Re: The Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam

Candida Ellis (
Sun, 21 Apr 1996 23:05:22 -0400

I am confused by the discussion on "which is more fundamentally radical,"
the Civil Rights Movement or the anti-war movement. Moreover, the notion
that the black power movement was "radical" shocks me--the black power
movement may have been tactically radical; ideologically it was nothing
more than give me some of the pie. It differed from the CR movement only
in its assertion that African Americans had the right and perhaps even
the duty to defend themselves violently when necessary.

The real radicalism of both the antiwar movement and the civil rights
movement, it seems to me, lays not in their ideology which was after all
pretty tame (celebrating, as America did, a different form of victory in
Viet Nam and to this day quoting mortality statistics that exclude the
Vietnamese dead altogether); the radicalizing effects of both movements
lay instead in their wearing away (much in the manner of Watergate
somewhat later) the naivete on which the oppressive fifties drew so
heavily. In that sense the anticommunism of that era was a powerful
contributor to the rebellions that ensued.

But more importantly, from my perspective, is that at the time many of us
did not see a difference between the CR movement and the antiwar
movement. We would have found this debate silly precisely because it
seemed clear that racism was both the target and the fuel in each. I
agree that those of us who can remember back to the early sixties are
more interested in civil rights but I think this also reflects the
successful cooption of radical movements through the tools of racism.
Whites tend to see the resistance to racism as separate from them,
something to which they may have altruistically contributed but not
really central to either their lives or the power elites that run the
country. I say bull. Vietnam could not have been turned into a toxic
parking lot without racism, both the racism that enabled the drafting of
young black men whose lives meant little to mainstream America and the
racism that saw the Vietnamese as lesser peoples whose annihilation could
be tolerated (a la the peoples of the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, etc.
etc. etc.)

One of these days whites are going to wake up to the "mainstreaming" of
racism which gave birth to this nation and its culture, as well as to its
economy. How can we possibly imagine that we could discuss any
resistance movement without understanding the centrality of race to the
American psyche?

Candi Ellis
UC Berkeley