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Black Americans and Self-Defense

Stand Whose Ground?

by BENJAMIN WOODS

“Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”

– “If We Must Die” -Claude Mckay

The Southern Poverty Law Center released its Spring 2012 Intelligence Report titled “The Year in Hate and Extremism,” which described the dramatic increase in the number of radical right- wing organizations.

A few of the groups are described as neo-nazis, neo-confederates, white nationalists, and racist skinheads. According to the report, the number of militia and patriot groups jumped from 158 in 2001 to 1274 in 2011. A similar rise of right-wing groups has occurred in Europe as well.

The publication provides three reasons for the rise of so-called ‘hate groups’: the first Black President, a growing non-white population, and, I think most importantly, the so-called Great Recession.

For obvious reasons, Black people should be especially alarmed by the rise of the radical right. We are subjected to a distinct type of oppression in America. Historically, Black people are defined by America as the opposite of all that is moral, just, beautiful, industrious and divine.

In short, we are the most likely scapegoats in periods of instability, like, I don’t know– an economic recession. Of course, other groups such as Jews, Arabs, women, homosexuals, etc. are targets as well, but Blacks are the eternal “other.”

The murder of Trayvon Martin should be placed in this context.

However, I don’t think these incidences of white radicalism should be viewed as strictly the province of the so-called lower classes. A large part of this potential raging fire is being fanned by right-wing elites such as the Koch brothers.

The Koch brothers fund politicians like Newt Gingrich who stated, “I will tell black people to demand paychecks instead of food stamps,” and Rick Santorum who enlightened us with “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

The Koch brothers, are also behind the voter ID legislation and owners of Georgia-Pacific–you know, all those new paper towel and soap dispensers in bathrooms across the university campus.

White radicalism could not be so widespread and protracted without white elite complicity. In 1919, after the Washington Post ran a story stating a white woman had been raped by a Black man, whites engaged in a rampage through The District for multiple days, murdering Black people throughout the city.

Once it became obvious that the government was not going to intervene, Black folk began to form self-defense units against white neighborhood watchmen, I mean–vigilantes. They even placed snipers on the roof of Howard Theater to defend themselves.

In the 1950s, Robert Williams, head of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP started a gun club to protect civil rights workers. Self-defense was a necessity for survival in Black communities, not a “get-out-of-jail-free,” or rather, a “never-be-arrested-for-murder” card.

Although, for the most part, their methods have changed, this rise in right-wing radical groups reminds us that there was a time when a certain group of people, many of whom now criticize our hoodies once wore different hoods of their own.

In many ways, the self defense aspect of Stand Your Ground law is not foreign to the history of Black people. The answer to our question of what else can we do outside of marches, rallies, and petitions, is there, only if, we listen to the ancestors…..

Benjamin Woods is a PhD candidate at Howard University.

This article originally appeared in the Howard newspaper, The Hilltop.