America, we love your theories and ideals but hate your practice. Your beloved paragon and vision of equality will never come to fruition due to your love of violence. America wonders why the concept of peace seems so elusive but never stops to reconcile the sheer magnitude of its original sin: racism. Instead of reflecting on the history of slavery and using the Civil War as an opportunity to rectify past errors, America concocted elaborate methods of violence to deceive the public. There are countless moments in history where this country held the power to eradicate the institutions of slavery and racism outright. Yet, America chose brute force.
Brute force exemplifies the social miseries and various forms of domination placed upon Black bodies. On the other hand, virtue is the militant tenderness and love that Black people have used as tools to combat anti-Black racism and Epistemic violence. This is the relationship that Blacks have shared with America for over 400 years. Virtue vs. Brute Force. Love vs. Hate. Liberation vs. Oppression. Herein lies the spiritual battle for all of our souls. How will we respond?
The American system of brutality post-slavery is a sweltering trail of fire, soaked in the blood of Black brothers and sisters. It is engineered to scorch the psyche and bodies of people on the brink of embracing eternal damnation over living in this country. This is not hyperbole. It may be a shock to many, but most Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, cannot fathom the violence exercised on Black people, thus making it difficult to discern how to combat the forces of brutality at hand.
However, an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist and author named W.E.B DuBois invites us to answer this very question. In 1961, a 93-year-old DuBois asked his audience, “What shall virtue do when met with brute force?” The question is straight-forward, concise, devoid of intricate words and purposefully structured to strike a nerve with the Afro-American audience in attendance that day. It challenges listeners to practice remaining steadfast in their values. However, strengthening our morals in the face of terror is a tall task. To answer such a profound question, let us invoke the spirits of those who laid the groundwork and offered their visions of what a better America ought to look like.
W.E.B DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr. dealt with American brute force at its most overt and purest forms of evil. An array of bullets taking the form of segregation, Jim Crowism and exile aimed to compromise these two men’s souls, minds and bodies. These hardships are what made these men so special. Despite their suffering, they showed the power a virtuous person possesses. Both men never lost their love, patience, courage, integrity and never sold their souls to please the establishment or the wills of others. Virtues make up an individual, and knowing oneself is the beginning to understanding how virtue responds to brute force. King knew he was a child of God and loved all people; he remained faithful to his virtues because he dreamed of an integrated and equal America. He loved people dearly, so much so he was willing to give up his life for the revolution and the movement. At the same time, while DuBois embraced different modes of ideologies, he too practiced paideia like King. Though he could not accept King’s vision of equality, DuBois worked tirelessly for the intellectual advancement of Black people by creating the Talented Tenth and the NAACP. DuBois knew he was a relentless critic of the American empire and undeniably the most important and radical Black intellectual of the twentieth century. DuBois understood how the American public would receive him negatively for his critiques and frank speech. Despite this, he endured, remaining faithful to his beliefs, and continued to pursue justice in the face of evil. King and DuBois left us with a blueprint outlining the contours of what it means to show strength against brute force. They taught us that the conviction of our virtues dictates the effectiveness of our fight against brutality and oppression. To combat injustice with violence instead of virtue deepens the brutality of the oppressor and intensifies the bitterness of the oppressed.
“There is no such thing as a Negro problem. It is a catastrophe visited on Black people, and the question is going to be what will be your response to it: intellectually, morally, spiritually, economically. Will it be channeled through a love of justice? Or will it be channeled through hatred and revenge? Will it be spiritually mature? Or will it just be as gangster-like as the gangsters who are trying to impose White supremacy on you?” – Cornel West
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