activism, race, racism, social justice, Uncategorized

Why I Support Black Lives Matter

After the Dallas shootings of officers by an unhinged individual (not associated with BLM), I feel that it is important to reiterate support for Black Lives Matter and discuss why so many of the arguments raised against them are fraudulent. Below is an adaptation of an OpiWiki response that I made at http://opi.wiki/discuss/190010/What-is-your-attitude-towards-the-Black-Lives-Matter-movement

Black Lives Matter, by and large, has been a peaceful movement that has raised serious issues that just weren’t being acknowledged prior to their work.

Dave Chappelle had a bit about police brutality in his comedy special, “Killing Them Softly”, focusing on how much white blindness there was on the issue. That was back in 2000. The Rodney King beating was in March 3, 1991. The Wire was discussing police brutality issues in the context of Baltimore back in 2002. When I was in high school and college, police brutality issues got raised by politically-minded people on the left wing.

The black community has dealt with a toxic and moronic war on drugs, the devastation to black communities as a result of neo-liberal investor’s rights globalization, and too many police departments having a siege mentality for decades.

None of it broke into the mainstream or got conservative networks like FOX to even talk about the issue until #BlackLivesMatter.

Even if the only legacy of the movement is that a discussion about the proper role of the police enters the mainstream and remains there, that will be a colossal victory, and one that anyone that is part of that movement can be proud of.

But, of course, there is no reason to believe that #BlackLivesMatter won’t accomplish major objectives beyond that already-titanic success. We’ve already been moving toward legalization of marijuana and a scaling back of the war on drugs, and #BLM arrived at just the right time to push that forward even further. And many police departments are stepping up and recognizing that they need to do something about bias in policing. While Michelle Alexander’s recent AlterNet analysis is an appropriate bit of perspective, I disagree strongly with her that we won’t see huge improvements if law enforcement at a national level takes the challenge of community policing, bias training, sensitivity to the diverse communities they serve, and a real ethos of community improvement to heart. While it’s true that such institutional measures can only go so far, such institutional measures also themselves push forward the deeper structural and cultural changes that need to happen.

There are a few arguments made against Black Lives Matter that need to be addressed, because they are themselves monstrous obstacles to progress and reconciliation.

The notion that Black Lives Matter has to say that every life matters is just imbecilic. It’s a trite statement that no one disagrees with conceptually. There’s simply no need to say that white lives matter, because there is no institutional threat to white lives as white lives. But there is such a threat to people of color, and almost every major social institution, from the media to the criminal justice system, routinely reiterates the notion that black lives in fact are problems to be contained or controlled.

Chainsaw Suit's fantastic strip.

A lack of specificity is the goblin of trite minds and of those who want to cheat you. “All lives matter” is a non-threatening slogan that suggests precisely no course of action. Worse, as Kris Straub points out humorously here, it’s actually misleading and counter-productive to talk about everyone’s problems as if they are all of equal magnitude at all times. We deal with specific problems at specific moments. The reason why all too many people say that #AllLivesMatter is because the status quo is generally fine for them, so dealing with the specific problems that produce the issues BLM is protesting is costly. That’s fine: We’re all stakeholders and we all have legitimate concerns about the consequences and direction of social change. But the notion of #AllLivesMatter is a disingenuous way to shut down conversation instead of starting it.

Even the fact that “All Lives Matter” emerged as a counter to #BlackLivesMatter is, when one thinks about it, so grotesque that it’d be hysterical if the consequences weren’t so real. As Arthur Chu’s fantastic tweet points out, “Do you crash strangers’ funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS”? It’s a funny notion to imagine someone doing that precisely because it’s so absurd, cruel and stupid. A person doing that would have a psychopathic sense of entitlement and a deep, unabiding narcissism. Yet collectively, all too many people of all stripes feel that it’s appropriate to respond to people expressing grief, heartache, rage and, yes, hope for improvement with the idea, “Well, we all have problems”.

And those who offer this tripe are usually being colossal hypocrites as well. Imagine how the right wing would scream if those of us who want to regulate guns responded to gun rights advocates by saying, “Hey, it could be worse, you could live in North Korea” or “Hey, buddy, all rights matter”.

Some have said that they’d rather have the statement be “Black Lives Matter Too”. While I’m sympathetic, once again it’s easy to see why it’s such a toxic suggestion. No one should have to append “too” to a statement that they matter. Rhetorically, the notion that people have to say “black lives matter too” is a statement indicating, “White folks, and cops, matter by definition, first and foremost. You have to append your mattering afterwards. You do matter, sure, but you’re the last people we mention. You’re an afterthought”. The fact that it is so difficult for so many people to just say, without any proviso, that black lives do in fact matter is precisely why BLM chose that slogan.

