Nonviolence: using peaceful means rather than force, especially to bring about political or social change
Nonviolence, in Dr. King’s words, Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth… So the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
Dr. King’s death was widely reported as an assassination, carried out by a sniper, a lone gunman, who was a white man (or men, if you follow one of many conspiracy theories, as did King’s family.)
In the shadow of the death of Dr. King, who had unparalleled command of language, voice, and delivery, I feel called upon to simply place the following words and their definitions in proximity to one another.
We may identify these words with quite different historical periods. Let time collapse into this historical moment. This moment. Today. As you reflect, let these words talk to one another:
Violence: behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. In law: the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force
Sniper: a person who shoots from a hiding place, especially accurately and at long range
Assassination: the murder of an important person in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.
Terrorism: the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
Lynching: kill (someone) for an alleged offense without a legal trial, especially by hanging
Segregation: the act or policy of separating people of different races, religions or sexes and treating them in a different way
Mass incarceration: the imprisonment of a large proportion of a population, used in particular with reference to the significant increase in the rate.
Slavery: the practice or system of owning persons as legal property who are forced to obey their owners.
Institutional racism: racial discrimination that has become established as normal behaviour within a society or organization
White supremacy: the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society
Jim Crow: the former practice of segregating black people in the US; an implement for straightening iron bars or bending rails by screw pressure.
Redlining: refusal to give loans or insurance to people in an area that is considered to be a bad financial risk
White privilege: inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice
(Note: definitions according to the Oxford English Dictionary)
For myself, I find the significance of each word
is illumined by the others.
I am better able to take in each word as
the timeless/time-bound piece of reality it is,
when amongst the others.
I take these words together to be the still
unaddressed lineage of our country.
It is long past time to own up to our long history
of behaviors intended to hurt, damage, or kill.
May our reflections open us to insight and inspire us to action.
P. S. Historical note on the concept of race
THE HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF RACE… AND WHY IT MATTERS Audrey Smedley, Professor of Anthropology Emerita Virginia Commonwealth University, 2007, American Anthropological Association.
“In the middle of the 20th century, a new generation of historians began to take another look at the beginnings of the American experience. They spent decades exploring all of the original documents relating to the establishment of colonies in America. What these scholars discovered was to transform the writing of American history forever. Their research revealed that our 19th and 20th century ideas and beliefs about races did not in fact exist in the 17th century. Race originated as a folk idea and ideology about human differences; it was a social invention, not a product of science. Historians have documented when, and to a great extent, how race as an ideology came into our culture and our consciousness.”
Photo of segregated drinking fountain taken at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, October, 2016