For those of you who have read my blogs before, you may have gathered that my approach to justice-making is not entirely non-violent. Researching and writing about the movement away from abusive community paradigms in my dissertation, I argue that we need to care for the kind of refractory violence or counter-violence that arises in our movements away from abuse.
The idea here is not that violence should be a goal, or even that violence is “good”—but rather, that we are in (close) relationship to violence of all kinds. All violence, as I define the term, is destructive in some way; but as many religions of the world remind us, destruction, like creation, is an important part of life. Not all violence is “bad.”
Some violence is a part of our natural world—the Earthquake in Nepal and the devastation facing so many of its citizens right now speaks to this. I was once told in a process ethics class (based upon principles of process theology and process philosophy) that such violence is sometimes considered a “natural evil.” I am not comfortable with this characterization; but having never experienced the full force of such a disaster, I would rather defer to the characterizations of survivors here.
Other violence is the result of our movement away from abusive and oppressive forces. This violence too, is not simply “bad,” because it is necessary to destroy attachment to abusive relationship. It may be experienced as bad, very bad or even evil; it may be the result of bad things that have happened in our lives—but the violence of redirection can also be life-giving. Shedding abuse in my own life was a violent process. I had to learn how to love again outside of the abusive context and progressively “destroy” (take apart, deconstruct, refract and tear down) what I thought was love. But the counter-violence I experienced was one of rebirth.
Of course, some violence is about control and domination—and this is the violence that so many of us are working to change with counter-acts of non-violence. I wholeheartedly support this kind of action. I even see it as ideal. Yet, I think our relationship to non-violence is often shaped by our relationship to the “gravity” (the significance, weight, power and pressure) of the situation. This discussion of gravity, and what it means to act violently or non-violently takes on particular importance when we consider the significance of violent protest.
I have read several articles in the past week or so about the murder of Freddie Grey, resultant nonviolent protests, and rioting in Baltimore, Maryland. Many reports criticize African American residents for their violent response, others articles describe how student rioting was actually incited by police measures, while still many other reports describe the importance of such violence and/or its significance as an act of protest and identity.
When interviewed about the Vietnam War on the Mike Douglas show, Martin Luther King Jr. was asked about the 1979 study “Protest and Prejudice” regarding attitudes and beliefs prominent within the African American community at the time. When questioned about rioting in particular, King stated: “riots are the language of the unheard.” Describing his own work as “militant non-violence,” King did not favor rioting or see it as constructive. However, he does suggest that riots call attention to problems, and arise from a people who have been failed.
I was reminded of his words when reading an article entitled, “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now,” by Julia Blount. Asking that whites really work to listen to the langue of violent protest, the Blount tells her readers what she hears:
I hear hopelessness
I hear oppression
I hear pain
I hear internalized oppression
I hear despair
I hear anger
I hear poverty
Violence, like anger, tells us something important—and all kinds of violence tell us something important, even if we don’t like or agree with what one kind of violence or another is communicating to us. I hear so loudly this past year, particularly since the death of Michael Brown, that America (and particularly white America) is failing, has failed and continues to fail the African American community and other communities of color. I hear frustration; and sometimes the fear that oppressive violence is reaching a kind of critical mass. I sometimes feel this fear. But, I also hear that human dignity is leading people to fight back.
Violent and non-violent protests refuse self-negation, howbeit differently. Our creative counter-violence does not take just one form. As King and Blount suggest, we need to listen to hear what these responses are communicating, creating and destroying.
 This is an important interview, and I hope that you will watch it. You can access part one of the interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SfH2uMayks, the quoted material comes from Part 3 of the interview.
 Julia Blount, “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now,” Salon, Wednesday April 29, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.