Saturday, May 09, 2015

Race to the Bottom

Matt Henry's photo.During the recent riots over Freddie Gray's completely unnecessary death in police custody, this meme gained some traction in the usual social media circles, where the hamster-like urge to press an easy outrage button is constant and relentless, and the desire to control one's baser impulses and think for a second tends to be suppressed. Unfortunately, this crap is common, pervasive, unavoidable -- and worst of all, is not really open for debate, unless you enjoy throwing your time down a virtual rathole, like used toilet paper. People who think this way are not looking to be convinced otherwise.

Maybe the strangest part of this is that the folks in my circle who were posting and commenting on this nonsense have no experience or knowledge about the case, the city, or urban dysphoria in general. They've grown up in rural communities with almost no black population. Hell, they haven't even watched The Wire. But they just know what those people are predisposed to, so it's this hardy-har-har bullshit about shiftless check-cashers mindlessly destroying everything for no reason at all. They are literally more concerned, more upset, over a CVS getting its windows broken than a young man getting rolled up by the people who are entrusted to protect and serve the community, and ending up somehow with a broken neck.

Now, it would be simple to attribute all that guff to basic racism, but I don't think that's quite it. It's a lack of understanding, coupled with a true belief in the virtues of bootstrapping, and a true ignorance of the realities of urban life. The commenters and posters -- at least the ones I know -- all had parents, teachers, and even cops who all cared about them, knew who they were, lived in the community and cared about it. It does not occur to the brave meme warriors that the corner kids in Baltimore have frequently lived their entire lives without any of those things. All of their institutions have failed them utterly. It could have been the murder of Freddie Gray, it could have been anything. But at some point a sufficient number of these citizens -- and yes, they are citizens of the United States of America -- find themselves tired of being trapped in the failure, the indifference, the daily viciousness.

It was okey-doke when KlavernCliven Bundy's snipers trained their scopes on federal officers attempting to enforce the law, an open insurrection for an openly racist asshole who thinks the country owes his ranch business rent-free land. But when people who have been undermined for generations, redlined, ghettoized, disenfranchised, disempowered, disemployed, have reached their limit, suddenly the whole world's come apart, the center cannot hold.

What escapes the rurals is that the rioters are not necessarily or only protesting whitey. Blacks know that black politicians and teachers and cops have failed them as well. This is about institutions and socioeconomic injustice at least as much as it is about racial injustice. White rural people need to learn that they have much more in common with urban black people that with rich white people. Guess who doesn't want them to figure that out, in this gilded age where the ethical descendants of Jay Gould continue to pay half of the working class to kill the other half?

So when I hear the notion of "safe spaces" being floated at public universities, I say that maybe people have got the wrong end of the stick here. I think that white people who are willing to listen -- and they may be difficult to find -- might be willing to learn. They need to hear these stories, at least as much as members of aggrieved groups need to commiserate. This is the sort of thing that unfortunately feeds the ofay white paranoia that thwarts real progress.

No comments: