A-Z of Black Radicalism

V is for Violence

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Radical politics is often dismissed as a bloodthirsty quest to take on the state. Nothing could be further from the truth. The question of violence has often come to define debates about radicalism but this is done to scare people away from revolutionary ideas. If violence was not a legitimate political act then we would have abandoned the West a long time ago because there has never been a more violent and brutal regime on the planet. The West, through genocide, slavery, colonialism, murder, austerity and unjust trade practices has laid waste to more lives than all other political systems combined. 22,000 (almost exclusively Black and Brown) children die a day because they are made poor by this wicked system.

It is because violence is the basic operating system of the West that Black radicals have rejected non-violence as a strategy. We are not baying for blood, just recognising that to embrace non-violence means to accept the framework of the status quo. Once we understand that the system is the problem and needs to be replaced it is obvious that the most violent system ever created is not going to give in peacefully. This is why self-defence has been the main call for violence in Black radical movements. Do not let racists come into your neighbourhood and attack you. Do not back down from the police when they are brutalising the community. Do all you can to defend the lives that are constantly under attack from the forces of racism.

Revolution involves achieving freedom by any means necessary and in order to liberate Africa and the diaspora, violence is likely to be necessary given the nature of beast we are facing. But this is not our choice. Malcolm’s famous speech the Ballot or the Bullet is a reminder that it is those in power who have a decision to make. He explains that it is possible for America ‘to have the only non-violent revolution in history’, they just have to dismantle racism and essentially pay full reparations for the damage done. We all know this is incredibly unlikely to happen, which is why violence remains part of the radical imaginary.

We must always remember though that violence does not make politics radical. ISIS are violent, the KKK are violent, the West is violence. As people get frustrated they often turn to those groups lashing out at the West, which is why Al-Shabab and Boko Haram are spreading across Africa. Hitting out feels like doing something. But extremism is not radicalism, it is the exact opposite. More than anything the decline in radical politics has led to the rise in extremism, people being seduced by the simplistic and heroic image of violence as martyrdom. There are many stages to go through in building a revolution that do not involve violent confrontations with those in power. Violence is not the solution, revolution is.


Fanz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth

Malcolm X The Ballot or the Bullet

Yaa Asantewaa

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: