Malcolm X said, “Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” The young people in the streets right now must understand the history. Everything they’re doing today has been done before. In Spring of 1968, cities across America burned to the ground. The triggering event in history was the assassination of Dr. King but more precisely, it was the enduring pain and frustration of Blackness, that caused thousands to burn it all down. Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Cincinnati and many other cities erupted. After generations of police violence, government-sanctioned terrorism of all stripes and the assassination of the one Black man calling for peace, all bets were off. American cities burned for weeks and many communities wouldn’t recover for decades. That was in 1968 and 50 years later, Black people are, in many ways, worse off. Perhaps rioting has its just place but the work of Black power happens after the dust settles.
The government’s response to the riots was, in large part, the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Essentially, the bill sought to curb housing discrimination, which would grant Black people greater choice in where they lived. 50 years after the Housing Act, Black people had seen no progress in the areas of homeownership, incarceration and unemployment. Ensuring that a landlord rents an apartment to you does nothing to help you own it. In the final analysis, greater choice in housing helped middle class Black people access more neighborhoods but it did nothing to foster more power for Black people, as a collective. The governmental response was one that pacified Black people and gave them the illusion of inclusion; the government will not, however, hand over power to Black people. As more than 30 cities across America are burning right now, Black people can be sure that there will be no response from the government that will create meaningful uplift for Black people: that is a job strictly for Black people.
Just as the Johnson administration passed legislation to pacify the masses, Black people should expect token legislation and perhaps a prosecution or two, in order to bring down the heat. The question, however, is how those gestures will impact future generations. The Housing Act has done nothing to mitigate Black unemployment, incarceration or homeownership: as a direct result, Black wealth is still a fantasy. The argument isn’t that rioting is “wrong” or that it has no proper context. Indeed, should you come home to find your spouse cheating, you may predictably break something: to lash out is normal. Hell, the United States bombed whole countries after 9/11, whether or not they were involved. To riot is human but the hard work of Black power happens afterwards and that should be the ultimate focus: burning down structures of white supremacy.
Those structures are burned down when Black people and (and those of good conscience) take the same anger and militancy with which they smash a window and smash Wells Fargo’s annual profits. Those structures are burned down when Black people refuse, with a militant discipline, to spend their money outside of their community. Those structures burn to the ground when Black people leave the protest and put all of their dollars, love and energy into their own. It isn’t enough to “boycott” white folks, you must build up your own and not just for a day, either.