The Civil Rights Movement Failed

A compelling argument is made in the book How Nonviolence Protects the State that the Civil Rights Movement failed.

Main points:

  • De facto segregation still exists in many American communities.
  • Many poor minority communities, including many of our reservations, exhibit 3rd world style poverty.
  • The Civil Right Movement succeeded in creating a small middle class among minority communities, but has failed working class and underclass minorities.
  • This small middle class is now responsible for managing various social programs which are helpful to poor minorities, but as history has shown, they have proven ineffective at lifting us out of poverty.

Among American Indians this small middle class can be found in Tribal Governments. We are now party to our own oppression when we should be fighting for complete independence from US Imperialism. Our leadership should be focusing on grass roots, bootstrap style economic development, and small scale entrepreneurship while rebuilding our traditional tribe and clan structures. Instead, we spin our wheels with large scale projects that often benefit those in power and bypass those in need. We are fostering more dependence when we should be building independence and resiliency. This is a pattern that can be seen across Indian Country and across all poor communities. It is not just a problem we face.

*pdf link follows
How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos
pp. 7-8

The US civil rights movement is one of the most important episodes in the pacifist history. Across the world, people see it as an example of nonviolent victory. 7But, like the other examples discussed here, it was neither a victory nor nonviolent. The movement was successful in ending de jure segregation and expanding the minuscule black petty bourgeoisie, but these were not the only demands of the majority of movement participants.” They wanted full political and economic equality, and many also wanted black liberation in the form of black nationalism, black inter-communalism, or some other independence from white imperialism. None of these demands were met—not equality, and certainly not liberation.

People of color still have lower average incomes, poorer access to housing and health care, and poorer health than white people. De facto segregation still exists. Political equality is also lacking. Millions of voters, most of them black, are disenfranchised when it is convenient to ruling interests, and only four black senators have served since Reconstruction.” Other races have also been missed by the mythical fruits of civil rights. Latino and Asian immigrants are especially vulnerable to abuse, deportation, denial of social services they pay taxes for, and toxic and backbreaking labor in sweatshops or as migrant agricultural laborers. Muslims and Arabs are taking the brunt of the post-September 11 repression, while a society that has anointed itself “color-blind” evinces nary a twinge of hypocrisy. Native peoples are kept so low on the socioeconomic ladder as to remain invisible, except for the occasional symbolic manifestation of US multiculturalismthe stereotyped sporting mascot or hula-girl doll that obscures the reality of actual indigenous people.

And another relevant passage from pp. 17-18 on waiting around for our minority middle class and other activists to save us:

People of color in the internal colonies of the US cannot defend themselves against police brutality or expropriate the means of survival to free themselves from economic servitude. They must wait for enough people of color who have attained more economic privilege (the “house slaves” of Malcolm X’s analysis) and conscientious white people to gather together and hold hands and sing songs. Then, they believe, change will surely come. People in Latin America must suffer patiently, like true martyrs, while white activists in the US “bear witness” and write to Congress. People in Iraq must not fight back. Only if they remain civilians will their deaths be counted and mourned by white peace activists who will, one of these days, muster a protest large enough to stop the war. Indigenous people need to wait just a little longer (say, another 500 years) under the shadow of genocide, slowly dying off on marginal lands, until-well, they’re not a priority right now, so perhaps they need to organize a demonstration or two to win the attention and sympathy of the powerful. Or maybe they could go on strike, engage in Gandhian noncooperation? But wait-a majority of them are already unemployed, noncooperating, fully excluded from the functioning of the system.

Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence,
and was “as bad as” Custer.


About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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