Similarly, the black-on-black crime argument isn’t just an evasion, it’s actually a colossal act of racism in and of itself.

Again: Imagine if this were used against any common conservative bugaboo. Imagine if the liberal response to the “War on Christmas” allegations weren’t, “You have no special right to have your holiday dominate public spaces” but was instead “Hey, guys, as long as Christians are bombing people and torturing captives, you should expect that you get shut out of public spaces”. Imagine if anyone complaining about affirmative action costing them their job was told, “You know, as long as white collar crime is disproportionately white, you should be glad you have a job”.

It’d be monstrous to say those things. It’s monstrous here.

A whole community cannot be judged by their criminals. The fact that some black individuals are guilty of crime is in fact no justification for naked black teenagers to be shot. There is no collective racial responsibility unless one is in fact not just a racist but the kind of venal racist that assumes that there’s some kind of mystic connection between people who share some genes. Bringing up black-on-black crime in response to complaints of police brutality to the face of grieving mothers and tormented communities tells them, “Until you fix every problem in your neighborhood, I won’t even listen to you”.

Of course, the argument is stupid on many more levels, but just the colossal racism involved in asserting that argument alone should give any reasonable person pause. In reality, police brutality helps cause black-on-black crime. Criminals in minority communities are more able to get away with violence because their victims are much less likely to trust the police or want to cooperate with them. Moreover, when justice is arbitrary and random, actual criminals are able to plausibly claim that they’re just being set up or facing the same injustices that other people have. An “us-versus-them” dynamic is why gangs tend to emerge. Organized crime overwhelmingly tends to come about when people can’t rely on the ostensibly legitimate authorities to protect their turf, honor and respect them, and give them real opportunities. Organized crime acts as a de facto militia, government and underground economy all in one, as destructive as it is. Again, one only need to watch The Wire to see how poor police behavior helps push communities away into the kind of isolation, fear and desperation that breeds crime.

And, of course, men like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama have all harshly criticized gang violence and criminality in black communities and have made many major efforts to try to resolve them. I have not met a single person anywhere in BLM or in groups that sympathize with and ally with BLM who don’t say loudly that black-on-black crime is a serious problem.

Oh, and another niggling little point: We don’t pay the salaries of gang members. There’s no collective social responsibility for the actions of criminals. There is for anyone who we employ as our civil servants. The fact that this tiny distinction has to be repeatedly pointed out shows just how deep the well of denial of racial animosity goes in this country.

But, of course, black-on-black crime is supposed to be something that the black community fixes. The very same people who claim that we’re all in this together as Americans then want to cut their fellow Americans out to dry and not help. The causes of crime everywhere are complex, but we have decades of sociology about those causes, and poverty and community structure are the leading suspects. Crime isn’t a black, white, Hispanic or Asian issue: it’s an American issue. Resolving long-standing issues like failing infrastructure, poor employment prospects, a low minimum wage, segregated and failing schools, etc. is part of the picture of solving crime.

The black community and the white community aren’t monoliths. There are specific neighborhoods, specific people and specific groups. Yes, we are all in this together, and yes, there are shared responsibilities that we all have. I’ve talked extensively about how white communities need to take some responsibility for the poison of racism. A huge part of that is that “With great power comes great responsibility”, of course, but ultimately what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

But no movement toward justice should ever be forestalled because of another tangentially related problem. That’s not how responsibility works.

Let’s conclude by thinking again about Rodney King. Did the man lead police on a drunken car chase? Yes. That was a colossal mistake and a serious crime, and he deserved to be brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But he didn’t deserve to be beaten by hotheads. We don’t want police officers cracking the skulls of unarmed men like, say, Henry Davis, a man in Ferguson who got put into jail because of a confusion about his identity.

In a democracy, we should never be afraid of our police. We are paying their paychecks. We should expect that they can execute justice calmly, compassionately and intelligently. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their job. If police are to (reasonably) expect that their sacrifices are honored, then they have to earn our respect with exemplary behavior. If the job matters, it has to be done right.

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Christianity, feminism, gender, media, politics, race, racism, religion, social justice, Uncategorized, white privilege

Why “Politically Correct” Is A Right-Wing Slur Designed to Silence Opposition

I was recently asked about whether “politically correct is correct”. Here is my response.

The term “politically correct” is a right-wing specter. I have never once in my life heard an informed activist for the LGBTQ movement, the civil rights and anti-racist movement, the feminist movement, etc. say to someone “We have to be politically correct”. It doesn’t work, it has a namby-pamby ring to it, it doesn’t express the appropriate outrage, and it is frankly not appropriate for activism.
There are so many problems with the assertions against “PC” (I will now call them “basic courtesy and accuracy”) arguments.

The most major one is that we are never discussing the mere use of a slur in isolation. Even when a comedian breaks decorum in some way that costs them popularity, like when Michael Richards (of Kramer fame) did it, no one was focusing just on the mere use of the n-word. It wasn’t as if Richards said, “Man, isn’t Al Sharpton cool? He’s my ni**a”. Rather, he said “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside-down with a f**king fork up your ass!” and “That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man, don’t you know?” In other words, Richards’ rant was racial terrorism. He evoked some of the horrible atrocities that happened to people who were lynched, including being burnt with blowtorches and having pieces taken off, and he asserted his white supremacy and the degree to which he belonged. Yes, that was all still rhetoric, but it wasn’t just the literal word: it was his aggressiveness against people of color.

Many defended Richards on this front. They defended him as if his opposition was just fetishizing a word, “ni**er”, and giving it magical properties.

Of course, each time I write out that word, that word that has been used with hate, my stomach churns. See, whites have the privilege of viewing that word as just being a word. For blacks and even many other people of color (especially Native Americans, Arabs and Muslims, who have been roped into it by “prairie ni**er” and “sand ni**er”), it evokes five hundred years of history. It evokes hundreds of years where that word was bellowed in an effort to kill, enslave, bomb, hurt, lynch, burn, terrorize, and mangle people. It evokes hundreds of years of fear.
White folks routinely have the privilege of pretending history doesn’t matter and doesn’t echo. Even I, as the son of an immigrant, have to know better than that. I know supremacy has a life and a breath all of its own.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should call people “transgender” and call them by the gender pronoun that matches their new gender identity, we aren’t just saying that as an idle matter of decorum: we are saying it to people who want them to go into a bathroom that they will mentally and in many cases physically not belong, who want to cut their wages or kick them out of their community.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should try to call “Mexicans” Chicana/os, Hispanics or Latina/os, we aren’t just talking to people who insist on calling people from Mexico Mexicans: we are fighting against those who would call them rapists and drug dealers, as if the entire group was just one raping, drug dealing apparatus or entity, some tentacled monster.

When people on the political left and center-left insist that we should use gender-neutral language (“firefighters” rather than “firemen”), we aren’t just fighting the rhetorical obliteration of females doing a job: we’re also fighting those who think women can’t be leaders because of their periods.
Notice how no one really organizes as a movement to say “Don’t call atheists ‘godless heathens'”, and yet they still encounter a widespread sentiment that they are inferior and dangerous.

See, conservatives seem to think, “You’ve won everything! Can’t you just leave the English language alone?”

Oh, no, brother (and it is so often a brother rather than a sister), you have it twisted.

In fact, we have so far to go, from anti-discrimination law to basic tolerance in public spaces to people actually being informed about atheists. We are fighting institutional discrimination, prejudice and bigotry stemming from institutional racism and white supremacy, homophobia and heteronormativity, sexism and male dominance, anti-atheist and agnostic bigotry and Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant and anti-global attitudes and American hegemony, and classism and the dominance of the rich. Notice how, in each case, I listed not just the group that was being targeted but the group that was being elevated. Every time someone says “This is a Christian nation”, it is yet another rhetorical assertion of a dominance that they have come to expect and yet have no right to expect and have not earned because such an endeavor would be impossible. The sacrifices of Christians who came before gives no modern Christian a single claim to institutional supremacy. Their majority status does not either.
Even within the realm of language, we’re not just making individual words taboo. When someone says “Blacks have lower IQ”, they are repeating an essentialist, racist, bigoted, stereotypical notion of people of color as if they’re in a spreadsheet. Even when there is some evidence supporting it, that evidence is never deployed honestly or consistently. And many times, such evidence is just outright false and dishonest. We are fighting people’s racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideas of other human beings, arguing that other human beings are on average just as competent, decent, intelligent and kind as they are. And those biases are used to justify present inequities. The logic, even when it isn’t stated out loud, goes, “Well, black people are criminals anyways, so why bother feeding their children?” or “Well, blacks are more likely to commit a homicide anyways, so why bother getting lead off the walls?” Once again, we can’t separate language and cognition from political ideas. Martin Gilens, and researchers working in his vein, have repeatedly found that racist biases are massively deterministic of whether one is willing to support policies like welfare. Policy issues in America are racialized and sexualized. Masculine identity is part of militaristic policies, which in turn influences debates like gays and women in the military.
The second issue is that, even insofar as we’re rectifying language, this is what societies do.
No society within the history of the planet has ever said that all language is equally appropriate in public parlance.

