I was going to write this morning about Bobby Jindal. That was the plan, take the day off of work and just kind of fuck around with a silly idea I had that I found amusing, but as I read the news with my coffee I didn’t really feel like it anymore:
Three cities: New Orleans, Ferguson and Chicago. Just shooting and death, death and more death. Cops, gangs, cop-gangs and it just keeps going on and on and on and on…and too many people caught in all the crossfire.
And all the frustration with all this death and the feelings of powerlessness it gives suddenly made me think of an exchange I had on Saturday night in a bar here in San Francisco. I was shooting pool with a friend and having a beer or several when the friend I was with started talking about people in the neighborhood and just so casually, he says, “Well, that’s what happens around here with all the (n-bomb).”
I practically spit out my beer, “The fuck you say?”
He started turning red, “What?”
“I can’t believe you just said that,” I said, shaking my head.
“So, you hate me now?”
“No man,” I responded, “I don’t hate you, but if you want to have those kind of idiot thoughts in your head, that’s your business. Just don’t be saying that shit around me.”
And we finished the game of pool, any remaining conversation kind of ended and I made my excuses and went home, turning down his offer of a ride back to my apartment. This is a guy I’ve known for two plus years now, who I met at work, at a social work gig in the oh-so-supposedly-liberal city of San Francisco and even sitting here now I wonder about what he said and I ask myself, is there something about me that made him think that was okay to say? Maybe he’s become more relaxed as we’ve hung out here and there and that’s a previously hidden, but normal part of his vocabulary, and it just came out?
I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if we’ll ever hang out again for me to ask him.
But I do know all of this got me thinking about a few other things…about the guy the NYPD killed a couple of weeks back with a choke-hold or about all the black men the police have killed nationwide. I think about gang violence in Chicago and New Orleans. I think about Paul Ryan doing a “poverty tour” where at one point he blamed poverty on “inner-city” culture. I think a lot about loaded language, both coded and not used to describe Barack Obama. I think about all the pundits on national news programs, both broadcast and cable who make the rounds making outrageous statements about race, violence, poverty, “real” Americans, statements that would cause an eye-roll from any semi-skilled fact-checker. I think about this violence in our cities, about the dismissal of those less fortunate, the brutality of the police and how all of this links up to the words from your Ann Coulters and Sarah Palins, your Rushes and Seans and Bills and Mitt Romney percentages.
I think back to an interview where Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel tried laying the blame for all the shootings in Chicago at the feet of families and the community while ignoring and thus absolving himself of the fact that he closed schools, mental health clinics and disproportionately laid off city workers all over the West and South side (read largely African American and Hispanic) while at the same time, doing very, very little to get jobs into these neighborhoods that might instill more hope of finding a better way of making it for the largely unemployed youth in the city.
I think of the coming budget to the city of New Orleans and how Mayor Mitch Landrieu is already sounding the typical warning bells of austerity and what that might mean to those being left behind by the new New Orleans. I think of the arguments about Orleans Parish Prison, about how many people it will jail there and what messages the potential size of this place sends to anyone who has to live in it’s shadow.
I think about the murder of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson, the drive by shooting in the 9th Ward or the 19 shot on Mother’s Day or the weekend body counts in Chicago and way too many other murders and riots and frustrations and angers and loss…always loss, no matter who shoots or who dies.
I think a lot, maybe too much…but I do believe there’s a direct link between the words we use and the world we see. As coded racial statements or even not so coded racial statements again become increasingly normalized in mainstream media outlets, spoken by supposedly mainstream pundits, politicians or just your average asshole, a climate is perpetuated and this climate is having definite affects…dehumanizing affects to race, to economic class, to anyone else who’s living on the margins:
Maybe these words make it a little bit easier for a mayor to ignore the needs of whole sections of his city.
Maybe it makes it a little easier for a governor to refuse an expansion of health care.
Maybe it makes a police officer just a bit more at ease in pulling his gun.
Maybe it makes that drive by shooter a bit more ready to get into the car.
And yes, I understand this is a simplistic way of explaining a complex argument, but nevertheless, dismissive words entering the popular consciousness on a regular basis will, over time, dehumanize people and cultures, both internally and externally and the results of this are never good. The results of this can contribute to the deadliest of scenarios. And all of this bullshit has to stop, the words, the violence, the perception of the communities that make up our cities as separate and distinct. They’re not. They’re as connected as words and actions.
I remember going to a conference a few months back on race where an attendee asked the speaker, an expert on gang violence, why gang members were so willing to kill each other over such small slights. The speaker responded that when you’ve grown up never getting afforded any respect by those around you, when you do finally get it, you’ll be damned if you let anyone take it away again.
Yeah…it’s all connected.
And I certainly don’t have all the answers.
But I can start with simple respect, and include in this the respect the demand that elected politicians not just serve a portion of the community. And I can also start with language and send a message to those with the mouthpieces that though they may enjoy using racial and otherwise volatile words with an angry sneer or a knowing wink, these words have social consequences, and perhaps a consequence should be a timeline on how long they get to hold that fucking microphone…or stay in elected office. And no, this isn’t any sort of attack on free speech. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to say whatever they like without the government imprisoning them for doing so…but a social cost? Well, of course, that’s what makes us a society. If I go into work tomorrow at my housing non-profit and start talking to clients about how poor people are leeches on the system, I’d probably get fired. As I should be. Prison? No. The unemployment line? Uh-huh, that’s a social cost.
And in my opinion, too many police, politicians and pundits no longer pay a social cost for expressing ignorance and this leads to a domino affect of dehumanization over time and the costs of this, they’re huge. They can even contribute to the death in our streets.
Just a thought, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s what’s on my mind today…
Also, I think I need to call my friend from Saturday night, maybe invite him to lunch over the coming weekend so I can really talk to him about why what he said is not okay with me, and why I think he should stop saying that kind of shit for good.
Have a nice day.