In this post, Svetlana Onye explores the way violence has been understood in society and question whether it can be reconceptualised as a tool for liberation.
What values have you amassed and embodied with such an ease that you have lost the ability to come to terms with your own psyche?
In discussions of liberation, Western society encourages the idea of change through peace. Through collective silent walking, through speaking your thoughts freely but not loud enough as to rouse the baton of a police officer or to threaten a fragile yet fortified sovereign state. It can be argued that this is because of the Christian teachings which remain present in the values of Western society or it can be argued that submissiveness cast as peace allows one to be dominated in a way that appears to look like security and care.
In the words of Assata Shakur, “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them.” This quote challenges us to wonder what states of being and tools of change we are employing when seeking to make a difference and whether they will work. If we are employing tools given to us by those who oppress us to seek change, will change truly manifest or instead will it be hindered? Because those tools were never made to incite liberation but rather created to maintain the order which currently exists. Therefore, we ask ourselves whether peace is really a tool for change or instead does it come through violence.
Violence is often brandished with the label of barbarism, through the observance of its fatal and often ugly repercussions, as well as the belief that pursuing change through violence only prolongs one’s own injustice. The August 2011 riots against the unlawful killing of Mark Duggan, was called “criminality pure and simple” by then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron; in the US, American conservative personality Tomi Lohren called anti-police brutality riots in New York, sparked after the unlawful murder of Stephon Clark by police, as events which only “advance the ill and society grievances.” It is almost as if the perceived feral behavior of violence is something that should naturally not possess the civilised man, despite the fact that it is through violence we have built the civilised man. History shows us this. Slavery, with its subjugation, brutality and dehumanization was violent to the body as it was to the mind, othering black people through all facets of self in order to distinguish the binary of the civilized and savage man, creating a history of the plight of trying to rid the stain of the latter in order to become the former.
Or must we believe that violence is only innate to the man who lives in places of corruption? Or the man who does not have the moral values which have been shaped through socialised comparisons? If we understand violence as innate to all men and as integral to change, we can see violence as having been castrated to permit the violence of some and to dehumanise the violence of others, the latter of whom need to reclaim their natural state to capture their freedom. As humans, we are made up of violence as much as we are made up of love. History shows us that many men chose to create systems where worldly growth could only be yielded through violent means.
We live in a world where the many things we consume, the many institutions we enter and the values which it teaches have manifested from violence. The great economies of the West are the residue of boats crossing cold waters while carrying black bodies, of displacement and rewritten histories, of labour without citizenship and many other acts of violence which could not be resigned to time for it now exists across generations. Such violence colonises some but permits freedom for others, oppresses many but spreads wealth to a few and in this inequity, it is those who have suffered from such violence who have been taught to dissociate from their own.
In his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, Franz Fanon states that violence can be viewed as the remedy for decolonisation, as colonialism is “violence in its natural state, and it will only yield with greater violence.” If colonialism is violence in its natural state, then violence itself, which is structured and systemised, transcends merely physical violence. Rather, the form of violence which has structured the modern world is a violence which affects the mind, the body and the soul and dictates the course of life, death and culture.
Why has this violence been normalised? It can be argued that is because we are surrounded by this violence in its natural state. For the nature of colonisation pulsates in the police force, in politics, in schools, in hospitals and many entities which enforce racial discrimination and social injustice. These methods of violence are normalized because it yields economic wealth and permits a system with a particular set of morals and norms that create order and assimilation, while violence for means of liberation threatens to incite the dismantling of it.
Or maybe we fear the capacity to which our violence can materialise when we use it towards our own betterment. When we are made to believe that violence is a dark physical energy that is not innate, but rather roused through poverty of upbringing or evil, we are unable to come to terms with the full capacity of it. Instead, we have pent up frustrations towards a system which seems too intangible to break, loneliness from a cyclical work life which juxtaposes the suffocation of our peak time trains, ideations of wealth and status and the ability to have access to the lives of others, comparing our loses to their gains, colours and weight and cursing at the fact that our appearances can dictate the paths some of us take.
Where do these grievances go? When they are built up inside, when they are reflected in the faces of our children and their children, when the people to blame appear too high to touch. These grievances are thrust upon another, the violence remains on the ground as people fight their neighbours, brothers and sisters, as we create gangs to belong and to release as people shout only at the people who are within their reach. These actions, these formations are then presented as examples of savagery. Examples of why the system exists, of why morality has to be shaped and moulded by those who will never have to fight to reclaim their stolen rights.
Fanon tells us that violence is a tool for change and justice because it is retribution, the act of seeking liberation on terms which does not please nor align with what oppression has taught the individual. It is not about negotiations and empathy, it negates second thoughts and love because these are the very things that you have been denied. It is having access to a violence that you hold within you because “you now realise your life, your breath, your beating heart is the exact same as the settlers” (Fanon, 1961).
Though Fanon employs the example of the Algerian revolution in his book, the Haitian revolution is also an example of how utilising violence incites change. The 1791 Haitian Revolution happened after years of slavery, discrimination, dehumanisation and abuse suffered by West African slaves in the colony formerly named Saint-Domingue. It was the ultimate sugar island at that time and a crucial source for the economic growth of France. The slaves believed that change could only come through violence because they had understood that there was no other way to demand liberation if those who you are asking to liberate you, do not see you as equal nor deserving of a quality of life. Therefore, they spoke to them with the same language they have been spoken too, reflecting onto them the horrors which they have suffered.
So, is violence the tool for change and justice? It is a question we should not be afraid to ask for through our exploration of the idea we may find the correct procedures in creating the changes that remain missing in the world.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0