Nice Is the New Civil

Words written over fifty years ago (boldface mine):

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

Tim Wise on the pitfalls of niceness (boldface mine):

Nice is like a set of noise canceling headphones, which disallows those possessed of it from hearing the cries of others suffering under the weight of injustice. Nice is precious, nice is content, and nice does not want to hear of pain. Niceness cannot brook anguish because anguish disturbs the sleep of the just.

Nice is like one of those aromatherapy masks you can get at a day spa. It slips right over the eyes and lulls you into a state of relaxation with the pleasant aroma of lavender. Nice is a soothing massage, a warm cup of tea, or Enya.

Nice is the blue pill from the Matrix—the one Morpheus offers to Neo, which Neo does not take but most white folks have—and which allows us to remain oblivious to the world and how that world is being experienced by those who have had no choice but to ingest the red pill, simply so as to understand what the hell is happening in their own lives.

Nice is the enemy of justice because to raise one’s voice against oppression is to be instantly pegged as not nice, as disruptive, as unruly, as dangerous. To block traffic, or interfere with the all-important Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center is not nice. To interrupt the symphony orchestra in St. Louis, or the drunken revelry of nice white baseball fans at a Cardinals game is not nice. To signify sympathy for a murdered young man in Ferguson, with even a gesture as simple as raising one’s hands as you come out of the tunnel before the football game is not nice. It is, to some—who would rather just watch black men entertain them with a few nice interceptions—worthy of punishment, or professional discipline. How dare they, say the nice white people who paid good money to see black men play gladiator for the glory of the hometown team.

Nice people change nothing. They never have and they never will. Those who are nice are so invested in their niceness, in their sense of propriety and civility that they rarely raise their voices above a whisper, even in the face of sweltering oppression. Nice white people were the ones who didn’t own black folks during the period of enslavement but also didn’t raise their voices against the ones who did. Nice white people are the ones who didn’t spit on sit-in demonstrators but also had no problem spending money with businesses that had remained segregated all those years….

In short, and though I know it won’t strike you as, well, nice: fuck nice. And if you’re more disturbed about my language here than the death of black men at the hands of police, then know that you are the problem, and you’ve made it clear what side you’re on.

Time to be a bit uncivil and not so nice, like the widow of Eric Garner:

“No I don’t accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences. He’s still working, he’s still getting a paycheck, he’s still feeding his kids. And my husband is six feet under, and I’m looking for a way to feed my kids now,” she said.

How rude.

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4 Responses to Nice Is the New Civil

  1. Complacency: The anodyne of privilege.

  2. UserGoogol says:

    I think this is the wrong way to frame it. I mean, “red pill?” Just google that phrase to realize why nobody should ever take the red pill.

    The lesson should instead be that it’s not nice to tell oppressed people they have to be nice. What’s nice is to make all possible efforts to work towards progress.

    • UserGoogol says:

      And I don’t think that’s just guilt by association. When people stop being nice, they don’t become Martin Luther King, they become Patrick Bateman. Niceness does not mean “civility,” it means compassion. Niceness is one of the most fundamental virtues there is, and it should not be allowed to be sullied by the many people who misapply it.

  3. Pingback: On Being a Nice Guy | ***Dave Does the Blog

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