One week ago, activist, Brittany “Bree” Newsome scaled a pole and took down a Confederate battle flag in South Carolina. This is called civil disobedience but as child of 1990’s hip hop, I call it, silence and violence. Those of the Fox News breed will say I am promoting negativity. NOPE, come here, let me coach you. Below are definitions of both words courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary:
1a. The fact of abstaining or forbearing from speech or utterance (sometimes with reference to a particular matter); the state or condition resulting from this; muteness, reticence, taciturnity. Occas. with a or in pl.
2a. The state or condition when nothing is audible; absence of all sound or noise; complete quietness or stillness; noiselessness. Sometimes personified. Also const. of (the night, etc.).
1. The deliberate exercise of physical force against a person, property, etc.; physically violent behaviour or treatment; (Law) the unlawful exercise of physical force, intimidation by the exhibition of such force
2. An instance or case of this; a violent or damaging act; a physical assault. Now rare
3. Great strength or power of a natural force or physical action, esp. when destructive or damaging; violent motion or effect.
Great intensity or severity, esp. of something destructive or undesirable. Freq. with of.
4. Vehemence or intensity of emotion, behaviour, or language; extreme fervour; passion.
5a. A restriction on or alteration of natural action, behaviour, or inclination; an undue or enforced constraint. Chiefly with to, on, etc. Now rare
b. Undue constraint applied to nature, a trait, habit, etc., so as to restrict its development or use, or to alter it unnaturally. Chiefly with to. Now somewhat rare.
Silence can be something that is not said, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be heard. Violence is an act that is normally and usually associated with negative force upon someone or something, as in definitions 1 though 3. Look at definitions of 4 and 5 of violence again. Where do you see negativity expressed in the definition? Yeah. Now that you see where I am coming from, I shall proceed—yes, indeed.
There are times when the pen and the sword are of equal might. Newsome has produced multiple bodies of work to create political or social awareness. Her most notable work was the removal of the flag with the help of James Ian Tyson. The Charleston Massacre definitely brought the flag to the forefront with varying opinions about its’ presence in the south and throughout the country.
The flag removal, however is just as powerful as her release statement in which she references the cause and the effect of the confederate flag blowing in the wind along with injustices past, present and globally:
“I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015, including the ongoing ethnic cleansing in the Dominican Republic. I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free.”
Sports and Entertainment
Silence and violence can be seen elsewhere. Professional athletes and other entertainers made statements by wearing hoodies and t-shirts reading “I Can’t Breathe” for the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, respectively. These were signs of solidarity to the rest of the world. No words, just actions.
The involvement of celebrities can be sticky because sometimes the fans show support for their favorite entertainer and not the cause. I have seen this happen at the hip-hop education rally in 2002. The rally was organized by the United Federation of Teachers and Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Action Network for proposed education budget cuts in New York City. Students were urged to come out and rally, the only problem was that most of them were there to see their favorite rapper. I was there to capture the event for an article and the comments and the interest of the teens was not on education. I couldn’t talk about it unless I lived it. I can’t blame them for their interest or focus. A young adult being able to see their favorite artists—for free—after school is a great opportunity. Why not?
Fast-forward to 2013 when Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up at the Trayvon Martin rally unannounced, it had more meaning. They weren’t there for the publicity, but for the cause. Ironically, showing their faces created more media attention surrounding the teenager’s death.
When Harry Belafonte spoke about the lack of activism from today’s black celebrities including Jay-Z and then Jay-Z replied, it was horrible. They both said things that made you cover your eyes and mouth. What they failed to do was understand each other and the difference in times of unrest. Their leadership roles aren’t the same. Nevertheless, there was some buzz of the power couple wiring money to bail out protesters. This allows the protesters to be free and continue to do what they do best. This is activism done quietly and in solidarity.
I would be remised if I did not acknowledge the other uses of the term presented. Silence and violence isn’t only for the protester, sadly enough. It’s not just civil disobedience or a nod in solidarity. Whether it is a noose is being hung, a particular flag raised or a racial epithet written on property these are manifestations of silence and violence that disrupts the norm and questions the safety of a particular group. Silence and violence is not for just for the good fellas, unfortunately the bad boys use it, too.