Living with the daily ugliness of slum life, educational castration and exploitation, some ghetto dwellers now and then strike out in spasms of violence and self-defeating riots. A riot is at the bottom the language of the unheard. It is the desperate, suicidal cry of one who is so fed up with the powerlessness of his cave existence that he asserts he would rather be dead than ignored.
Touring Watts a few days after that nightmarish riot in 1965, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young and I confronted a group of youngsters who said to us joyously, "We won."
We asked them: "How can you say you won when thirty-four Negroes are dead, your community is destroyed, and whites are using the riot as an excuse for inaction?"
Their answer: "We won because we made them pay attention to us."
As long as people are ignored, as long as they are voiceless, as long as they are trampled by the iron feet of exploitation, there is the danger that they, like little children, will have their emotional outbursts which will break out into violence in the streets.
The amazing thing about the ghetto is that so few Negroes have rioted. Nintety-nine percent of American Negroes have never thrown a Molotov cocktail or lit a match to comply with the admonition, "Burn, baby, burn." Even more amazing is the fact that so many ghetto inhabitants have maintained hope in the midst of hopeless conditions. Contrary to the myth held by many white Americans, the ghetto is not a monolithic unit of dope addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and unwed mothers. There are churches in the ghetto as well as bars. There are stable families in the ghetto as well as illegitimacies. Ninety percent of the young people in the ghetto never come in conflict with the law. We are constantly made aware of desertions and illegitimacies that take place in the ghetto, but often forget the vast majority of families that have stayed together throughout the years. Despite the overwhelming odds, the majority of Negroes in the ghetto go on living, go on striving, go on hoping. This is the miracle. To be a Negro in America is often to hope against hope. It means fighting daily a double battle -- a battle against pathology within and a battle against oppression without.
— from Where Do We Go From Here, chapter IV: "The Dilemma of Negro Americans". 1967.