Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” On January 20—the day we honor his life and celebrate his work towards transforming civil rights through non-violence and love—another group, Being Black at UM (BBUM), incited its own message of change. They vowed to use “physical action” if their demands were not met. So I ask: what is the first thing you think of when you hear the words “physical action”?
Imagine a right-leaning group declaring it would take physical action if their demands were not met. Every administrator and group on campus would denounce them for promoting violence. Most would probably even think that was a declaration for gun violence or a bomb threat. I would love to see a liberal defend their word choice because the double standard is truly amazing. As the past-president of a conservative group on campus, I understand the power of words and the impact they have—these words were meant to bring images of violence to mind.
Some scoff and say the list of demands is nothing serious. BBUM gave the University of Michigan seven days to give them more money, renovate the multicultural center, and increase the quota of blacks in the student body to 10%—or else. A group that purports to be for equality wants more financial support for tuition and astronomical Ann Arbor housing—issues that I assure you affect every student here. Rather than demand fairness, they want special treatment and further differentiation. Since the controversy, the University has met with the students over their demands (I would love to know just how many groups the University has ever met with in response to such outrageousness), and has decided to spend a whopping $300,000 on renovations for the multicultural center.
While that is astonishing, what is more frightening is how many people found this rhetoric usage acceptable. If Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive today, I cannot imagine how ashamed he would be if he saw these types of words being used. He was a religious man who used Jesus as an example to promote peace. He worked for equality by forcefully, but civilly making his wishes heard, and in the meantime gained the respect of his community and his adversaries.
Rhetoric. It’s a tricky thing. When used correctly, it is a powerful tool. BBUM wanted attention, but negative attention is not necessarily the good kind. This group thought thoroughly about how to make their message heard. They go to Michigan; they are smart enough to know the words “physical action” instill fear and images of violence in people’s minds. It is a tactic, but it does a greater disservice to this group than anything else. Intimidation and threats will go nowhere in society. BBUM complains their group has been ignored since the 1970s. Any look into the University’s history assures you quite the contrary, but with actions such as these, is it any surprise?