Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Trust It: The Right Wing's Insincere Embrace of Black Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement

The role of armed resistance and guns in the Black Freedom Struggle is one of America's hidden histories. The mainline Civil Rights Movement was publicly non-violent: this was essential for Dr. King's strategy of public shaming and provocation. It is also important to note how the Black Freedom Struggle's demands were/are remarkably centrist while simultaneously being radical in opposition to American Apartheid.

If it was widely known by the white American public that the Black Freedom Struggle included a component of armed self-defense (which included the Deacons for Defense, Rob Williams, other groups and individuals, and how even Dr. King's home contained firearms for his own protection) the moral certainty and superiority of the movement over the defenders of Jim and Jane Crow would have been jeopardized.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss that hidden American history during a great conversation with Professor Mark Grimsley on the podcast series for We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN).

Over the last few weeks, the left and right-wing media have discovered the role played by armed resistance in the Civil Rights Movement (and longer Black Freedom Struggle) with the release of Charles Cobb Jr.'s new book This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.

Media as varied as NPR, The Root, Alternet, as well as Right-wing propaganda operations such as Hot Air and Breitbart, have reacted with a mix of surprise, fascination, and joy to Cobb's observation that:
I'm very much concerned with how the history of the southern freedom movement or civil rights movement is portrayed. And, I'm very conscious of the gaps in the history, and one important gap in the history, in the portrayal of the movement, is the role of guns in the movement. I worked in the South, I lived with families in the South. There was never a family I stayed with that didn't have a gun. I know from personal experience and the experiences of others, that guns kept people alive, kept communities safe and all you have to do to understand this is simply think of black people as human beings and they're gonna respond to terrorism the way anybody else would.
The novelty of Cobb's claims about black armed resistance are compelling because they stand against a white washed, childish, and flat version of the Civil Rights Movement, a narrative which robs it of complexity and ignores the radical politics that were the movement's beating heart.

In reality, as part of the long Black Freedom Struggle with origins dating back to the 17th century, the war against Jim and Jane Crow was an insurgency that involved many different actors, agendas, and theaters of struggle.

Americans like simple stories; the effort to fold the Black Freedom Struggle into liberal consensus politics necessitates that some of its aspects are emphasized while others are left as footnotes and books known mostly by historians and archivists.

The Right-wing media's interest in Charles Cobb Jr.'s book This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed reflects a broader political agenda that fetishizes guns and is determined to sacrifice America's children on the altar of the gun gods. However, because contemporary conservatism is mated with white supremacy, such a relationship and idealization of "negroes with guns" does not neatly cohere.

The Gun Right's effort to stop any effort at reasonable gun control--or to treat gun violence as a preventable public health problem--finds cover behind the nobility of the Civil Rights Movement. If lions and American icons such as Brother King, the Freedom Riders, and other resisters can be somehow linked to the gun, then to criticize "gun rights" is "racist", and by extension a crime against human "liberty" and "freedom" as couched in the struggle against Jim and Jane Crow.

The facts are not kind to the Gun Right's insincere efforts to piggy back off of the Black Freedom Struggle. Movement conservatism has embraced the Neo-Confederacy and its language, ideology, and symbolism of Jim and Jane Crow. The white racists in the South are now solidly Republican.

Movement conservatism's racist bonafides in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama are many (see: Birtherism; voter suppression; the Southern Strategy; the embrace of the Confederate Flag; the language of "Secession" and "nullification"; overt white racial appeals and "dog whistle politics"; etc.).

In all, the White Right and the Tea Party GOP of today are more likely to have used guns against African-Americans (and others) who were fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights movement than to have been marching with them.

For example, research on racial attitudes, gun ownership, and concealed carry laws has revealed a clear relationship between symbolic racism and racial animus by whites towards African-Americans. Here, white gun owners and supporters of concealed carry laws are more likely to be racist towards black people.

As a complement to the above findings, it is important to highlight how stand your ground laws are both racist in their application and enforcement, and are part of a long tradition of de jure and de facto rules and practices which empowered and enabled whites in the South and elsewhere to use guns as a means of controlling, terrorizing, and murdering people of color in order to maintain a white supremacist racial order.

Movement conservatives and the Gun Right like the idea of black freedom fighters with guns in the abstract. They do not like "negroes with guns" as neighbors. Nor, does the White Right embrace the principles and goals of the Black Freedom Struggle that armed resistance during the Civil Rights Movement helped to sustain and protect.

