Successful resistance movements throughout history have relied on disruptive or violent protest to overcome oppression.
The US Civil Rights Movement, the Arab Spring and our very own Soweto Uprising are all good examples.
Non-violent protest has been romanticised by the west, but theorists like Arundhati Roy argue that Non-violence is only effective when a middle class is available to witness it.
The assumption behind Non-violence is that the middle class will see it as a performance and be compelled to lean on their own power to make changes to the socioeconomic landscape.
The problem comes in when the middle class to respond to non-violent protest. Sometimes the middle class is preoccupied. Sometimes it doesn’t even exist. Sometimes it’s neither, but simply uninvested in a struggle which aims to dismantle the same structures which privilege it.
In this case, pacifism is redundant. Fundamental to understanding militant resistance is to recognise the difference between arbitrary, destructive violence and militancy which aims to break down oppressive structures. Also important are the Black feminism movements which teach violence as a tactic to achieve liberation, not a philosophy. Colonial and neocolonial oppression against People of Colour provide a context that justifies an uprising.
“The debate about armed resistance versus non-violence, that one is moral and one is immoral, is really absurd, because…it’s immoral for [middle class] people who are in Delhi to tell a person whose village is being surrounded by a thousand security guards and burned and the women are being raped to be non-violent. It’s an immoral suggestion unless you are willing to go there and act in their defence.” – Arundhati Roy
It’s common to hear people say that they support the cause but not the means of a movement, the obvious example being the 2016 student protest for free, decolonised education. The white knee-jerk reaction is to cue reference to Martin Luther King Jr or Mohandas Gandhi, expressions of contempt for violent resistance.
The reality is that neocolonial capitalism requires a large population to be denied basic human rights. Because of this, the critique of violent protest by the oppressor is disingenuous at best and doesn’t offer any valid alternative solution. White people often condemn the inconvenience imposed on them by disruptive protest but are inherently blind to the sustained inconvenience and disempowerment which affects PoC. The protest is designed to draw attention to those normalised conditions that are silently embedded in and protected by our law. To stand by while systems continue to violently oppress and exclude PoC, but speak out when they rise up against those systems is to be complacent with suffering that isn’t our own.
If it is the violence that we are against with such conviction, why don’t we condemn the perpetual violence of the status quo?
The legacy of Apartheid is measurable. It can be seen access to healthcare, housing, sanitation, and most notably – education. It can be seen in Eurocentric uniform policies and standards of beauty and intelligence. It can be seen in dominant languages, income disparities and misallocated funds. We as white people may not have invented these phenomena, but by virtue of our existence, we maintain them. We need to think harder about how we define violence.
“When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air. This is exactly what blocking off streets, disrupting white consumerism, and destroying state property are designed to do.”
When we make more of a noise about burning state property than we do about the systemic oppression against people – we declare people as collateral damage instead of structures.