“This is a tremor in the middle of the iceberg from a stone that the builders rejected.” -Civil Rights organizer Bob Moses during the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, ca. 1961
The United States is experiencing a strong tremor now. Millions of people have taken to the streets to make a showing against racial inequality and police violence.
Some people react to these tremors. I’d like to engage one of those reactions now because it was written in one of my hometown newspapers, and it bears the name of my town.
It was quite hard to find a response to Joan Swirsky’s June 23 op-ed, primarily because I didn’t know where to start. The entire premise of the letter was so deeply based on racist tropes and misinformation that I found myself stepping back, thinking of how to respond first. Although there are several inaccuracies to be unpacked from her op-ed (e.g., “Antifa” with a capital A? There is no such unified group), I instead implore the reader to consider the most dangerous aspects of Mrs. Swirsky’s discourse. Her letter obfuscates the Black Lives Matter movement and propels deeply racist stereotypes about black people, all while ignoring the heart of the issue: white supremacy.
Anyone who has researched BLM or met a BLM organizer would understand that BLM is a global civil rights network and not a terrorist group. So, let’s engage instead with the historical foundations of Mrs. Swirsky’s discourse: labeling BLM as a terrorist organization echoes white supremacist rhetoric from the Civil Rights Movement era. Folks for the anti-black status quo have consistently tried to label civil rights organizations as terrorist groups to push them to extinction, from SNCC to Black Power, both of which were prominent (and villainized) during the Civil Rights Movement. I have never seen evidence of a Black Lives Matter organizer encouraging protesters to enact violence or intimidation against civilians (i.e. terrorist activity). Terrorist activity could more aptly be described by the continued intimidation of black folks, Jews, and other minorities by neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan or by the subjugation of people of color to a violent carceral state which was invented to criminalize them. Where is the author’s outrage against this terrorism?
Second and lastly, Mrs. Swirsky presents the reader with a variety of conclusions she came to based on “black conservative commentators” who she does not bother to name. I’d prefer not to repeat too much of what the letter claims to be the root of “the plight of blacks,” but would rather insist that these claims place the blame on a nebulous Democratic Party and vague leftism instead of white supremacy itself. Mrs. Swirsky claims the Democrats led black folks to a life reliant on welfare and crime. Besides being unaware of the harm these stereotypes cause, she does not engage the multi-generational history of slavery, white terror, and more recently, the military-industrialized American state which invented these symptoms of racial inequality. As a student of history, it is clear to me how this disengagement with our nation’s past propels historical fallacies and ideations.
Mrs. Swirsky’s dangerous discourse is an example of white blindness to systemic racism—and is racism in itself.