rather than indulging in this breathtaking reductionism?

Personally, I think we should encourage everyone to practice nonviolence. We shouldn’t be racist about it, but we shouldn’t let our fears of promoting it imperfectly keep us from promoting it. We should keep struggling to love while helping others to do the same.

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4 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On June 24, 2008 at 10:44 Andrew Flynn said:

    Well put and thank you for this.

  2. On June 24, 2008 at 12:52 Mike said:

    Another response from a Michael who is not me.

  3. On July 2, 2008 at 12:22 Bill said:

    Your comments are racist.

  4. On July 14, 2008 at 21:05 Paul Giaimo said:

    Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is one thinker who stresses that the recognition of difference as a fundamental aspect of identity, ie, honoring the tactics of an other people, is only good to the degree to which it acknowledges their dignity, their highest possible good. Supporting a violent revolution in no way dignifies the oppressed perpetrator of violence. The Cleveland CW and “Bill” beg the question of whether such tactics are indeed justifiable, or whether they render the perpetrators, white or no, empowered with retaliatory nukes or disempowered, to be better people or whether they reduce the agents to murderous animals. The struggle to conquer hate in one’s own heart for one’s enemy is everyone’s.


    ps- Great pix Mike B, thanks.

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