Most societies had very strong rules about what one could say in public. Honor codes, rules about courtesy that governed not just what hand one shook with (often as part of an effort to avoid contamination and the spread of germs even before people knew about the modern germ theory), kosher rules… the idea that there are certain things one does not say and do is common to history. Two of the Ten Commandments concern speech: Not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and honoring one’s mother and father.

One could argue that this was the case of feudal, monarchic and non-democratic societies. But that is emphatically false. Courtesy rules, manners books and so forth still exist. There are numerous 1950s shorts about the proper courtesy and rules for having a family dinner together. These emphatically include ways of talking and not talking: don’t gossip, don’t monopolize speech, don’t put people off their lunch.

What astonishes me so much about this is the political cleavage. Naively, I would have thought that many conservatives, people who are concerned with courtesy and decorum, would naturally and easily come to accept that there are certain ways we should and should not speak as a normative fact. They would come to accept, “Ah, these human beings prefer to be addressed by the opposite gender. How boorish would it be not to accommodate it?” One would think it’d be punk leftists who would spit and say “They’re a dude!”

But of course this is accepting conservative self-image and propaganda. In fact, the right-wing across history, the forces that preserve tradition, have always been perfectly able to be rude, cruel, and decidedly non-courteous. They just pretended otherwise as a thin veneer of civilization.
And challenging the entitlement (not the right but the sense that one should not face consequences) of those used to being afforded unlimited latitude challenges their supremacy. And when their supremacy is challenged, they are willing to get mighty rude.
Now, of course, is there a balance to be struck? Of course. Certain taboos should always be challenged. A transgressive attitude is always healthy at the right time and the right place. If friends are hanging out and talking, and there’s a high degree of trust, then it can be reasonable to say some things one might not say in mixed company. And certainly artists, comedians, etc. need to be granted some leeway to break sacred cows without too much criticism in response.
But remember: So many of the same people who fight the “PC agenda” will loudly support Trump’s support of seditious libel suits against journalists, loudly insist that one shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, demand that the American flag never be burned or defaced, and insist that one should always “support the troops” no matter one’s disagreements with American foreign policy.
And it is precisely that “high degree of trust” that is not to be taken for granted. When so many people are able to say “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”, or otherwise signal that they’re not “one of the bad ones” and should be given some latitude, they fundamentally misunderstand the trust people. People of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, atheists and agnostics… none of them can trust the rhetorical goodwill of someone they don’t know.
The final point is precisely what the original questioner asked: “Others believe that being politically correct limits opinions, and will restrain them from conversing and interacting with others. Because of this, it will create a barrier between different groups, and do more harm then good”.
In other words, for the need of social lubrication and discussion, once again people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, non-Americans, immigrants… they all must sacrifice their sense of humanity and how they wish people would speak to them for the good of society.
Never once must the dominant group sacrifice their own sense of comfort, even temporarily, in order to learn new language and to (much more importantly) unlearn their toxic, unfair biases.
Every human being has a right to say, “I demand to be treated with respect, and if you don’t, I will not interact with you, I will not speak to you, and I will not do business with you”. There is a bare minimum of treatment we can demand in order to interact with us in commerce and daily life.

