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The Riot Question

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So with polls showing Barack Obama with leads in almost all the battleground states, including Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado-all states won by George W. Bush in 2004 – what happens if America wakes up on November 5 to a President John McCain? Eight Forty-Eight contributor Jessica Young contemplates one possibility.

My boyfriend asked me what I thought would happen if Barak Obama didn't win. Without hesitating, I answered, “Black people will riot.” Black people always riot when we feel like we haven't been heard, when we feel we've been mistreated and ignored. When Martin Luther King was killed, black people rioted in over one hundred cities. In 1965, when black people were abused and killed by LA cops, Watts rioted, and years later, when four of the next generation of police were acquitted for beating Rodney King, Los Angeles rioted again. In 2001, black people in my hometown of Cincinnati rioted in response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old black man by a white police officer. With the majority of African Americans rallying behind a candidate who looks like them, I can only imagine that if they are disenfranchised of their choice, or if Obama doesn't win because of his dark skin and strange name, they may feel rioting to be the only recourse.
 
I think rioting is violent, unwise and pretty fruitless, but I can absolutely understand the instinct. When I move through a culture that refuses to acknowledge me, that condescends to my racial struggle, or sometimes openly clings to the anachronistic racist views of its forefathers, I get angry. I want to shout or break something, I want to kick someone's teeth in, I want to strike and rage and make myself be seen, even if I perpetuate a stereotype as the loud, dangerous blight on society so many may think I am. But then I consider the evils of rioting, the damage done to the victim, the perpetrator, and the community, and I'm not sure if such violence is appropriate. I must concede that rioting if my chosen candidate doesn't win not only seems excessive and unfortunate, it also seems more like the tantrum of a petulant child than it does a fight for equality and fairness.
 
And yes, I am not ignorant of the fact that Obama isn't a “black” candidate, that he's biracial, and to assume otherwise caters in some capacity to the “one-drop rule” that was used for hundreds of years to alienate people, separate families, and keep slaves in bondage. I've also had enough exposure to know that not all black people are Democrats, and that plenty of the black community would be delighted for our nation to remain under Republican leadership. So I do not believe that all black people think alike, that we all like Obama, and that if he wins the election, it'll be tax cuts, free fried chicken and watermelon for black folk as far as the eye can see. But I do know that people are working hard to sow seeds of fear about him in American hearts, and we all know why.
 
So I don't know if I want Obama to win because I want someone who looks like me to be Commander in Chief for the first time in my nation's history. Perhaps I want Obama to win because I frankly like him and his policies, and I trust him more than John McCain. Or maybe I want him to win because I fear if he doesn't, black people will be swallowed by our own pain and frustration, and will make the ignorant and short-sighted choice of ruining our communities and injuring fellow citizens in rage.
 
When I was a young woman, my father told me he didn't believe America would see a president of color in his lifetime, and probably not mine either. For the first time in the history of the country, a man with a funny name, a brown face, and a Middle American experience has a solid chance of making a liar out of my dad. That excites me; it inspires me. But it also scares me. I fear about the kind of disappointment and grief black people will have to cope with if, in fact, Dad was telling the truth the whole time.

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