Death to Death

I can be cynical. I am cynical. I tell people why. I tell them, look, if I assume the worst, it's only because I want to leave myself as much scope for being pleasantly surprised as possible. Or even elated.

But it also means that I have to be right sometimes.

I was sort of ready for that cop out in Ferguson to be exonerated, but, you know, after a lengthy trial. Not now. Actually, I totally expected this shit. I just hated myself for doing so.

I've always felt very uneasy about what unfolded in Ferguson. 

Of course, the primary cause of the unease is obvious. Just in case you are confused, I'll say it. Racism, institutional racism, the legacies of slavery and segregation (voluntary and in-), the overuse of force on the part of police, the distrust of young black men, who are incarcerated at an alarming rate because they are not needed, because they are not wanted, because racism, yes, but gentrification and capitalism too. There's probably more I'm forgetting right now, though not forever. There's too much wrong to forget it all.

But from here I'm going to be a bit more, I don't know.

I guess there's too things I want to talk about, without eloquence.

First off, I've been thinking a lot about white male privilege (mostly in the context of feminism, which is something I rarely write about, due to feeling unequipped to do so, but think about often). I think sometimes that those who don't have the benefit of privilege don't seem to understand its nature. It's not power. It's indifference. Yeah, white guys still run the world, but most of us aren't those guys. For most of us, our successes and, mostly, really, failures, are judged as being our own, instead of conditioned by or symbolic of larger social forces. That's the "freedom". 

Maybe I am not explaining myself well. Let's just say I get beat up in a bar tomorrow night. All I'm saying is that, assuming it's another white guy who did it, there will be no larger symbolic meaning to it. Even "better", I got harassed walking down the street today. I didn't do anything but bum a smoke to this person and found myself in a very uncomfortable situation. Ultimately, nothing happened. And it didn't mean anything. There's no recourse or complaint to be made unless I actually want to hate on poor people. Which I don't and I don't.

I guess what I am saying is that I don't know how to fix racism, but I know what the lack of it feels like. I've been told, and it has always made me sad, that I will never understand what it is to be black. Sad because I care. Because racism makes me sick. It's a waste of time and life. Which seems like a pretty underwhelming way of expressing anger until you actually really consider what those words mean. There are guys who are just going to be in jail and that's that. All the people before them. Parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents ad infinitum. All that effort, the suffering, not just the suffering borne of racism, but the suffering of life shared by all, endured only towards the hope of a better tomorrow, all ending in a guy maybe jumping a turnstile in New York and then maybe just "resisting arrest", which, in many cases, is just the body saying "ow, you are hurting me", and maybe a scuffle in a prison yard and suddenly it could be years instead of months and it's basically all over given the likelihood of recidivism 'cause what jobs are there for a convicted felon anyways.

I digressed there a bit. If I can never understand what it feels like to be black, then the converse is true. As I said, I know what the lack of racism feels like, and it is indifference. We're all, all of us caught in a trap. A sad one. The fact of the matter is, I think innocent people will die far into the future. Sometimes even by accident. The end of racism will be when racism isn't actually considered to be a factor.

Consider Ferguson in a "post-racial" society. No riots, everyone would wait patiently for the verdict. The biggest issue would be - why is that cop riding alone in his car? This would all go so much smoother with another witness (post-racism we might even actually trust two cops to tell the truth at the same time!). Should anyone really have been shot? Gee!

That the kid was black and the cop was white would mean just as much as much as eye color.

I bet there are actually some people out there who are genuinely not racist who genuinely wish that it could be this way right now (I understand, but that means asking a lot more of black people than white people. Are you really prepared to ask? Do you really think you can never mind should?).

But how? Seriously. How could one not assume race was a factor? Both the depressing legacy of racism, the way it conditions the minds of those against just as much as those for, but also, you know, a reasonable fucking inference. More than that.

Because there's something else that made me uneasy. The media. The anger of those in Ferguson, and those people all around the country, and, indeed, the world, who suffer or sympathize with their plight, was real, is real, is borne of direct, unmediated experience.

But I feel tempted. I can't quite, because I can't. But.

What tempts me? Well, nobody on the Left liked the Gulf War, so it's easy to get all excited about how daring Baudrillard was in saying that it never happened. But can we stand that kind of distance in this case?

Because sometimes it has felt to me that Ferguson didn't happen. I mean, of course it did. A young man is dead, and I don't believe it should be so.  And I am angry, just like you.

But here's that symbolism thing again. A black kid getting shot by the cops can never be just that. Which is all well and good, but look up towards the beginning and see that I listed racism and structural racism as two distinct phenomena. Why?

Racism in and of itself would speak to motive in regards to the specifics of the Ferguson killing. Whether the officer himself held any assumptions, beliefs, prejudices, etc., certainly has a bearing on his  actions and his guilt.

But this shit happens all the time. Black kids getting shot by the cops. Even if none of the participants involved themselves are racist in any way shape or form, they somehow end up placed in the roles they play, somehow manifest a deep societal desire (almost) inadvertently. I guess that's how I understand structural racism. I mean most people say they aren't racist and maybe they aren't and yet it keeps happening, doesn't it?

So where am I going with this? I'll know when you do.

I guess where my bother comes in is that each of these individual cases are meant to bear the symbolic weight of the whole, and so the whole comes to rest on the part.

A bad thing happens, and the op-eds come, and the pundits and the interviews and the concerned and agitated faces and the national and international exposure and everything is stirred up until it all becomes a referendum and identity and self-definition and the opinions and the opinions about the preceding opinions and suddenly the whole future of race relations is resting on the behavior and perception of this one 18 year old guy who is dead.

And that is when it starts to feel fake to me. It's not even really about the kid anymore, is it? When I see those clips of random protestors cities away with white skin holding up their hands and shouting "stop don't shoot", playing their roles, knowing that they know nothing and I know nothing and that everyone has their own facts and witnesses recant and which time were they lying and there are deadlines involved and the old media hates to be scooped by the new media and it's easy to make things appear and disappear and nobody reads the corrections anyways and people make careers and money and everyone has to have an opinion and jesus.

I mean, why this kid, anyways (not that it shouldn't be - who cares if he stole a fucking blunt)? Weren't there like three or four other guys who got shot that week? During the day? With more witnesses? Hell, even a video on Youtube that I can't even bring myself to link to because it's so painful to consider watching it again. I just feel the media cycle, the churn, taking over, taking the issue away from its context as one of many, which is where the deeper travesty lies (the many, the unbearable history of History), and into this realm whereby all possible defeat and victory, all possible solution and stagnation, rested in the hands of some random jury impanelled months ago who heard evidence we haven't.

It shouldn't take anyone getting shot for anyone to give a shit. And, honestly, a guilty verdict would have only satisfied an emotional need at the expense of the social (not that I didn't want it). The whole can't rest on the part. There is no movie, no credits to role after the bad guy is put in jail and we can all leave the theater thinking justice has been done. The killing of Michael Brown is a symptom, not a cause. He's dead. He can't be fixed. But what can be? And how?

Because what scares me? Who's next? And by then, which I'm sure has already happened, has happened many, many times, even if "nobody" has noticed, will it still be the same, the shaky evidence and the media churn and the us and them that never got us anywhere and never will?

What need does racism satisfy? What role does it play? Why is it necessary? Because, after all these years, certainly it is. Just as much to those against as those for. So easy to just say cracker and walk away or not but if everyone is racist and nobody is who are we protesting?

How do we get rid of ourselves?

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