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What’s going on?

Charles Henry, professor emeritus, African American studies | August 21, 2017

Brother, brother, brother,

We don’t need to escalate,

War is not the answer,

Only love can conquer hate,

I know we’ve got to find a way,

To bring some lovin’ here today,

What’s going on.

Yesterday a church choir in Oakland sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as a part of the church service. It seemed a particularly appropriate selection given the events of the past week or so. Gaye was inspired to write the song after witnessing an act of police brutality at an anti-Vietnam war protest in Berkeley in 1970. Although Barry Gordy of Motown initially rejected the song as too political, Gaye went on to write a whole album inspired by events at Kent State, Detroit, Watts, anti-war rallies and the environment. Gaye as a musician, and like athletes such as Colin Kaepernick, could not separate their craft from their moral and political views.

Gaye’s work was a pop culture reminder of the philosophy of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., that only love can conquer hate. It was also a reminder that nonviolent protest is morally superior to violent reactions to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, militarism and other forms of hate. Donald Trump provided a perfect example of why nonviolence works when he tried to discredit counter protesters in Charlottesville by saying there was violence on all sides. While he was widely condemned across the board, nearly a third of voters continued to support him using the violence-on-all-sides excuse as cover to ignore his views.

As right-wing provocateurs prepare to come to Berkeley, among other campuses, in the next few weeks, we would do well to remember King’s philosophy. Conservative speech occurs daily on the Berkeley campus both inside and outside the classroom. Those “well-paid” celebrity speakers who want to use this campus as a platform are not interested in promoting “free speech.” There is no conservative counterpart to the ACLU defending radicals speaking at Liberty University or the University of Mississippi. They are interested in a violent confrontation that will be used to label liberals as free speech hypocrites. The focus will then shift from their abhorrent views to arguments over moral equivalence and political correctness.

We would do well to listen to Gaye and King and not escalate. Let fascism speak for itself. Trump’s view may be the very thing that brings this country together and leads a new generation to find its voice in defining what we really want this country to be.

Comment to “What’s going on?

  1. Yes — it’s amazing how quickly the terms “Alt-left” and “Antifa” have gone from non-existent to gaining currency and being used in false equivalence arguments, not least by the President himself. Opposing neo-Nazis and white supremacists doesn’t make one a fringe figure, it makes one an American and a defender of American ideals.

    Opposition requires action, not passivity, and the response needs to be overwhelming — but it needn’t be violent. We can’t idly wait for the system to work itself out because the system is us. Offensive speech can’t go unanswered but the key is to answer it persuasively. Tit for tat doesn’t persuade — it’s like peeing your own pants to warm up in the winter: feels good for a moment, but ends up worse than before you did it. It’s being right that makes us (Americans) mighty, not the mighty mites of the Alt-right with their firearms fetish and Halloween costumes. They need to be put in their place, given a timeout. Like a hyperactive toddler who will just get louder if you make the mistake of slapping him, we need to take these alt-right outliers firmly in hand through tough love.

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