Friday, May 1, 2015

The thugs are us, America. Why can't you see that?

When a society marginalizes and demonizes a segment of its population, and basically leaves it to rot at the bottom of the heap, is it any surprise that once in while, some of those people will respond by saying, "Fuck you!" and grabbing some lawless profit, some loot, in a carnival of violent redistribution? I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. People are making a big deal of the characterization of the Baltimore rioters and looters as "thugs." But being that we're talking about inner city Baltimore, and assuming inner city Baltimore is akin to the inner city Southern California I'm familiar with, some percentage of the rioters and looters surely were "thugs" in the sense of inner city gang member type "criminal toughs," people willing to use force or the threat of force to their advantage. Some of the rioters and looters might proudly identify as thugs – some gang members do. Anyway, rather than talk about the word I want to talk about the people. Inner city gang members and "thugs" are a half-rung above prisoners in the social hierarchy. Apart from going to prison, they have nothing to lose. Why wouldn't they take advantage of a period of lawlessness to grab some loot? They're not claiming to be churchboys. (And of course there are "churchboys" and others growing up in the same neighborhoods who won't grab an opportunity to riot and loot.) But the point is that even if they are thugs, it doesn't justify the ugly us-versus-them attitude expressed by public officials and all the "respectable" media blatherers.

Gang members and thugs in black and Hispanic inner city neighborhoods aren't THE problem, they're OUR problem. THEY'RE US, AMERICA!

We're talking about people who are the current inheritors of our society's continuing legacy of hundreds of years of marginalization and demonization and worse. Think about this: almost every white person in America, if one of us is walking down the street and we see two young black men coming down the sidewalk from the other direction, toward us, we are instinctively 'alerted' to the possibility of a bad experience – it's a tense moment, we are afraid something might happen. (Some would feel apprehension if it was two young white men approaching, but less than if they were black.) Many of us white people feel terrible that we have these 'alerts,' but it is built into us by the society we grew up in; it's programming. And just to be clear, that programming, that 'alert' is a negative, race-based stereotype built into and perpetuated by our society. In other words, it's racism built into and perpetuated by our society. And it's racism built into and perpetuated by our selves. Which is not necessarily an easy thing to confront head-on. 

Now if society is doing that to us (the non-black people), try to think about what it's doing to the people being demonized. Some of them, not surprisingly, lash out in violence once in a while. And some of them use violence more often and in pursuit of lawless profit, figuring that when you have nothing else, why not use your unasked-for ability to instill fear in people to your advantage? And of course most crime victimizes the people around them (the other black people in their neighborhoods), but whenever a single black guy uses the fear-instilling stereotype to intimidate or victimize a white person, that white person, having been raised with the built-in fears of this 'type' of person will instinctively attribute the person's acting in accord with the stereotype not to the actual individual who chose to act that way, but to the 'type' – scary black man – that society tells the white person to fear. Unintentional racism is lived through the past and into the future.

To recognize the facts about racism throughout the history of our society, right up to the present, is not a justification or excuse for rioting and looting, but recognizing these facts is necessary to understand what's going on in a deeper way than most white Americans have been willing or able to do up to now. White America needs a kind of deprogramming that includes acknowledging the many moral wrongs of our past and the ways in which those wrongs of the past have persisted through time into now. Meaning now is the time to do something about the many moral wrongs of America's past.