Moral Appeals Aren't Enough

Kelley, Robin D. G.
Date Written:  2015-07-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21227

The wonderful thing about Black Lives Matter is that they're saying you cannot use moral suasion to win this. You've got to disrupt, and make sure that things don't work in order to make the demand for change.



If you're a big fan of Anna Deavere Smith, that's great. But from where I sat, it was disappointing and problematic. She basically did a reading of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "Letter from Birmingham Jail" - which was wonderful - but then made a huge leap from King's injunction for militant, radical action to the alleged nihilism of contemporary Black youth, closing with the testimony of Congressman John Lewis (whom I love) essentially in tears because the white man who beat him came to his office to apologize a half century later.

Her two-pronged conclusion is that: 1) the problems we're facing now cannot be easily attributed to racism; 2) reconciliation is at hand but requires forgiveness.

So I ask, how - on the day of Freddie Gray's funeral and in the aftermath of the uprising - did she fail to grasp the very essence of the letter? And that is: why we won't wait, why we must in some ways engage in revolutionary activity, why the violence to which King refers is not the product of protestors but the product of the state - this is what he's saying in that letter.

So the audience - which was about 90% white - loved it, standing ovation, tears. Because what it did was to confirm for them that we’re on the right path (despite events in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere). And that path is about reconciliation and forgiveness, not about truth.

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