Is it ethical for people of color within the U.S. who claim to be disciples of Christ to engage in violence against oppressors?
The reality is that people of color are already living within a violent situation. According to a five-year study, unarmed people of color face significantly higher death rates when stopped by law enforcement than Euroamericans (Native Americans at a rate ratio of 3.95, Blacks at 3.49 and Latinx at 1.55, compared to 1.00 for whites).
I wonder what would happen if unarmed white people were being killed by the police at a rate of 1.5 to almost four times greater than people of color. Forget defunding, I believe they would burn down the police precinct!
How do I know this? If they stormed the U.S. Capitol based on a lie, what would they do if they were being systematically and institutionally decimated?
The violence faced by communities of color is not limited to law enforcement. Violence has been institutionalized, leading to shorter life spans.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, they disproportionately experienced more deaths and were among the last to obtain a vaccine. Poverty, caused by erected social barriers denies good jobs, educational opportunities and adequate health care – robbing the dispossessed of a flourishing life.
So, here is the question: If Euroamericans can employ violence whenever they imagine being threatened, why then can’t communities of color who are actually facing physical and institutional violence?
So, I ask again: Can violence be employed by the disenfranchised as a means for self-defense or as a quest for liberation?
Whenever communities of color contemplate violence as a response to their oppression, the conversation is suffocated with pleas for nonviolent resistance by those who are more interested in maintaining unjust social structures and protecting themselves from the righteous anger of those residing on the underside of society.
Worse are our so-called white allies who speak of being in the struggle for liberation with us while ignoring how the social structures are racist and ethnically discriminatory for them. They are the first to call for nonviolent resistance lest their privileged space be threatened.
Thus, seeking answers to the question concerning the morality of engaging in violence against oppressive systems can only occur among those institutionally targeted by the violence of the prevailing social structures.
History demonstrates that those whom society privileges with unearned power and profit will never willingly relinquish white affirmative action for the good of the whole. Only the shedding of blood will germinate a more just society. Unfortunately, those whose blood is usually spilled is that of those on the margins.
Just note the violence of the nonviolent movements in India (Satyagraha) and in the United States (1960s civil rights), which were nonviolent for the oppressors but violent for the oppressed.
This is why I am leery of those from the dominant culture who advocate nonviolent resistance as the only acceptable Christian response to institutionalized violence which benefits them while keeping the marginalized in check.
Euroamericans are up to their elbows in the blood of the innocent, from the genocide of the original land’s inhabitants to the enslavement of an African population, to the invasion of countries south of their borders to steal their cheap labor and natural resources.
As such, Euroamericans have lost all moral authority to say anything about who can or cannot engage in violence as a means for self-defense and/or quest for liberation.
This becomes obvious when we consider that today, white nationalists – merging their racism and ethnic discrimination with white Christianity – are calling for a new race war to make America great again.
Political leaders – the former president, members of Congress, the former national security advisor, governors, right-wing political hopefuls and Fox News nightly commentators – unashamedly pine for the coming civil war.
Polls show that 54% of those who identify as Republicans believe a civil war will break out before the 2030s. After President Biden gave a speech on Sept. 1, 2020, concerning threats to democracy, references to a “civil war” increased by 51% on the most active pages of the dark web, specifically 4Chan.
When we consider that modern-day brown-shirts (Oath Keepers or Proud Boys) have participated in a failed coup on January 6, or that many Euroamericans have stockpiled combat weapons (thanks to a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment), communities of color ignore such talk of civil war at their own peril.
For people of color to be nonviolent while white Christian nationalists sharpen their sabers may be naive, if not deadly. Violence – heaven forbid – may become the only way those who are salivating for a civil war will be stopped from intensifying the violence already procured to protect what they have forcefully taken.
“I am not a nonviolent man. I am a violent man who is trying to be nonviolent,” César Chávez once said. Echoing Chávez, I, too, am a violent man seeking nonviolence.
I have no doubt some Euroamericans will be quick to gaslight me for even raising questions concerning the employment of violence as self-defense or liberation, ignoring the major purveyor of violence in the U.S.: themselves.
So, let me be clear: I am not arguing for violence, I am arguing that the use of violence or the commitment to nonviolence rest solely with those who are already experiencing the imposed violence of white Christian nationalists.
Let’s pray we choose the latter.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.