- Category: History
- Created on Saturday, 29 August 2009 08:37
- Written by Mike Ely
by Mike Ely
I have been grappling with theories that blame racism on the privilege of white people. In a post exploring complicity, I asked the question:
"Are people fixed by relative privilege and their specific history, locked into a structure that inexorably commands their minds and loyalties — or can even the deeply complacent be shaken awake and radically transformed — by both sudden conjunctural events and long-term political work?"
Someone wrote and asked me for an example.
There are many examples -- perhaps you too have a story to share. For now, here is one.
* * * * * *
I was sitting with political friends years ago. Different people were describing how they got involved in radical politics.
One brother said he had been a typical, middle-class, unaware teenager living in LA when the 1965 Watts rebellion broke out. His father was an Asian-American minister at an LA community church.
When the rebellion broke out, sections of the city were out of government control for four intense days and nights. People gathered in crowds to confront and fight the hated police. Fires lit the night sky as people targeted local businesses and expropriated movable goods. It was August, and Watts was the opening of that decade's long hot summers.
The authorities reached out to non-white ministers (Black, Asian, Mexican...) to go down into the Black community and help calm things down. This teenager insisted on accompanying his father on this mission to Watts -- which they both understood would be dangerous.
The two were picked up by an LAPD squad car -- the cops rode in front, and the Asian father-and-son team sat in the back. Once in Watts, the plan was to find an area where black youth were gathering, and for the minister to step out and talk with them, to calm them down and disperse them. However they hadn't gotten far into the Black community when, at one street corner, they were suddenly surrounded by black youth. The cop car couldn't proceed. The crowd closed in and grew as people seemed to come out of everywhere.
Dozens of hands grabbed onto the cop car and started rocking it. People were grabbing onto the car doors and trying to wrench them open. Sitting in the back the minister and his son looked at each other, truly afraid of what would come next.
Suddenly the doors were wrenched open. Hands reached in and grabbed them, pulling them out of the cop car into the street. And in joyous voices, the crowd started shouting, "You are free! You are free, brothers!"
At that moment, for the communist telling this story, a young teenage Asian man from the middle classes suddenly realized what had really been going on in Watts, and what side he belonged on.