Those who demand that people not correct other people’s speech… are correcting other people’s speech.
The anti-PC brigade have a fundamental hypocrisy: They say “I should be able to say anything I want, and you shouldn’t be able to say anything you want”.
To quote Jeremy Sherman’s astute analysis: “By accusing people of being PC we try to persuade people to be less sensitive, less influenced by other people’s opinions, but in declaring PC a universal moral error, we pretend that we could live in a world where no one influences anyone. Usually we do it as a way of claiming our right to try to influence others without being influenced. It’s like the current libertarian craze, motivated by ‘my freedom to say and do what I want, without getting hassled’ If you want your freedom to say and do what you want, expect the same from everyone else. The person who accuses others of being PC has his own PC sensitivities. He’s saying it’s politically incorrect for you to be politically correct. Anti-PC and libertarianism are often rationalizations for dishing it out without having to take it in”.
Either we accept that anything is okay to say or we accept that there should be voluntary rules that we choose, as civilized human beings, as to what we say or do not say. And if anything is okay to say, I get to tell someone else to shut up. If someone else gets to call a friend of mine the “n-word”, I get to call them a monster who shouldn’t show their face in public. If we’re going to make society an endless war of words, then we get every weapon just like you do. Either way, the anti-PC crowd is wrong. Either way, they are demanding “My rules for thee but not for me”.
See, what conservatives want is consequence-free speech, not free speech.
Not only is that not a right, not only is it a logical contradiction, but it is a moral absurdity.
You see, this entire battle is really a battle of entitlement against responsibility.

When we have rights as human beings, that gives us power. And with great power comes great responsibility.

If we have the right to choose how we speak, we have the duty to choose that speech carefully.

Those who argue against those calling on them to have respect and kindness for others are arguing to be moral children. They want the rights without the attendant responsibilities.
That is not good for them. And it must be obliterated as an idea.

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activism, Christianity, election, race, racism, republicans, social justice, Uncategorized

“What Edge Do Republicans Have?” My Response

This is my answer to a question at Quora, “Republican Party (U.S.): What traits do the Republicans have that makes them effective in selling their arguments to voters? Which of these traits should Democrats not underestimate?”
I respect the way that this question has been asked deeply. I will try to be as fair as I can to conservatives here, going against my own leanings. But before I begin, I have to get those leanings out of the way. As a person on the far left, I think that the biggest advantages Republicans have include
  1. A media that cannot challenge their mythologies too much without risking threatening deeper interests
  2. A lack of a political culture that remembers politicians’ lies and base pandering, and holds them accountable for hypocrisy
  3. The pre-existing racial
  4. Massive corporate power and wealth that allows them to buy ads
  5. Gerrymandered elections that make the wingnuts stronger
Almost every part of our national dialog is so distorted as to be beyond reason. Republicans can pretend to be the party of small government when they insist on walls, border enforcement, military expenditures, federal or state restrictions on gay marriage, federal or state restrictions on abortion, intelligence agencies able to monitor Americans, the right to use drone strikes on Americans on American soil, etc.
The biggest trait that they have is a coherent worldview, centered in a folk community, that circumscribes who you can empathize with.
The Republicans have managed to cobble together Christianity (no matter what the Gospel says), capitalism (no matter how inconsistently they want it implemented), an idea of personal responsibility and the appeal of a white straight Christian male folk community. Just like with any worldview, the individual facts actually don’t matter that much. It’s actually irrational to ask someone to change their whole way of viewing the world just from a single graph, or a single book.
One of the most insightful arguments that Mead makes in Special Providence is that the four separate traditions that define American life (Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, Jeffersonian and Wilsonian) are each coherent and allegations of inconsistency routinely miss the point. Jacksonian ideas in particular are what Republicans rely on to win at the polls (even when most of them are actually die-hard Hamiltonians).
The Republicans emphasize that there’s a folk community of “good-old folks” that deserve protection. The New York liberals (who may or may not be Jews depending on how much the specific Republican wants to risk coming off as anti-Israel in order to court those of a white supremacist spectrum of opinions), the Hollywood “elites”, the blacks, the gays, improper women… they’re all implicitly or explicitly
Why do you think Republicans can be so (allegedly) anti-crime but give so much backlash against white collar crime enforcement and rape enforcement? Rape victims must be slutty girls who were asking for it, because the patriarchal norms that they operate under insist that male power is beneficent and good. White collar criminals, and corporations who try to go overseas to stash more money, aren’t actually criminals, because they’re part of the folk community of people we like. What’s A Corporate Inversion, And How Is It Screwing Anyone Who Isn’t A Massive Corporation?  shows the hypocrisy here, that corporations are “economic refugees” (who FOX is willing to say should be treated much better than they would ever suggest Syrian refugees should be treated). But the basis of the hypocrisy is this idea of who is “in” and good and who is “out” and bad. It’s okay to discriminate against black people: They actually are more criminal or less hard-working, so no matter what their resume or references might say, that’s all just a smokescreen to cover up their hidden incompetence or malice!
This folk community idea is really easy because it doesn’t require you change your politics or your empathy. It doesn’t require you to have any solidarity. You can use the kind of low-effort thinking that is strongly correlated with conservativism (Shocking New Study Ties Conservatism To ‘Low-Effort’ Thinking). Corporations are good and white: They bring us iPhones! Trump is a good Presidential candidate because he was on TV and he is successful! I don’t like some things I see in America now and I want them to stop, so I will ask for America to be “great again”, ignoring how utterly racist, sexist, classist and homophobic that is!
These people are overwhelmingly decent folks. The Republicans give them an easy way of thinking that matches all of the stereotypes and schema they’ve inherited. These people know that inequality is bad, at the end of the day, but they find it easier to blame black people who abuse welfare or Mexican immigrants or anyone but a corporation.
The 92% of Americans who want our system to be more equitable than they think it is, let alone than it actually is, include a ton of Republicans. They don’t need to be convinced inequality is bad. They need to be convinced that some people are deserving of less inequality. They need their empathy widened to include people that don’t look like them.
It’s vital to understand how the same people can simultaneously have an idea of optimism in American institutions and serious cynicism about those same institutions. They have a belief system that the American institutions were at one point and are at their base good and just, so they must have been perverted by individual bad people or individual trends. Multiculturalism. Muslims. What’s the Matter With White Folks?: Racial Privilege, Electoral Politics and the Limits of Class Populism points out that it’s much easier for a person to wage war against those who want to take away your Christmas than it is your boss.
I mention race here repeatedly because race is one of the most important variables. Why Americans Hate Welfare compellingly argues that one of the best predictors for opposition to welfare is race.
So, Republicans give people an implicit choice: “Do you want to push against the system, including us and the Democrats, for better policies that would really benefit all Americans and honor the rights of all human beings, thereby having to fight corporations and change the basis of our political and economic systems? Or would you rather keep your existing prejudices intact and just make sure that you’re doing okay?”
If you want to sway those people, you have to give them hope that a better alternative is possible. When leftists bash the system and say how awful it is, they’re actually not telling these people anything new. They’re just reinforcing the helplessness that leads to these politics in the first place. A huge number of people who have right-wing viewpoints are terrified of the UN, or believe Bush was behind 9/11, or believe in the Rothschilds. When leftists push against the attitudes of the general populace, you see conspiracy theories like chemtrails start to emerge. It’s the same fearful system that tries to identify individual bad guys instead of systemic problems.
When people are pushed against a wall, they tend to try to protect them and their first. So the solution to beat the Republicans? Get rid of the wall. Give people better alternatives and more hope.
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community, crime, police, race, racism, Uncategorized

