Riots: the Language of the Unheard

Riots are bad.

Wait — Don’t comment yet.  Bear with me.

The modern western (particularly American) way of thinking — the way we whiteys have grown up to think — is very black-and-white.  Ironic word choice, yes, but I mean morally black-and-white.

“This is good.”  “That is bad.”  Black and white.

Unfortunately, it’s robbed us of our ability to think critically and empathically.  Tragically, it’s a simplistic way of thinking that’s been perpetuated by our media, politics, and churches for far too long.  What’s good is good.  What’s bad is bad.  The end.

Except it’s not.

We must understand nuance in order to right the ship that is our broken society.  So —

Riots are bad.

A riot is bad because something horrible has happened to a group of people, and that horrible thing has perpetuated on and on unchecked until it’s reached a boiling point — a point in which people are so profoundly wounded, rejected, and ignored that they are to a point of desperation where violence is the only option left by which to make their voices heard.

Rioters are not bad.  Not in the broad sense.

I am personally a pacifist — at least mostly a pacifist.  I’m not an absolutely all-situations-no-matter-what kinda pacifist, but I am the kind that advocates nonviolent resistance if the option is at all available —

for me.  That’s the caveat.  It’s a code of nonviolence I apply to myself — and I am someone who is not oppressed, not subject to violence, and not fighting to advocate my case for something as simple as being allowed to walk down the street unharmed tomorrow.

I don’t say others should follow my code because I don’t know their experience.  My code is inevitably born of my experience.  Life isn’t that simple.

Dr. King, my fellow Jesus follower, stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  Reflect on this a moment.

Think of your house rules.  No yelling, right?  Your kids get in trouble for that.  Does your kid get in trouble if they yell because, say, you knocked your coffee over by accident on them and they yelled out in pain?

I hope not.

Yelling (generally) is not ok, but if someone yells out in pain — you stop and listen.

It’s not the best analogy, and that’s totally on me for a lack of creative insight on my part.  This is far, far, infinitely worse than that, because what we’re seeing is a group of our neighbors who’ve been yelling in pain for a veeeerrrry long time, and we (as a society) are simply not listening.

So imagine: you yell because you’re burning, but no one’s even acknowledging you.  What do you do next?  Maybe you….knock something over to make them pay attention?

Breaking things is bad.  Sure.  But really, would you blame them?

This is how empathy works.

Riots are people screaming in pain because they protested and protested and protested peacefully (since the 60s and far beyond, people!) and we haven’t listened.  The gains they’ve made since the 60’s have been…tragically, embarrassingly, inhumanely small.

If it weren’t for being an asthmatic in the middle of a pandemic, I would have joined the Dallas protest — even as  I say that, my privilege in being able to say it isn’t lost on me.  So please understand the nuance in my statement: If a riot were to start, I wouldn’t throw a brick.  I’m a pacifist.  It’s not my way.  But I would understand why they’re doing it too.  And I would try to love them more as a result.  I offer only a hug, an ear, and a shoulder to the brick-thrower.  And if a brick were to hit my house?  I can afford fixing the window.  May I step outside and hug the brick-thrower.  (I live in the kind of upscale neighborhood where — frankly — it would be merited.  I’m not even gonna pretend otherwise.)

My response is not “stop it!  It’s wrong!”  It’s “I hear you.  Tell me how I can help.”  One of those — when everyone joins in the response — stops a riot in its tracks.  Look no further than Flint (of all places!) for evidence.  (Seriously, read the link.  It makes me giddy.  This is what I want so freaking bad.)

But what About…

Let’s see if I can knock these out all at once real fast:

I love all the cops in my life.  I grew up surrounded by cops.  My step-brother is a retired officer and my personal superhero.  I’ve known quite a few who joined the force to protect everyone of all colors.  They want to help and that’s how they believe they can best help.  I hate that the police system is rigged against Black people.  (If you’re ever interested, I’d be happy to tell you all about how we could dismantle and rebuild that system for everyone’s betterment.  As we say in tech, the real solution is to uninstall Windows and replace it with Linux.  [Side note: I hope at least one person gets that joke!])

I love all the poor and oppressed.  Not all of them are Black.  Some are even white.  I know a lot of white folks living bad times!  We’re not talking about that here, this time.  We should talk about it.  And I do every opportunity I get.  But not right here, right now.

Yes, there are cases of police killing white people.  That is also a problem, and we should talk about it.  I’m not talking about that right here, right now.  (Again, I’d be happy to tell you all about my answer to that!)

Not all rioters are expressing pain.  Some join in just for the chaos or loot.  I am not talking about them.

All lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  All lives matter to me.  All lives should matter.  In our system today, all lives don’t matter equally; therefore, all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.  We can confidently and proudly and joyfully declare all lives matter once we show that Black lives matter, and what a beautiful, wonderful day that will be!

Other groups are discriminated against.  They deserve their own spaces, too.  This space is not the space for that, but there should be a space for it.

File this phrase away in your head: We do not rule by the exception.  There are always exceptions.  There are always “but, what about”s.  We deal with them, yes, but we don’t rule by them.  That’s Making Rules for Groups of People 101.

Depending on what background you come from, you may not like that I used the word privilege.  It’s politically loaded, right?  If you’re interested in my take on it, I’ll be happy to explain it.  Remember: reality is nuanced.

BTW, I’m the Whitiest Whitey

Black friends: You’re beautiful and I love you.  I hope I did this topic ok-ish justice.  I’m not particularly skilled at addressing this topic.  If I spoke wrongly anywhere, I’ll be happy to adapt it.  I’m writing to my fellow whiteys about a topic I have no experience in.  I’m listening, and more importantly, I want to help elevate your voice using mine.  May my privilege be in your service.

A closing thought: I believe the one all-powerful, all-loving God of all that exists came to Earth in the form of a person of color — as a minority oppressed and murdered by the Roman state.  The God I worship wore brown skin.

My Comment Policy

My blog is a safe space.  No cruel arguments.  Questions are good, though!  Speak in honesty, humbly, and lovingly.  If my fellow whiteys post something mean (by my standards, not your standards), I will simply delete it.

If you see a mean comment, please don’t jump in and start a fight; instead, let me know, and I’ll delete it.  This is because, ironically, a fight can distract from those who have smaller voices, and I want smaller voices to have the table here.

Finally — If all you, fellow whitey, got from reading this is the whole entry is full of crap, then…We’re not friends.  I don’t care who you are — that’s the kind of disagreement I deem irreconcilable.  Do us both a favor and walk away.

(That’s assuming there are comments to begin with, mind you. :D)



  1. I’m the last person who should tell others not to be violent considering my past. My issue with the riots is the fact people are trying to justify random violence that harms innocent people as a reaction to violence and harm caused by specific people. If they really want to get violent target the cause of their rage. The prosecutors that refuse to take the dirty cops down (one of which is actually on the short list to be Biden’s VP pick). How about target state houses and courts? After all, even I’ll agree that our system is fucked up. Taking it a step further, they could even target DC and all those politicians that have spent decades using these very same issues to get elected while not doing shit to fix the problems they promised to fix.

    If they really want to call this a revolution instead of riots (which I’ve seen more than a few do so) then pick targets responsible for the issues and leave the mom and pop shops alone. Most of them are struggling to make ends meet anyway and destroying their ability to take care of their families only harms the cause by turning those people against them.

    1. I don’t disagree, but that’s outside of my point, which is examining and understanding the root cause and empathizing with the human element tied up in it. Keep in mind, it’s easy for us outside to have a very objective, ideal, tactical idea of how it should go down (in which I agree with you), but to be the person in the middle of the experience is entirely different.

      i.e. They’re not exactly waltzing into this armed with copies of “The Art of War”, mind you.

      That’s not accounting for the variable of nether-do-wells who are unassociated with protesters inciting/escalating violence as well, including white supremacists, which are sadly and apparently a factor.

      Here in Dallas, a lot of the violence is coming from out of state, because apparently the situation wasn’t complicated enough to begin with.

      1. If I can get ahead of that argument to save everyone time, I will act it out myself:

        “The people who own small business who have nothing to do with racist police are innocent victims when their small businesses are torched.”

        “No one is innocent that benefits off the current inherently racist system”.

        And of course that rabbit hole goes so very deep. I don’t really wanna go down it here and now cuz it’s beyond the more immediate point I’m getting at here and I am not insightful enough to address it to the depth it deserves — I think it’s enough to say, instead, that we can understand our neighbors lashing out, period. Fix the problem causing the pain, everyone benefits in the end.

        (It’s happening here in Dallas. We had, for instance, a cupcake store hit, which “has nothing to do with the problem”. )

        There is, of course, a deeper, bigger problem behind all this still, but for now, for the people in my social orbit not so versed in the bigger mechanisms, I want to help shine a light on why these riots are happening, what the real problem behind them is, and how we can better respond to it.

        I do, of course, want everyone to grasp the bigger, broader topics, but…step at a time. 😉

  2. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m really not the person qualified to address the “who is innocent?” question, but I did find a great article that does a much better job of answering it than I ever could. The answer from People Definitely Smarter than Me:

    At the root of it is a bigger question regarding the value of property vs. the value of life, though my even wording it that simply betrays the complexity of the whole thing.

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