Why Do Black People Riot?

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I’ve heard this question by many people who aren’t Black.  Why are Black people rioting?  Why are they destroying their own neighborhoods?  How do they think this is going to help change anything?  It’s not going to help change anything.  Rioting is not about effecting change.  That is what the protesters are trying to do.  The Protesters of BLM are trying to bring about change because they are tired of systematic racism and abuse by the police.  So why riot?  What does rioting accomplish?  In the eyes of those who are non-Black, rioting diminishes the message of the protesters and even invalidates their claims because they view rioting as illegal and unwarranted.

Rioting is not relegated only to Black people though.   White people have used riots as well.  On March 5, 1770, a crowd armed with clubs formed to protest about a British soldier not paying a bill that later resulted in the death of Crispus Attucks and which later became known as the Boston Massacre.  On December 16, 1773, people who were fed up with paying taxes to the King dumped a shipment of tea into the bay dressed as Native Americans.  Rioting by any other name such as a rebellion, revolt, or civil unrest is still an act of speaking up against injustices.  And yet, when White people riot after their team has won the Superbowl, no one condemns a whole race or even the football team, but when Black people protest and riot, it invalidates the entire reason for their struggle.  Perhaps it is because some of us do not want to listen to them that we we simply ignore their struggles.

We then say that they have no right to destroy property that is not theirs.  That it is illegal to loot and take down statues and as such, we will no longer listen to their protests because the rioting has tainted it.  But White people have killed Blacks in the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921 and the Rosewood Massacre in 1923 and yet, it is still Black people who we view as violent and dangerous.  When it is convenient, we use certain narratives to fuel carefully crafted ideas we have of others and that isn’t fair.  And still, we ask ‘why do they riot?’  What does it accomplish?  Once again, it accomplishes nothing because rioting is not about calling for action.  Protesting calls for action.  Black rioting is simply a reaction.

After Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on April 4,1968, multiple riots happened throughout the United States, taking place in cities such as Washington D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, and Kansas City.  It was a reaction to the murder of a beloved leader who could no longer lead them.  It was about the pain and sorrow they had carried for decades and the anger they felt for what had happened.  After 4 officers were acquitted of charges for excessive force against Rodney King on April 29, 1992, Los Angeles erupted in riots because Black residents were enraged over the continual treatment of their kind by police and how the system worked against them but did work for the very police who trampled upon their rights.

Black rioting has never been about demanding change.  Black rioting is a reaction of raw emotions that have always been bubbling beneath the surface and has erupted because of further injustices.  So to answer your question, no, rioting by Black people does not accomplish anything, but what it does do is lay bare the emotional pain of a people who have been mistreated for hundreds of years because non-Blacks refuse to acknowledge their plights and dismiss their concerns because they feel as if Black people aren’t broaching them in a way that is valid.

Photo by Maan Limburg on Unsplash

 

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