Last week I covered Temple University professor, Marc Lamont Hill's controversial speech at the UN's international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people that got him fired from CNN. Critics claimed the 39-year-old Hill called for the destruction of the state of Israel. Of course, Hill denied the charges, but what's undeniable is parts of Hill's speech promoted a counterproductive mythology that Black activists and writers under 40 have embraced since the 2014 Ferguson Riots.
Activist Brittany Ferrell and writer Mychal Denzel Smith participated in a panel discussion about race and equality after the riots. During the question-and-answer period a young lady asked the panelist what could she do to fight peacefully for justice?
Ferrell answered: I don't know what the goal would be to fight peacefully. I don't see us getting far or achieving anything by being peaceful. I believe if it hadn't been for those buildings burning in Ferguson, we wouldn't be having these conversations about race in America.
The moderator challenged Ferrell. He said: C'mon, you believe in the value of peace because you're not out there setting fire to buildings, but Ferrell bragged I was there, I was in front of those buildings on fire shouting F**K The Police.
Smith jumped in and said: When people say peaceful, what they mean is nonviolent means of enacting change. We can idealize (nonviolence) and romanticize it, but revolutions have happened throughout history through violence. But the destruction of property I would not categorize as violence. I would say this is what revolution looks like. This is what happens when you silence people for so long, they are going to attack the things you hold dear.
How does the Michael Brown police shooting, in Ferguson lead to this rhetoric about revolution and attacking things held dear? This is blatant posturing, but it stems from their belief that the Civil Rights Movement was unsuccessful. (Four years ago, on MLK's birthday an article was published called: The Civil Rights Movement was a Failure.)
Hill continued the mythologizing of "by any means necessary."
Hill said: As a Black American my understanding of solidarity action is rooted in our own tradition of struggle. Contrary to western mythology Black resistance to American apartheid did not come purely through Gandhi and nonviolence. Rather slave revolts and self-defense and tactics otherwise divergent from Dr. King…were equally important to attaining freedom. We must prioritize peace, but not romanticize it."
Then Hill told his own Ferguson story. He said when they were tear-gassed, they received text messages from Palestinian supporters telling them how to wipe the tear gas out of their eyes. Hill's rhetoric and posture is a replica of the previous example and it was unnecessary. Slave revolts, which no sane person would condemn, didn't lead to the abolishment of slavery—they led to more restrictions on the Black population. I agree, nonviolence should not be romanticized, but slave revolts and revolutions shouldn't be mythologized either.