David Greenberg’s Riot Act – The last century’s racial disturbances have a common cause: police brutality [Slate.com] provides a good discussion of the past century of riots by black citizens and its links to the white supremacist corruption of the police department and
justice system. On the other hand, it has a lingering problem: it attempts to cast all
race riots as black people rioting and attacking white people. This neglects the truly vicious white supremacist assaults on blacks in towns such as Tulsa and St. Louis. The article even tries to lump the 1919 Chicago white supremacist riot as a black-initiated
race riot similar to Watts, L.A., or Cincinatti.
Yes, I know the article is an attempt to show how the rioters were provoked by massive police brutality and that oppressive police treatment of blacks has got to stop if we want to end the violence. But it has a subtle effect in reinforcing a few dangerous premises. It reinforces the conviction that
racial problems mean black problems, and don’t have anything to do with the active brutality of whites. And similarly, it makes it seem as though racial violence is something that blacks initiate, even if we see that initiation as justified. In the vicious race riots of the early 20th century, that simply was not the case. All of this leads to a continuing view of blacks as a problem to be solved, as the (Greenberg’s words)
the violent and the lawless element of a
race riot.; What about the white thugs in Tulsa who dropped dynamite on black ghettoes from airplanes? What about the white St. Louis rioters who raped and tortured black women and men by the thousands? Blacks are not the only racial
troublemakersof the twentieth century.