A boy hit my nephew every day at primary school a few weeks ago. We only found out because another boy from his class told us. We complained to the teacher and she didn’t do anything. Then we complained to the head teacher. Again, no action was taken. So, I took my nephew aside and told him something. I told him to beat up the boy if he tried it again and make sure that it didn’t happen again, because it is completely justified to defend yourself when attacked.
It is a pathetic commonplace that fighting is an uncivilised form of behaviour. They (usually) try to root it out in schools. This attitude stems from a deep rooted cowardice and draws on Christian teachings to turn the other cheek and is historically located in the legal prohibition of forms of duelling in the modern period. The only duelling that is permissible, say the courts, is the duelling of the lawyers (middle class white men, as a general rule). And the only violence that is permitted, says the state, is the violence that we sanction. You can even kill when we say so, they say (even when they kill babies and women it is completely justified – this is the law).
Of course, if I were to suggest that I have been in fights as an adult over racist incidents, then I would possibly get into trouble with the authorities. So, instead, I want to talk about racism and some fights at school and compare them with an incident in which the White Man took charge of the situation and managed it instead of letting things get resolved in a different manner in order to illuminate some of the points I will make.
I will begin with a little anecdote. When I was in Primary school, there was a particularly noxious rich boy with brown hair in curtains called Phillip. Instead of calling me by my real name, Phillip began taunting me by calling me a different name, Sanjay. This was a character in Eastenders at the time, I believe. Of course, I knew that Phillip was mocking me, although I wasn’t sure about what exactly it meant. He was trying to destroy the name that my parents had given me as a gift. The other children laughed. To them, it was funny. They were on Phillip’s side. Why not? I was the minority. There were only a few other children with brown skin in the school. I swallowed my anger in the classroom with a silent glare and waited to resolve the issue on my own after school.
However, after school, I met my little brother and found out that Phillip had been mocking him too. It was now apparent that Phillip was a racist. So, we found Phillip and we administered the teaching of the body to him. In short, we had our brutal revenge. Of course, Phillip could never tell anyone that some brown children of immigrants had beaten him up, so nothing happened as a consequence. Revenge was sweet. Tupac Shakur has said that “revenge is the sweetest joy next to getting pussy”. And revenge is sweet because in revenge we are the law. We are in control of our situation. Our revenge teaches a lesson. We are the masters of truth and law and justice in our revenge, not the victims which the oppressor wishes to make us. We are self-determining agents.
I want to compare this incident from primary school with one in secondary school when I was personally insulted, along with others, in a classroom environment. It was a history lesson with the most boring man in the world. We were learning about the British Raj. Suddenly, a boy from the back of the class directed a comment at the few of us in the class with brown skin: “Ha, we used to own you!” I forget the name of the boy. At once, I felt intensely hurt and angry and I looked to the teacher for justice. Where was my justice? There was no justice that day. The White Man didn’t tell the boy off. He didn’t explain why it was wrong to call us slaves and property. He didn’t object to the malicious exultation of the boy from his own race. Instead, he smirked and carried on the lesson. I still remember that smirk. The master of the truth and justice in the form of the White Man could not give us and me our justice. Before him, we had not voice, status or sympathy. Before him, our conflicts meant nothing. It was at that precise moment that I think I decided that I didn’t want to carry on studying history at that school.
I don’t think I need to spell out the point of this little comparison, but I will do so anyway. The White Man wishes the brown man to trust him and his structures of truth, law and justice without giving anything to trust in. From school to adulthood, time and time again, that system which pretends that it delivers universal justice fails us. And yet, we are still expected to give our trust to that system. We are expected to come to it with our problems and accept the solutions of the White Man, with his pretended neutrality. We are to become passive spectators of our own destinies as they are decided by the white man, whether or not they are right for us. And the fool will keep coming back, whereas the wise man will say ‘no more’ and he will take the law into his own hands and make that law his own. Civilisation is not giving up conflicts to another. Civilisation is fighting for your own ground, whatever form that fighting takes. The mythic rule of the law is one that is structurally unjust. It is the rule of the oppressor.