The fight for civil rights begun when humans began and someone thought “Hey, what makes me less than Johnny over there?” And as long as we have been fighting for the civil rights of different races, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and pretty much everyone who isn’t at the top of the food chain there have been different ways of fighting for these rights.
There’s the difference between Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, Gandi and Nathuram Vinayak Godse — the Indian who killed him because he believed non-violence was not the way.
For as long as I can remember — not long if we’re honest — we have categorized these groups as violent vs. non-violent. A distinction which for many of us draws the line between right and wrong.
Martin Luther King Jr. was right to lead the civil rights movement the way he did and Malcolm X is relegated to the footnotes in our history books because he was wrong.
Non-violent vs. violent, right vs. wrong. Then there is another pair — inclusive and exclusive.
What does this change?
When we categorize a method of change as inclusive vs. exclusive, things start to chip a bit, but everything is still acceptable to those of us whose history is riddled with being put down over and over again.
We love inclusivity — it is the very thing we’re fighting for, right? We want everyone — don’t matter the gender, sexuality, race, or species — to be included, because we never were.
So we’re happy with this new categorization — until it comes to actually fleshing this one out.
Inclusivity less favored
We are fine in theory with inclusivity. Calling out the message “We want equality for everyone,” doesn’t seem so different than, “We want equality for ourselves.”
After all, we are part of everyone.
But along with this idea of inclusivity is actually reaching out to people in the majority and speaking to them, trying to make them understand. Talking to men who are misogynists and convincing them to see what you see. Sharing your life with the homophobic lady who hides your existence from her children.
(And not by screaming about how misogynist or homophobic they are — that will probably just convince them we are exactly what they say we are.)
There is that portion of a movement where the minority has to reach out and get the votes of the majority. Where they have to lay themselves bare to be either accepted or shot by the majority. Where they have to reach into the lives of those that disagree with them and show them what life in different skin is like.
That we don’t like. We don’t like honing our message so it doesn’t only speak to the people who are angry and ready to rise up after years or centuries of being kicked to the back of the line, but also so it will reach out and include the people who aren’t angry and who haven’t felt the pain.
But this is what MLK Jr. did. He didn’t only say in his speeches that he wanted to see little black kids and little white kids join hands in a desegregated future, but he also talked to the white president and to the white suburbanites and to white middle America, and for the most part, he got them on board.
Is this unfair?
Is it unfair that after all the crap minorities have gone through the responsibility falls to them to make the thick skulls at the top understand?
Doesn’t this suck?
Does it suck that all the justified anger we feel can’t be let out in a big bang for fear of alienating the majority — a majority that doesn’t feel how this anger is justified?
But is it necessary?
It seems so.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a compelling speaker but not an angry one. He didn’t rant and rave about the past, he talked about a hopeful future where everyone was equal, and he treated everyone equally. White people and black people alike.
The movement he led swelled not only with black people being empowered to fight for their rights but with white people who saw the truth of what he was saying.
War has worked before
The ranting and the raving. The shooting and the bloodshed. Sure there have been a lot of wars and they have gotten a lot of things done.
The American revolution, the civil war, both world wars. Wars get stuff done.
Ultimately, what comes with wars, however, are losers. Which would be fine, except losers still have the vote. Losers are still bitter about the death of their son, husband, or best friend, and they will continue to foster their own sort of anger to wreak havoc in the future.
Wars lead to more wars.
You may say “We’re not fighting” or “We’re not killing a mother’s child.”
And you’d be right. Many modern-day activist groups aren’t violent. But most of them are exclusive. Which if we are categorizing movements as inclusive vs. exclusive puts us back in a sack with militants.
The people who called Martin Luther King Jr. an “Uncle Tom,” because he wanted to accept white people into the civil rights movement. The people who killed Gandhi because he settled for a peaceful solution (or theoretically a peaceful solution) instead of destroying the British.
Our exclusive rhetoric is the language of war
Even if we aren’t violent we are creating losers and winners. We win you lose, na na.
The swing vote — that 10–15% of people who actually determine who gets to be president — aren’t often okay with that.
Those are the people who need to be swayed one way or the other, and when the rhetoric of freedom becomes the kind of angry symphony of “White men suck,” that much of today’s civil rights movement seems to have been reduced to, people on the fence don’t want to join the fray.
Maybe they are down for civil rights, but they are so alienated by the anger that they can’t see how joining that cause will move equality forward.
I’ve said this before but… It fucking sucks
It sucks that to get the vote minorities and the people who have already had to shoulder so much shit have to pile on.
It isn’t fair that the swing vote doesn’t understand why we should be so angry. It isn’t fair.
But life isn’t fair. And we owe it to ourselves and to the other people we are fighting for to be compelling.
And if we’re honest, the only people we are compelling with our angry rants is ourselves.
Ultimately, no, it isn’t fair that systematically repressed groups of people have to constantly be the “bigger person” to get the other side on board.
But it may be necessary.
And if it is necessary, there are no promises of roses and harps as we prance to the holy grail of equality. No matter how civil we are, there will always be someone who is convinced we are wrong. Someone who sees the passion and conviction with which we say something and feel threatened by it. Hell, MLK Jr’s speech full of hope for both a black and a white America made someone scared enough to shoot him.
But maybe a little bit of civility is what we need to sway the middle ground. Maybe we can find it in ourselves to convince the people who aren’t so caught up in who is talking that they can’t listen to what we have to say.