By NAPOLEON BRADFORD
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” – President John F. Kennedy
This week has been a very overwhelming week, locally, nationally and internationally. So much has been going on that allowed the emotional rollercoaster of our lives to reach heights and depths that had previously been unreached. We have been enraged and in tears of sorrow at the same time. We have seen the evil and wicked hearts and acts of many. We have seen their inner thoughts be expressed in Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram comments and even comments and commentary under news broadcasts.
What began as the senseless televised deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ended up being delayed arrests, hesitant charges and slow system reactions when blatant evidence was given. This then evolved into an emotional expression against systemic racism and blatant injustice in the form of protests. These protests have been taking place all over in varying degrees that has also been the topic of conversation and critique. To what degree and definition should protest be allowed? The answer to that varies depending on who you ask.
Oppression leads to trauma. Being oppressed causes trauma, and the oppressor cannot control the trauma that comes from being oppressed. The oppressor can also not try to control the healing of the oppressed because their only knowledge of the hurt caused by the oppression is from their vantage point as oppressor but not the underlying damage experienced by the oppressed.
The reality is no one can fully understand the pain and trauma of another person. We can sympathize, meaning to feel compassion for, or we can empathize, meaning to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, but that is simply an estimation based on our own lens. Because you can’t fully understand my trauma, you can’t fully understand my response to trauma. Any attempt to try to contain my response to trauma is also oppression.
What we are witnessing is the varying responses of healing through the expression of hurt. Protest is therapy, and protest is transformational. But what we can’t negate is protest is necessary. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “The sin by silence when protest is necessary makes cowards of men.” In other words, it is just as oppressive to not allow protest as it is to try to control protest. What is different in this case is the degree and definition of this season of protests. What is so different?
First, the perspectives of the protests are different. Many are saying that it doesn’t take all of the looting and destruction, or the long nights, the burning, but what does it take? Historically, protests involved these items dating back to the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. Even the civil rights marches that had nonviolent protestors were met by violent acts of water hoses, dogs and police beatings. This is nothing new, yet it is a part of the process that must be experienced until it is treated. It is out of this violence and burning that birthed a nation, though it came as a result of war. A harsh reality to accept is this – if situations were perfect there would be no need for protest. If matters were handled properly in the beginning, there would be no need for protest. If there was no unrest, then there would be no need for uprising!
Second, participation in the protest is different. Social media and up-to-the minute broadcasting is allowing us to see in real-time the breadth and width of the protests. We are seeing protests take place in every state and on every continent in the world. We are also being able to control the narrative of the protests. We see an international and intercultural gathering of people from all backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and beliefs coming together for a common purpose. We are seeing unity in the midst of criticized chaos. We are also able to recognize opportunists, who are using these moments to push their own agendas and be disruptive, but that can’t take away from the bigger picture of these protests. Again, the oppressor no longer controls the narrative, and as a result, we are seeing community forming for the purpose of change. It can’t be ignored, it can’t be rescripted, and it can’t be overlooked. These publicized protests are powerful demonstrations of what can be done when we come together under an umbrella of common pain!
Thirdly, the pacing of these protests is different. In the past, protests were well planned in the basement of churches, under the cover of night and were systematically thought out. That was the story of the Civil Rights Movement and even some other movements prior to April 6. 2016. What happened then? Facebook launched Facebook Live! This allowed for real-time commentary to be shared on social media for the public to see and comment on. Now we have a generation that has immediate access to information, commentary and planning. We no longer have to wait for a designated place to meet; we can create a Facebook Live or a Zoom room and meet instantaneously. This technology has changed the pace for planning, especially to a prior generation of protestors that were used to set days and times for meetings and following the by-laws of their established groups. In 2020, groups are formed in seconds, decisions are made on the fly, and movements are launched successfully in minutes. It was Facebook Live that exposed wrongful death from Walter Scott in Charleston to George Floyd in Minneapolis. This new pace of protests is also allowing a new generation to think that their leaders are not actively engaged, but the reality is they are, but maybe not to the pace needed by this new group of protestors.
The revolution will be televised, and it’s an old revolution with a new platform of influence and exposure! We still want freedom, not on the terms of the oppressor but the freedom experienced by the oppressor in fact we want to no longer need to use those terms in our vernacular, for if we are all created in God’s image, then we are all the same! The oppressor shouldn’t have to “Show the love of Jesus,” for the love of Jesus makes us all free!
Napoleon A. Bradford, D.Min., is the lead shepherd of The L.I.F.E. Center: A Cyber Community of CHRIST Followers.