Protest Pressure

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Protest pressure refers to demonstrative, rhetorical, physical, and political actions taken by Africans to reject enslavement, discrimination, racism, and prejudice. Protest pressure may be thought of as having started with the slave revolts prior to the Civil War and continuing into the 21st century.
In the field of Black Studies, scholars study protest pressure emanating from individual and collective organizations. Articulated primarily through political and physical actions, protest pressure is meant to create tension within the social structures that support white racial domination of African people. Protest pressure evolved during the 17th century as African people began to protest against the abuse, disrespect, and violence of whites. After the end of the Civil War and the brief period of the Reconstruction, Africans were viciously attacked by many white Southerners whose claim to racial superiority had been called into question by the Civil War and the subsequent rise of African American legislators in the South. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded in the late 19th century as the reactionary arm of the proponents of white supremacy.
It was not long after the creation of the KKK that the African American community began organizing against the racist group. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed and quickly became one of the dominant organizations to bring protest pressure against racism. Soon after World War I, the African population began to use large street demonstrations to express censure of discrimination. By the end of World War II, this strategy had gained widespread use and the increase in the expertise of the organizers meant that a demonstration could be called immediately.
Protest pressure has two characteristics: (1) the threat of violence and (2) the moral legitimacy of free speech. It is because of these two qualities that demonstrations such as those led by Martin Luther King, Jr., during the civil rights era were so successful. African Americans had learned from A. Philip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, that protest pressure could be a valuable asset to the struggle for full liberation.
Active propaganda against racism appeared in the early 20th century as a form of literate warfare. Writers like W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Carter G. Woodson made it their business to agitate for racial equality and social justice. Soon direct action, a form of protest pressure that involved physical action such as sitting at counters that were ostensibly segregated, sitting in the front of buses that did not permit African people to sit in front seats, and physically occupying offices and buildings, became the most prevalent way of bringing pressure on racist institutions.
Protest pressure has most often been brought to bear in the two directions of economics and culture. Economic radicalism has been concerned with developing boycotts and other forms of economic sabotage on racist institutions. Cultural radicalism has directed its efforts to cultural institutions such as schools, churches, social agencies, and arts and cultural institutions. In the end, the African American community has used protest pressure when necessary to demand Black Studies, women's rights, youth justice, and an end to racial profiling of motorists.

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Further Reading

  • Asante, Molefi Kete. (2003). Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. This book seeks to outline the main contours of the march toward African American freedom by showing the long distance that has already been traveled and suggesting how protest pressure might bring about a renewal of energy toward reparations.
  • Hilliard, Asa. (1998). SBA: The Reawakening of the African Mind. Gainesville, FL: Makare. This book demonstrates that African Americans can achieve greater satisfaction with struggles against racism by arriving at greater consciousness through African cultural principles and values.
  • Meier, August, Rudwick, Elliott, and Broderick, Francis L. (1965). Black Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill. This is one of the standard works in black protest thought. It is a compilation of the best works of the early part of the 20th century.