The Right-Wing's Insincere Embrace of Black Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement
The role of armed resistance and guns in the Black Freedom Struggle is one of America's hidden histories. The mainline Civil Rights Movement was publicly non-violent: this was essential for Dr. King's strategy of public shaming and provocation. It is also important to note how the Black Freedom Struggle's demands were/are remarkably centrist while simultaneously being radical in opposition to American Apartheid.
If it was widely known by the white American public that the Black Freedom Struggle included a component of armed self-defense (which included the Deacons for Defense, Rob Williams, other groups and individuals, and how even Dr. King's home contained firearms for his own protection) the moral certainty and superiority of the movement over the defenders of Jim and Jane Crow would have been jeopardized.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss that hidden American history during a great conversation with Professor Mark Grimsley on the podcast series for my site We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN).
Over the last few weeks, the left and right-wing media have discovered the role played by armed resistance in the Civil Rights Movement (and longer Black Freedom Struggle) with the release of Charles Cobb Jr.'s new book This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible.
Media as varied as NPR, The Root, Alternet, as well as Right-wing propaganda operations such as Hot Air and Breitbart, have reacted with a mix of surprise, fascination, and joy to Cobb's observation that:
I'm very much concerned with how the history of the southern freedom movement or civil rights movement is portrayed. And, I'm very conscious of the gaps in the history, and one important gap in the history, in the portrayal of the movement, is the role of guns in the movement. I worked in the South, I lived with families in the South. There was never a family I stayed with that didn't have a gun. I know from personal experience and the experiences of others, that guns kept people alive, kept communities safe and all you have to do to understand this is simply think of black people as human beings and they're gonna respond to terrorism the way anybody else would.The novelty of Cobb's claims about black armed resistance are compelling because they stand against a white washed, childish, and flat version of the Civil Rights Movement, a narrative which robs it of complexity and ignores the radical politics that were the movement's beating heart.
In reality, as part of the long Black Freedom Struggle with origins dating back to the 17th century, the war against Jim and Jane Crow was an insurgency that involved many different actors, agendas, and theaters of struggle. Americans like simple stories; the effort to fold the Black Freedom Struggle into liberal consensus politics necessitates that some of its aspects are emphasized while others are left as footnotes and books known mostly by historians and archivists.
The Right-wing media's interest in Charles Cobb Jr.'s book This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed reflects a broader political agenda that fetishizes guns and is determined to sacrifice America's children on the altar of the gun gods. However, because contemporary conservatism is mated with white supremacy, such a relationship and idealization of "negroes with guns" does not neatly cohere.
The Gun Right's effort to stop any effort at reasonable gun control--or to treat gun violence as a preventable public health problem--finds cover behind the nobility of the Civil Rights Movement. If lions and American icons such as Brother King, the Freedom Riders, and other resisters can be somehow linked to the gun, then to criticize "gun rights" is "racist", and by extension a crime against human "liberty" and "freedom" as couched in the struggle against Jim and Jane Crow.
The facts are not kind to the Gun Right's insincere efforts to piggy back off of the Black Freedom Struggle. Movement conservatism has embraced the Neo-Confederacy and its language, ideology, and symbolism of Jim and Jane Crow. The white racists in the South are now solidly Republican.
Movement conservatism's racist bonafides in the post civil rights era and the Age of Obama are many (see: Birtherism; voter suppression; the Southern Strategy; the embrace of the Confederate Flag; the language of "Secession" and "nullification"; overt white racial appeals and "dog whistle politics"; etc.).
In all, the White Right and the Tea Party GOP of today are more likely to have used guns against African-Americans (and others) who were fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights movement than to have been marching with them.
For example, research on racial attitudes, gun ownership, and concealed carry laws has revealed a clear relationship between symbolic racism and racial animus by whites towards African-Americans. Here, white gun owners and supporters of concealed carry laws are more likely to be racist towards black people.
As a complement to the above findings, it is important to highlight how stand your ground laws are both racist in their application and enforcement, and are part of a long tradition of de jure and de facto rules and practices which empowered and enabled whites in the South and elsewhere to use guns as a means of controlling, terrorizing, and murdering people of color in order to maintain a white supremacist racial order.
Movement conservatives and the Gun Right like the idea of black freedom fighters with guns in the abstract. They do not like "negroes with guns" as neighbors. Nor, does the White Right embrace the principles and goals of the Black Freedom Struggle that armed resistance during the Civil Rights Movement helped to sustain and protect.
The knot of hypocrisy, racism, and conservatism is not easily untied.
Consider the following.
If two black men in the "New Black Panther Party" were a source of white rage and terror on Fox News and throughout the Right-wing media echo chamber, imagine the panic and "threat to national security" hysteria that would be ginned up if Cliven Bundy and his goon squad of "freedom fighters" were African-American.
The Gun Right's sick and twisted fantasies of white masculinity often involve using guns to stop "black" criminals and to suppress "urban uprisings".
As such, the online sewers of the White/Gun Right have produced such gun porn as the widely read "How America's Cities May Explode in Violence" in which "brave" white men with firearms protect suburban domesticity from blood thirsty rioting crowds of blacks and Latinos who are running amok because their food stamps and welfare monies have been suspended.
One does not have to think very hard about how the narrative surrounding the Trayvon Martin case would have been inverted by the White Right and the Right-wing echo chamber if Martin was armed and stood his ground against George Zimmerman, a man who hunted down and killed him for the "crime" of walking while black in a white neighborhood.
The Gun Right is part of a network of relationships that comprise movement conservatism in the post civil rights era. This alliance is tied together by hostility and racism towards people of color. A thinking and critical person should be immediately suspicious of any efforts by the White Right to claim ownership over, or to praise, any aspect of the Black Freedom Struggle. Why? The freedom and full equality of African-Americans is antithetical to the deep investment in white supremacy and white privilege which sustains and gives life to movement conservatism and the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama.