Accomplices Wanted: A few notes on race, legitimacy, and solidarity with the struggle in Ferguson

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On August 9th, a white police officer murdered an unarmed Black teenager named Michael Brown (“Mike-Mike”) on the streets of Ferguson, MO, a couple miles north of St. Louis. Nothing about this was abnormal or newsworthy in any way; it was simply another reminder of the cheapness of poor Black life in the United States in 2014. Typically, such tragedies are swept under the rug with ease, by the usual combination of go-nowhere state investigations, mild officer reprimands, and calls for calm, prayer, and peace issued by Civil Rights and church leaders and echoed by the liberal media.

But in Ferguson, something different happened. Black residents, along with a few white people from the immediate and surrounding areas, fought back against the white supremacist authority of the police. They took over the main street of town, pushing police out of the area entirely. Pavement was broken up for projectiles, stores were looted and attacked, the QT where a customer had called the cops on Mike-Mike was burned to the ground. Until it was fenced in, the QT lot became a kind of gathering place, covered in spraypainted anti-cop lyrics and references to revolutions of the past.

For the next week and a half, in spite of a massive influx of police and even National Guard, the people of Ferguson continued to fight back. Demonstrators ignored calls for peace, broke curfew, and took over the wide streets of their suburban town. They threw molotov cocktails and shot at police, kicked back teargas canisters, helped each other avoid police projectiles and arrest, and attacked businesses. In both duration and intensity, this was possibly the most important expression of poor and Black rage since LA 1992, the summary of a recent series of increasingly tense confrontations over police killings, from Seattle to Oakland to Brooklyn to Phoenix to Durham. No one will now forget Michael Brown’s name.

Despite mountains of livestream footage, photographs, and firsthand accounts, much of this story has already been obscured. An entire narrative of recuperation has emerged, initiated by city officials like Ferguson’s police chief, but parroted by both Black and white liberal pundits and community leaders, that the unrest was due merely to a few out-of-town agitators, in particular white anarchists. The demonstrable fact of localized Black rebellion (not to mention Black anarchists!) is erased from history and from our political imagination, even as the possibility of meaningful cross-racial solidarity is attacked with the weapons of guilt and shame.

The implication here is that Black people, presumed to be one monolithic community, are either naturally docile, liberal, religious, grateful, and nonviolent, or are easily tricked into revolt by white people “with their own agenda.” The condescending racism of this narrative would be more obvious if it were not so commonly toted by the Black Left, which finds itself losing its grasp over populations of poor people fed up with calls for voting, reform, and accountability. This Left constructs a singular, monolothic Black populace specifically to better position their perspective as more legitimate than that of the Black rioters, Black anarchists, and Black warriors whom it seeks to dissappear. It is reminiscent of the Civil Rights period, when both Black and white liberals colluded to erase the meaning and substance of the Black riots and self-defense that threatened the hegemony of their nonviolent model.

The exact same position has been taken in response to the Ferguson solidarity marches across the country, including the recent march in Chapel Hill two weeks ago. These marches have generally been mild by any kind of “Ferguson” standards—few attacks on property, no streetfighting, nothing burned—but certainly furious, and conveying many of the same chants and ideas that Black people have been echoing around the country during acts of resistance. Yet, many journalists and talking heads have reacted to this solidarity with fear, seeing this anger as something that might undermine or delegitimize the struggle. This narrative downplays the necessity of mass rebellion against the police and the state, suggests that there is a single legitimate way to protest or rebel, and conflates acts of solidarity as thoughtless adventurism. It also assumes that the uprising in Ferguson has only one meaning, one political trajectory with which to be in solidarity, when in fact it has itself been full of its internal conflicts, paradoxes, and debates.

The discourse about what delegitimizes or legitimizes Black resistance is a rhetoric trap that aims to further isolate Black peoples who resist anti-black racism in ways that are unpalatable to or uncontrollable by the Left.  The claim that any Black resistance lacks “legitimacy” aims to divide Black peoples, diminish the relevancy of anti-black racism as it informs the discrimination of other peoples of color, and eliminate the possibility of poor white people joining a Black revolt to fight for multiple and collective liberation simultaneously. 

Contrasted with the Left’s riot-shaming and guilt-tripping, we support an alternative model of solidarity: that of the accomplice. Resisting oppression and fighting for liberation is criminalized, and in light of this we would seek not guilt-ridden allies but angry accomplices. The strongest comrade is one who fights not out of guilt or moral obligation but with their own personal desire for freedom, challenging all structures of domination with awareness of others’ different lived experience, but nonetheless aiming toward a shared goal through affinity. 

love and rage,

-a couple outside agitators

for related ideas, check out “Accomplices Not Allies” By Klee