As a “Gnu Atheist”, I run across the accommodationist trope in the fight against the toxic shit that comes from religion on a daily basis. But it’s not the only area in which it is present, and in all of them it is the enemy of making actual progress. The call for politeness, for measuredness, for being nice to to the haters and reactionaries who take away and deny us rights, has always been present. The suffragettes were being called unladylike and both anti-women and anti-men (yes, the suffragettes were the first feminazis!) before they ever started throwing stones, and even today people are disputing whether their actions actually helped women gain suffrage (I guess it’s just coincidence that suffrage was achieved after the moderate methods of the suffragists were abandoned in favor of civil disobedience and eventually real militancy). And this has not changed since. Even today, women are still told that “the effectiveness and inclusiveness of women’s advocacy is inversely proportional to its radicalism”.
The Civil Rights movement also had the famous “Uppity Nigger” trope, and MLK himself expressed his frustrations with the “moderates” and accomodationists among the white population in the Letter from Birmingham Jail*:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
The same is being asked of LGBT activists who are called strident for kissing in public like everyone else, mentioning their partner in casual conversation like everyone else, and participating in those shrill, loud, Gay Pride Parades which corrupt children and somehow shove sexuality down people’s throats (as opposed to, you know, simply loudly proclaiming that gays are real people that really exist, not abstracts).
And in all these cases, it’s bullshit. The moderate stance is not accomplishing anything.
Or, if I want to be generous, it’s not accomplishing anything by itself. The moderates need the radicals. For one, without the radicals shifting the Overton Window, they themselves would be seen as the radical end of a spectrum (and in some cases, they are called that anyway). Two, throughout history it took serious threats of social disruption and violence (and sometimes ACTUAL social disruption and violence) to get anyone to do anything. Rights are taken, not politely asked for. Even the two most famous non-violent movements that were successes, were successful because everyone at some point realized that the choice was between dealing with MLK/Ghandi, or dealing with the seriously radical, violent elements (Malcolm X and Subhas Chandra Bose respectively). And let’s face it, even those non-violent movements made the real accommodationists clutch their pearls, since they WERE breaking laws and disrupting the existing social order. they just did it in such a way that none of their opponents were hurt (and nevermind that their opponents definitely didn’t have such scruples. but accommodationists never see that, do they).
Not that, at this point, I’m advocating turning to violence to get our points across, but at some times in history, it seems the threat thereof is the only way to get some social justice. Plus, I wanted to underscore how much less radical the “radical, strident, and militant” feminists/atheists/anti-capitalists/environmentalists/etc. of today are, compared to some of the social justice movements in the past. And yet, the accommodationists whine.
Well, fuck them. Sideways, with a Stinging Tree
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*and also against the “time is on our side, so just sit and wait” BS I wrote about in my last post. But that’s not the point right now.