The knot of hypocrisy, racism, and conservatism is not easily untied.

Consider the following.

If two black men in the "New Black Panther Party" were a source of white rage and terror on Fox News and throughout the Right-wing media echo chamber, imagine the panic and "threat to national security" hysteria that would be ginned up if Cliven Bundy and his goon squad of "freedom fighters" were African-American.

The Gun Right's sick and twisted fantasies of white masculinity often involve using guns to stop "black" criminals and to suppress "urban uprisings".

As such, the online sewers of the White/Gun Right have produced such gun porn as the widely read "How America's Cities May Explode in Violence" in which "brave" white men with firearms protect suburban domesticity from blood thirsty rioting crowds of blacks and Latinos who are running amok because their food stamps and welfare monies have been suspended by the federal government.

One does not have to think very hard about how the narrative surrounding the Trayvon Martin case would have been inverted by the White Right and the Right-wing echo chamber if Martin was armed and stood his ground against George Zimmerman, a man who hunted down and killed him for the "crime" of walking while black in a white neighborhood.

The Gun Right is part of a network of relationships that comprise movement conservatism in the post civil rights era. This alliance is tied together by hostility and racism towards people of color. A thinking and critical person should be immediately suspicious of any efforts by the White Right to claim ownership over, or to praise, any aspect of the Black Freedom Struggle. Why? The freedom and full equality of African-Americans is antithetical to the deep investment in white supremacy and white privilege which sustains and gives life to movement conservatism and the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama.


Shady Grady said...

I think that one can recognize hypocrisy of many of the NRA supporters who do not like black people one bit while also recognizing that many of the pro-gun control people have no alternative answer to effective means of self-defense other than calling the police.

So just because a right-wing person supports gun rights doesn't mean that I shouldn't support gun rights. I and that hypothetical rightwinger will have different ideas about who the enemy is, that's all. =) Given the history of this nation I think black people in general should be enthusiastic and public supporters of gun ownership.

chauncey devega said...

I am a firm defender in the role of gun rights for black folks. I also support reasonable and common sense gun control laws.

D. Wright said...

Wouldn't these common sense gun control laws disproportionally disarm Black people in practice like most allegedly color blind laws do? In the abstract, SYG would enable Whites and Blacks defend themselves equally, but we all know what would have happened if Trayvon killed Zimmerman. We have common sense gun control in cities as we speak and they are enforced by Stop & Frisk and mass police surveillance of Black and Brown people.

Anti-Blackness is a constant in American civic life. De facto and de jute racism has been defended and To suppose that gun control wouldn't also be applied in a racist manner is already demonstrably false.

chauncey devega said...

You are conflating so many issues here. By that logic there should be no laws because they would disproportionately impact black and brown people.

Gun violence is central cities like Chicago is fueled by drugs and lax gun policies in the burbs. We do not have common sense gun control policies in this country by any stretch of the imagination.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Let's also not forget that the NRA in the 60s supported gun control laws made to target the Black Panthers.

Plantsmantx said...

This is like conservatives telling us we should favor the abolition of "racist" Social Security because we don't tend to live as long (which isn't altogether true), and therefore, don't collect as much as whites.

D. Wright said...

Social Security isn't a prohibition. That is, SS doesn't render the possession and use of particular objects illegal. It's apples to oranges. A more apt analogy is the Drug war.

Plantsmantx said...

I don't own a gun, but if I wanted to, I could. I'm not prohibited.

As for the war on drugs, I'm not opposed to that. I just want it to be an actual war on drugs, and not a war on black people. Similarly, even if Social Security was racist, I wouldn't want to see it abolished.

D. Wright said...

But the drug war is a war on Black people. This is a fact and it will always be a fact until the Drug war ends. Likewise, I very much doubt that gun control laws wouldn't devolve into a war on Black people as well.

A better means of controlling guns is to simply make gun ownership taboo. Most Americans already support more gun control as it is; a media campaign making the dangers of guns well known would make the gun go the way of the cigarette. It may even be more effective, guns don't cause chemical dependency

chauncey devega said...

Conflating issues as a foundational principle for making a claim is not a smart move. Parsimony is your friend. Remember, garbage in garbage out as they say.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

You have touched so many correct points, that I will try to add one other. I have Cobb's book, but I have not yet read it. I did finish reading Johnson's Negroes and the Gun. His discussion of the relationship between African Americans and weapons pointed to a central tension in the Freedom Movement for several decades--the at times fine and fuzzy line between legitimate self-defense and political violence. The latter was opposed.

The right-wing has tried to co-opt the Civil Rights Movement through its mindless adoption of color-blind racism. Thus, they try to portray themselves as the heir to the movement and Rev Dr King, Jr.

Their ideologues have always linked gun ownership to self-ownership and cited research going back to the Freedman's Bureau.

But, there is an immense difference between supporting gun ownership for legitimate self-defense--even community self-defense against white terrorism--and political violence directed against the federal government.

The gun rights absolutist movement has gone well beyond gun ownership for legitimate self-defense. They have what is called an "insurrectionary" interpretation of the Second Amendment. That is, they believe the amendment gives them the right to revolution and secession and nullification and the overthrow of an illegitimate government. Their objective in fostering gun ownership and opposing all sensible gun control is only incidental to legitimate self-defense. Dig deeper and deeper into the NRA, Gun Owners of America, Alan Gottlieb's groups, and you will find direct and indirect support to the formation of Patriot militias.

CDV is absolutely correct to point out that one cannot take a single issue that involves the right-wing in the context of that issue. You must look at the correlates of that issue in terms of other organizations, linked ideological positions, propaganda campaigns, personnel, and strategies.

And, CDV is absolutely correct that at the root is white supremacy in the specific form of the supremacy of white, conservative, fundamentalist Christian men--the totality of their biblical worldview.

D. Wright said...

You'll need the luck far more than I. Common sense laws require a super majority in the most do-nothing congress in American history and the signature of a right of center president who knows there are thousands of American who are looking for any excuse to kill him and overthrow the government.

Who defines "respectability" in the realm of gun ownership, or common sense for that matter? It's loaded language fashioned to all but guarantee agreement with the writer/speaker.

D. Wright said...

Perhaps conflating is the wrong word, and I shouldn't have analogized. Nevertheless, Anti-Blackness isn't an issue, it's a constant we have to live with. To propose legislation without taking that constant into account is reckless at best and has often lead to disaster.

Plantsmantx said...

...not only that, but the NRA was established specifically to protect former slaves in the South. It's true. Black conservatives say so.

Shady Grady said...

What additional regulations on gun ownership would you like to see implemented at the federal level?

Plantsmantx said...

I'd like to see more effective background checks, and I'd like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated. It's not a matter of wanting a lot of additional regulations on gun ownership at the federal level. It's a matter of not wanting to the existing ones abolished. I mean, that's basically what's really going on, isn't it? The government isn't trying to impose more and more onerous restrictions. The gun lobby is trying to abolish more and more reasonable existing restrictions.

Shady Grady said...

Hmm. Ok. I have not been involuntarily committed to psychiatric care nor have I ever been convicted of any crime. I am a US citizen of age. I want to buy a gun. What more effective checks can we impose to weed out someone who intends to do harm? In my state, unlike say NY, you don't need permission from the police force to get a concealed carry license. Should police or other individuals be able to veto non-criminal purchase or guns or licenses to carry?

The AWB was meaningless legislation. It was essentially symbolic. Pro-gun people would point to legislation signed by NY Gov Cuomo or that which exists in California as exactly the opposite of "reasonable". Which is kind of my point. Everyone agrees on "reasonable" restrictions. Nobody agrees on what "reasonable" truly means.

chauncey devega said...

"Should police or other individuals be able to veto non-criminal purchase of guns or licenses to carry?"

Yup. The law is by definition a community coming together to decide what norms are appropriate.

As I have said on another post, I favor mandatory gun insurance, mental health checks--you would have to get a certificate of sanity to own a gun, and mandatory training classes. I would also institute a mandatory 3 to 6 month waiting period. I would also institute a gun buyback program where after a fair amount of time violators of the new rules would face serious fines and or imprisonment. The National Gun registry would need to be updated and made instantaneous. I would also not allow private transfers of guns between people. Both parties would have to go to the police or the gun DMV.

Unless you are a certified vendor or collector with the appropriate insurance, people would be limited to no more than 1 pistol and 1 long rifle. No assault rifles could be sold to the general public.

Shady Grady said...

Not going to happen in this country.

chauncey devega said...

I know.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Well, the Republican Party was the party pushing for greater racial equality and expansion of public institutions back then. Now, not so much. Like the GOP, the NRA has become an entirely different animal from how it started.