Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Level Playing Field

It's a simple enough thing - a photograph of a group of Black Lives Matter protesters with the following caption written over it: "Has it occurred to anyone that if you're able to organize this many people for a protest you can organize this many people to clean up your community and get rid of the criminal element causing the problem?" I encountered it because the picture had been posted to Google Plus, along with a lengthy explanation of why it isn't so easy. Laying out some of the questions that had been asked of them about why Black Americans "condone the violence and criminal element," have "an issue with the value of life and respecting each other" and "black on black crime," the poster says "So, let’s take a second to get some education on these very valid thoughts/comments/questions."

And in so doing, is lost.

I'm always torn about attempts to educate people about certain aspects of the Black demographic in the United States, mainly because I think that they're often pointed in the wrong direction. During the conclusion of his piece, the poster notes:

Of course there are factors, both endogenous and exogenous, which contribute to the various maladies which allow these conditions to exist but to say “shame on them, they could just rise up and walk out of this problem,” belies a gross lack of understanding of the past and present forces acting on the black community.
For me, if people say "shame on them, they could just rise up and walk out of this problem,” it's evidence of a gross lack of understanding of the past and present forces acting on their own communities. Because people rarely, if ever, knowingly say: "here's something that no-one in the world has ever done before - simply go out do this thing." And that points to what I see as the real problem - a belief on the part of the persons who put together the image (and asked the questions) that, if it were their community in crisis, they could all simply decide one day to pull together, rise up and walk out of the problem. Easy-peasy.

And as long as people believe that, every reason given for why someone else doesn't do it becomes a) an excuse and/or b) a reason why that other group is simply inferior.

Life isn't a movie. Criminality, especially violent criminality, exists for reasons that have nothing to do with the desire of the people affected by it to be rid of it. The plucky heroine who rallies the townsfolk to stand up the local criminal establishment with the aid of the handsome stranger only wins after a heroic and inspiring (and short) struggle in dime novels and Hollywood. In reality, 9 times out of 10 she winds up in a shallow grave as a warning to the others. She's lucky if her death was quick and painless, and the townsfolk are lucky if a bunch of them don't wind up buried with her.

And that's why attempts to educate others about perceived shortcomings, while its heart is in the right place, don't speak to me. The Mafia, methamphetamine dealers and school shooters are all issues in various communities. Has organizing some number of people to clean up the communities and get rid of the criminal element made them go away? If not, why are we attempting to answer the charges against us rather than laying out how reality really works? Or better yet, simply ignoring the charges? Attempting to educate people with "the facts" is only helpful within an understood - and shared - framework of reality; and that's often missing in these discussions.

And this, to me, is where privilege enters the picture. In my own view, a person has privilege over another when they don't need to care what the other person thinks of them, but that other person cares about what the person with privilege thinks. This is the way in which privilege is granted. When we seek to answer the charge that we're not doing enough to root out the bad apples in our own community, and it is those bad apples that are placing the rest of as risk, we are responding to what other people think of us - when we should be challenging it. When we allow people to portray crime in the Black community to be some completely different sort of animal than crime in other communities, we are granting them the privilege of seeing themselves as able to exercise agency in a way that we are not. It's the same when we allow people to portray potential police abuse of Blacks to be the fault of crime in the Black community but the result of bad policing or poor choices on the part of the target when it happens to Whites.

A position of privilege in a society is not something that one community takes from the others - it is something that is given to them by the others. Taking charges laid at face value, treating them as "very valid," when, they are closer to completely nonsensical is part of that grant.

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