Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Black Voices Matter

Our nation's racial strife is a multi-layered and complex set of interlocking pieces. I commented over at Z's that a selfish thought crosses my mind: Baltimore is not my fault, and I can't fix it, even though Baltimore City will shake me down via the federal government and make me pay my fair share.

In contrast to how I feel, I think we all need to understand where others in the debate are coming from, what their views and perspectives are, and how their thinking is shaped.

My bullshit filter is clogged and bursting with predictable twaddle from guilty white progressives whose condescending and imperious doxies have exacerbated our problems.  They've done enough damage already.  For a change of pace, here are what four of our fellow Americans, who all happen to be black, think.

First up, Professor N.D.B. Connolly argues in the New York Times that real estate, taxation, segregation, policing tactics, and the legacy of slavery are to blame. I disagree, but I listen because I want to understand why he and millions of other think that way. I was surprised at the amount of pushback he got in the comments section.

Next up, LZ Granderson at CNN writes an article on the historical prelude to the Baltimore Rioting.  He doesn't break any new ground, but he details a bill of legitimate grievances filled with instances of state-sponsored racism and injustice against black people.

Tah-Nehisi Coates makes the best and most cogent argument for reparations and for explaining the viewpoint that although black people are now free, they are free within a white power structure created by whites upon the backs of black slaves.  For a full century after slavery ended, blacks did not enjoy the same rights, liberties and privileges as whites. Were blacks truly free citizens before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? The system, from Coates' perspective, allows blacks to participate, but it's still a stacked deck, due to a history of exploitation and contemporary systemic injustice.

In the article, Coates pointedly criticizes the sky-high incarceration rate of young black men and quotes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn...
“Wherever the law is, crime can be found.”
I have learned a lot by reading Coates, but I can't help but wonder how much worse off those communities would be if all those incarcerated men were back on the streets.

It Takes a Linguist to Describe a Village

Professor John McWhorter, a self-described "cranky liberal Democrat" forges his own independent path.  He has a PhD in Linguistics from Stanford, and he cogently explains how perceptions and misperceptions, stereotypes and history motivate the actors and continue to fuel this multi-faceted conundrum from hell.

"History is messy. But we live in the present and what poor black Baltimoreans see is abuse. The War on Drugs assigns cops to black neighborhoods where, inevitably, encounters tend to be surly and often violent. A vicious cycle starts."

"Now, to be sure, the rioters’ actions are inherently inarticulate. [...] And of course the riots and looting could also end up compounding many of white Americans’ ugliest stereotypes of black communities and violence. To wonder why, oh why, whites see blacks as violent rings a little hollow at times like these."

"But the reflexive liberal rush to moral relativism on the subject misses the mark as well."
McWhorter's article is brilliant. I wanted to excerpt the whole thing, but better to let you go read it yourself. The professor brings a linguist's ear to the problem and his analysis is refreshingly free of ideological dogma, pandering, and stale boilerplate.

My Conclusion

Reading Professor McWhorter makes me question policing practices and drug policies. Although I believe a  complete dismantling of the "War on Drugs" would spell disaster (he never recommends that), I do think he makes an interesting point about marijuana decriminalization, among many other issues that have created the "Us versus Them" situation between black youths and the police.

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