Preventing City Crime

This is taken from a response that I wrote on OpiWikito the question, “What are your ideas to lower city crime?” I am not a professional criminologist, but I felt that my response could focus on the issues of social change, collective responsibility and hope that my message centers on.

City crime is a tough issue to get a hold of. Trying to deal with city crime is like trying to deal with LA gridlock. Cities have problems with crime because they are cities. One of the best predictors for crime in an area is its urbanicity. Population density increases the ability to easily and effortlessly acquire targets, increases the number of potential conflicts that can escalate, often strains and stresses people, and allows for anonymous attacks.

In general, when people ask me about policy ideas, I always try to pick policy ideas that are voluntary, community-oriented, non-coercive, low-effort and low-cost. That’s because these are the easiest to implement and tend to stick around the most against political entropy. I also value ideas that don’t just involve having some big institution impose something onto organic communities. And I value ideas that don’t involve coercion or smashing people into submission, especially since those ideas routinely end up being not just brutal but also classist and racist as a result.

First of all, beautification and civic improvement can help. While parks can potentially be quiet places for an assault (if not properly policed), in general making city spaces look better and feel better seems to have a real impact on the general sense of well-being in the area. This is connected to the idea of “broken windows”, and while the “broken windows” theory is often proposed in a very reductivist way, it is still valid.

Second, I think that making it easier to promote good health and self-defense would be reasonable. Guns in a city space are especially problematic, but martial arts would be a means of making the average person more able to defend themselves. That could easily be promoted with health grants by NGOs or government and with PSAs.

Third, promoting jobs is incredibly crucial. Unemployed people are going to increase the amount of vagrancy, the amount of people out in public serving as either victims or potential threats, etc. While human motivations are complicated and sociology is even more so, it’s not a big stretch to say that people who are poor and desperate for work are more likely to turn to underground economies, theft, or other means to survive.

Fourth, improving anti-gang efforts in schools while also improving education is utterly crucial. Schools can’t be prisons. We’ve tried all too often in the United States (and elsewhere) to deal with problem children by treating them like convicted criminals ahead of time. That destroys trust and eliminates the incentive to go to school. Urban schools need to be safe places where children can grow.

In essence, most of criminology is really an effort to try to get people to their mid-twenties without committing serious crime. Once you’re an adult with a job and an education, you are incredibly unlikely to become a hardened criminal. There are just too many social, economic, and practical inducements keeping you in that world. So stopping crime, in the city and in the country, hinges on making sure that children are given the opportunities to rise to their greatest potential.

Fifth, it is vital to build city infrastructure. This is obviously a situation where national and regional governments must be heavily involved.

Sixth, racial conflicts, religious conflicts, etc. need to be dealt with. This is a job for civil society to a huge degree, but business and the law must also be involved. There needs to be a real effort to keep communities from becoming segregated. There must be proactive communication between groups and efforts to stop hatred. In my opinion, this is one of the issues we talk about in the West the most poorly. The degree of racial resentment and racialized inequality that one has in a society is in my opinion a poorly understood and utterly vital variable for crime.

Finally, the police have to be willing to do the hardest policing jobs. They have to be willing to work with the community instead of against it. They have to be willing to listen to community leaders. They have to be willing to work with children and adults, and do outreach all of the time. They have to be willing to do the hard undercover investigations and try to go after the real bad guys, not just the bad guys who are easy to catch. They have to be willing to report honestly and not “juke” the statistics.

The police are often blamed for the failures in this regard, but anyone who has watched The Wire knows that their failures are the tip of the iceberg. When politicians make no effort to keep racist cops from ascending the chain of command, make it easier for cops to go after low-level drug dealers than big bad guys, discourage difficult undercover investigations that might end up imprisoning politically connected people, and provide perverse incentives for police to “juke” the statistics, the problem cascades.

A truly indicative example of why we so often fail to get a real handle on crime is the case of Operation Greenback. Forensic accounting efforts were stopped (by then-drug czar George H.W. Bush) because it would go after rich (disproportionately white and male) bankers. Crime isn’t something that’s just the problem of “those people”: It’s everyone’s problem. Delinquency is omnipresent. Most adolescents are going to have done some drugs, or done some binge drinking, or broken some speed laws, or even committed much more serious misdemeanors and felonies. A little bit of people being delinquent is actually good from a developmental perspective. Recognizing that crime is a truly pervasive problem that affects everyone and that gives all of us collective responsibility may be the single most important transformation we must engage in.

It’s tempting to say that we should try to lower city population densities. The issue with that is that I think that cities are actually going to have to be a big part of our future. The more evenly spread out a population is, the harder it is to service. You have to have more roads, more transportation, more consumption of carbon, more infrastructure that has to be maintained, etc. Ecologically speaking, cities are likely to be really important to sustainably facilitate the human life of around nine billion people. Moreover, most schemes to try to reduce city sizes end up having classist and racist assumptions and implementations.

When we start realizing that we can’t just run from crime into the suburbs and start realizing that crime is a collective problem that requires collective responses, we may see a real reduction in human suffering.

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activism, feminism, politics, race, Uncategorized, white privilege

One of the Best Microcosms of American Politics Ever

It’s hard to know where to begin here. (For those who don’t follow the link: Palin is blaming Obama for her son’s domestic abuse, by virtue of PTSD and the challenges of being a vet).

Should I say that blaming Obama for PTSD, instead of Bush or the Republican Party or the Democrats writ large or the military-industrial system, is a bit like blaming the janitor when an apartment complex gets trashed? Should I say that the sheer political hypocrisy ignores that it’s her party that wants to cut mental health benefits for veterans?

Should I note that this is from the supposed party of personal responsibility?

Should I note that it’s an example of a white person getting off the hook because we can blame someone else, in this case a black politician?

Should I say that, as much as I sympathize with what Palin is saying (with perfect hypocrisy and with no serious belief), saying that her son became violent as a result of military service is to insult millions of people with PTSD who will not hurt others?

Should I point to the fact that again domestic violence is the fault of everyone but the male abuser?

Should I say that this is another example of a leading politician blaming anyone but themselves for their family’s problems?

Perhaps the biggest thing I can say is this: Again, we see that conservatives in this country are committed to “Me and mine first” as an ideology. Palin could care less about PTSD and how it hollows you out until it was her family that was hurt. And she doesn’t want solutions: She wants to be able to be angry.

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culture, current events, race, star wars, Uncategorized

Harris-Perry, Star Wars and Racial Rorschachs

Melissa Harris-Perry’s response that is being discussed by everyone from Maddox to FOX is noteworthy in how it shows the racial Rorschach blots we look at.
 
This author (or the website click-baiting with a headline), of course, uses the term “traumatized” as a pejorative even though she said no such thing. It’s really great when they go on to excoriate MSNBC for journalistic integrity when they poisoned the well by misrepresenting their opposition.
 
What she said was more like this:
 
“I know why I have feelings — good, bad, and otherwise — about Star Wars. And I have a lot. I could spend the whole day talking about the whole Darth Vader situation. Like, the part where he was totally a black guy whose name basically was James Earl Jones, who, and we were all, but while he was black, he was terrible and bad and awful and used to cut off white men’s hands, and didn’t, you know, actually claim his son. But as soon as he claims his son and goes over to the good, he takes off his mask and he is white. Yes, I have many, many feelings about that, but I will try to put them over here.”
 
Please, anyone, cite me one false thing she said about Star Wars. (Lots of people are calling her a liar, even though she gets every detail right). Is anything she just said an inaccurate rendition of the film? No. It’s a literary analysis.
 
The point is, we as whites can watch Star Wars one way, and people of color can see a very different subtext, and Hispanics can see a very different subtext. Star Wars is very much a white cultural construct from the 70s: Hippie pseudo-Buddhist/Taoist spirituality (which is incredibly beautiful but is still very much a product of that time), recreating serial adventures that starred whites like Flash Gordon with very racist villains like Ming the Merciless, and with very little non-white presence (even by Empire we have Lando).
 
I don’t think Harris-Perry is saying Star Wars is objectively racist, and not one of the hysterical commentaries I’ve read actually quotes her as making that argument.
 
Rather, she is pointing to what she felt as a child and continues to feel as an adult. That is the message she is hearing, because she is more attuned to those kind of messages, because she has to be.
 
Fact is, people use “Jawa” as a racial epithet. People use Star Wars in racist ways. That doesn’t make Star Wars itself racist, any more than Huck Finn was racist because “nigger” appears in the book. But it does mean that there is a racial response that we all have.
 
Me, I view Vader as a badass villain with an authoritative voice. I didn’t see race there in specific, I saw an increasingly interesting character. But I have the luxury of viewing Star Wars as being a source of spiritual wisdom, as a story about knights. I could play Luke Skywalker on the playground and not have to qualify that I was playing someone outside of my racial group.
 
If you’re a girl playing Star Wars, you can be Leia (who is very cool) and that’s about it. If there’s two black kids and they both want to be good guys, they’re gonna have to fight over Lando. If you’re an Asian or Hispanic or Arab kid, you’re out of luck.
 
Does that mean Star Wars needs to have a Jedi of each human ethnicity? Absolutely not: That’s silly tokenism. But when will we have a host of awesome stories that are inherently mainstream about Asian heroes, played by Asian actors? About awesome Muslim or Arab heroes, played by those actors?
 
The issue is those who want to call Harris-Perry’s feelings, her response to watching a piece of art, objectively wrong. No, it’s not, it’s just a different reaction.
 
Just like an asthmatic may cough if the air is slightly bad but everyone else is fine, so too can a person of color react very differently to a piece of art due to a subtext in the air.
 
And no sane person says “Stop saying that you’re coughing because of your ‘asthma’, jerk! You’re just whining! You’re playing the ‘asthma’ card!”
 
But to be white, to be male, to be straight, means to be able to think that your experience, your perspective, your vantage point, is the only objective one. It’s to be able to say that others are just being specious or disingenuous when they bring a different viewpoint. But they’re not. You have a viewpoint too: You just get to pretend you don’t, when you’re privileged.

star wars racist. . in Star "SIS

 
And for every person criticizing Harris-Perry for making a mountain of a molehill, let me point to the fact that #blackliesmatter and racial accusations are going to be made because Harris-Perry said her opinion about Star Wars. Either Star Wars matters or it doesn’t, but white conservatives want to have it both ways. Either this is a mountain, and then Harris-Perry’s view actually has to be debated by its merits, or it’s a molehill, and y’all need to calm down.
 
When we can accept that different human beings have as a result of their social position different issues that they are sensitive to, and that we should discuss that with respect instead of derision, we’ll be able to make forward progress.
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