It’s Not Just Ferguson

November 25, 2014

The world is a terrible place.

At least if you’re born on the on the wrong side of the divide of race, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, geography.

Another unarmed black man’s death at the hands of a police officer will not only go unpunished but largely unquestioned.

We as a society, as a white society, as a society structured on the building blocks of whiteness, have grown comfortable, if not comfortable then complacent with the justification of non-white deaths committed with our knowing complicity.  The non-whiteness was threatening. The non-white religion preaches jihad. Their non-whiteness was sitting on top of the natural resources our whiteness required.

First, white peace, security and prosperity. Then we can talk about justice and equality.

It’s as if we drained Randy Newman’s 1972 song, Political Science, of all its satire and adopted it as a viable playbook.

No one likes us – I don’t know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around, even our old friends put us down
Let’s drop the big one and see what happens

We give them money – but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us – so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them

My historical awareness (and by that I mean, what I first remember seeing on TV) began watching American cities burn, watching black areas of American cities burn. Specifics escape me. I was probably too young to recall the 1965 Watts riots. But Cleveland, Newark a year or so later? Detroit, definitely. It was much closer to home although it might as well been a world away.

1968 happened. Riots, assassinations. To a 7 year old, even a protected, privileged, white kid a couple hours and an international border away from any sort of civil unrest, it felt like – and I’m sure this mostly consists of personal historical revisionism, written with the assistance more than 4 decades of hindsight – things were coming unglued. Order, such as I knew it, was breaking down.

Then, it didn’t.

I’m not a historian, and of course it didn’t all end as abruptly and cleanly as that, but a certain calm re-asserted itself. “… the wave finally broke and rolled back,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote 4 years later in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Revolution was averted. With a few minor tweaks here and there, it was back to business as usual.

As you were, gentlemen.

Nearly 25 years later, I was living in Los Angeles when the Rodney King riots broke out. This time I was much closer to the epicenter, able to stand on the roof of our apartment and watch the fires burn throughout South Central with my naked eye. Still, I stood well behind the protected line of privilege that would’ve been pretty much unassailable if those who’d taken to the streets had even contemplated moving much in our direction.

One or two days in, with a night time curfew still in place, I remember an awkward exchange (coming entirely from my direction) with an African-American woman while in line at our local Ralph’s supermarket. Smiles, some small talk about something that had nothing to do with what had been going on outside in the streets not far away. All I wanted to say to her was that I was sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Shit got burned. Hands were wrung. But nearly another 25 years on, as evidenced by last night’s grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, nothing much has changed.

In fact, I’d offer our resolve to advocate for change has atrophied in the intervening years. We demand only peaceful protests while allowing our local police forces to militarise. We view systemic inequities as a product of personal failings rather than a societal problem that needs to be solved. We point to prominent non-white (and non-male) people and wonder what everyone else is complaining about.

It’s at times like these when I wonder why there aren’t more bombs, more burnings, more violent acts of retribution directed at those of us who continue to benefit from and propagate such a loaded status quo. When the Ebola crisis was breaking wide open in western Africa, we here in Canada busied ourselves preparing for the ISIS threat looking our way from northern Iraq and Syria. Who do we get to bomb and how often?

Our security and peace of mind is paramount. Any perceived threat to that will be dealt with swiftly and impulsively. If Ebola wants our attention, it’s going to have to make a menace video.

In these parts, we, we white we, have had a remarkable run of peace without extending much sense of justice. We’ve shown a growing preference for authoritarianism over egalitarianism. We value diversity as far as it doesn’t challenge our long established hierarchy of power. We crave even the most oppressive kind of order rather than accept the transformative possibilities of disorder.

The rules on which this system of ours has been established are inviolable. Play by them or else. If you can’t be white (and, preferably, male) understand that there’s always a complaints department where you can express your displeasure if you do so in a personable and polite manner. All concerns will be indulged if not actually addressed. Change will come when it’s convenient for us to accommodate it.

Such convenience, as we’ve seen, is a rare commodity these days.

submitted by Cityslikr


A Treme View

July 10, 2010

“No TV reviews!” our fearless leader shouted as he headed off for the weekend.

“This is a political blog!” he continued yelling on his way down the stairs. “There’s no place for pop culture on a political blog!” His belief is you can’t do both and do both well. “Just read NOW magazine if you don’t believe me.” (Not an opinion shared by everyone around the office.)

But now he’s gone and left me in charge. It’s kind of like tossing your kid the keys to the liquor cabinet as you leave town for the weekend with the warning, And no drinking. (As if your parents never did that.) I know I shouldn’t but it’s almost like a dare. Besides he can’t ground me although there have been times he’s tried.

While away recently up in the wilderness, I seized the opportunity to watch the entire first season of David Simon’s Treme on my hosts’ extremely large HD TV. I was a huge fan of his earlier masterpiece, The Wire, and probably overstayed my welcome in my drive to watch all 10 episode of his latest effort. But it was worth the risk of not ever getting invited back again. Otherwise I was going to have to wait until the show came out on DVD and would have to impose on someone else who owned a DVD player.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Treme follows a diverse cast of characters (a Simon show trademark), from the upper crust who view the disaster as an opportunity to “reshape” the city down through those who have lost everything but their lives. It is a city at the proverbial crossroads, much of its past washed away — some of it storied, some of it checkered — when the levees broke and facing an uncertain future, caught in a stranglehold of competing visions. The old New Orleans versus the new New Orleans.

I bring this up not to show off my skills as a reviewer, for none do I possess outside of I like it, I like it, I don’t like it (and isn’t one Rob Salem enough, frankly?) It is the politics at work in Treme that I think is interesting and more than a little relevant. Not that I’m in any way trying to equate Toronto’s recent troubles with Hurricane Katrina but there are some interesting parallels.

An outside force beyond the city’s control blows into town and inflicts great damage, both physically and psychologically. In its aftermath, there is a scramble to be the first and loudest to deny responsibility. Victims are criminally mistreated. Those charged to protect and defend, do neither. Once a sense of normalcy returns, there’s the slow realization that nothing’s going to be the same again.

There is a feeling that for those who live in a city, whether its New Orleans or Toronto, events happen in which they have no say. Key decisions that will affect their lives are made without any input asked from them. Cities deal with the consequences and results of actions taken at a distance.

That’s the reality of politics at the municipal level regardless, it seems, where that municipality is. We elect clowns, do-gooders, politicians of the noblest intentions as our local representatives and ultimately it doesn’t matter. They have no role beyond carrying out the marching orders from those who have seized the true levers of power through a historical process that has remained frozen in amber, impervious to the imperatives of change and adaptation.

You’re doin’ a heckava job, Brownie.

A statement of obliviousness and indifference that resonates far beyond the boundaries of Orleans parish.

reviewedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat