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Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

[update below]

Did you, dear reader, see Jon Stewart’s monologue—sans jokes—last Thursday on the Charleston massacre? If you didn’t, watch and/or read it here now. It’s brilliant, possibly Stewart’s best ever.

Along with many others, Stewart emphasizes that it was a terrorist attack. Obviously. Now I happen to agree with the sensible proposal of this conservative pundit—a well-known commentator, and with specialized knowledge, on matters having to do with Islam and Muslims—who argues that the “terrorism” label has become so imprecise that it best be dropped altogether. In other words, let’s eliminate the term from our vocabulary. Right, but still. If Dylann Roof had been named Mohammed Sath and shot up a synagogue—or a Burger King, or anything—the entire media and every last politician of both the major parties would be calling him a terrorist. There would be no disagreement on this whatever. So all those who are loudly insisting that the Charleston massacre was an act of terrorism are correct to do so.

On the subject, the NYT’s Charles Blow had a column yesterday on Dylann Roof as “a millennial race terrorist.” And in the current NYT Magazine is a reflection by writer Brit Bennett, who, looking back in history, observes that “White terrorism is as old as America.” Her conclusion

In America’s contemporary imagination, terrorism is foreign and brown. Those terrorists do not have complex motivations. We do not urge one another to reserve judgment until we search through their Facebook histories or interview their friends. We do not trot out psychologists to analyze their mental states. We know immediately why they kill. But a white terrorist is an enigma. A white terrorist has no history, no context, no origin. He is forever unknowable. His very existence is unspeakable. We see him, but we pretend we cannot. He is a ghost floating in the night.

Very good commentary, though Bennett is not totally correct on the “not trot[ting] out [of] psychologists to analyze [the] mental states [of foreign or brown terrorists],” at least not in France. In reading about Dylann Roof I am reminded of Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Franco-Algerian terrorist who murdered seven people—Jewish children and off-duty soldiers—in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012. In committing his acts Merah was driven by a jihadist ideology but was clearly a psychopath in addition. As the Paris-based Tunisian psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama thus wrote at the time

La courte trajectoire de sa vie montre qu’il s‘agit de ce qu’on appelait auparavant «un psychopathe», c’est-à-dire une personne qui a de puissantes pulsions anti-sociales, dont il va recycler le penchant criminel dans des idéologies salvatrices folles, idéologies qui servent de niche à ce genre de personnes, afin de les capter et de les utiliser.

For my posts on Mohamed Merah, go here, here, and here.

Dylann Roof is, as was Mohamed Merah, clearly a psychopath but is also, rather clearly, driven by an ideology and to the same degree as was Merah. On Roof’s ideology of white supremacy, the “Reflections on the murders in Charleston, South Carolina” by U Mass-Amherst emeritus professor Julius Lester, posted on his Facebook page, are worth the read.

Among other things, Lester asks Republican politicians and others seeking to change the subject to stop talking about this being a “time for healing.” No, this is no time for “healing” but rather for a national reckoning—and particularly on the American right—of America’s history and present reality of racism, and of the consequences of this. And one of the consequences of America’s persistent racial question is the strength of the increasingly far right-wing Republican party, which, as Paul Krugman reminded us in his column yesterday, is largely due to the defection of white Southerners from the Democrats, with the civil rights movement and enfranchisement of the South’s black population.

À propos, we have learned over the past few days (e.g. here and here) that Dylann Roof drew particular inspiration from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC; founded in the 1950s as the White Citizens’ Council). Now the CofCC may be considered a fringe hate group in Washington and by the national media but it is not seen as such by the Republican party in the South, as I learned in my brief encounter with the CofCC delegation at the French Front National’s annual festival some seventeen years ago (see here; scroll down after the photo of Jean-Marie Le Pen shaking hands with Ronald Reagan). It is a secret de Polichinelle that the GOP in the deep South maintains an informal relationship with the white supremacist, Jim Crow-nostalgic group with which Dylann Roof identified.

The CofCC’s presence at the FN’s festival was noteworthy, reminding one that far right groups—ultra-nationalist by definition—do have relationships with kindred groups in other countries. On this, Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, have an op-ed in the NYT on “White supremacists without borders.”

On white supremacists, a film opened here in France two weeks ago, Un Français (English title: French Blood), whose subject is neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s the first-ever cinematic treatment of this species of humanity in France, indeed of the extreme right (see Raphaëlle Bacqué’s full-page article on the film in the June 10th Le Monde). I hesitated on seeing it—the trailer put me off—but, with the Charleston massacre, decided that it was sufficiently topical, so checked it out this past weekend at a local theater. The opening scene was akin to that of the 2011 German film ‘Combat Girls’, which was about neo-Nazi skinheads in that country (go here and scroll down): graphically depicting gratuitous violence inflicted by these dregs of society on dark-skinned or leftist-looking people minding their own business. The violence of the opening scenes in the two films was such that I couldn’t even watch, wondering why I had even come to see the film in the first place—like, who needs this?—but then both settled into a more serious story. I’ll let Screen Daily’s fine critic Lisa Nesselson, whose review was just posted (and is the only one I’ve seen in English), describe the pic

It’s hard staying true to your youthful convictions when they would have fit well in Nazi Germany but it’s the mid-1980s-and-after in France where Marco Lopez (the excellent Alban Lenoir) is a ferocious young skinhead from the lower class Paris suburbs who carries a meat cleaver and is happy to wield it if anybody objects to him and his buddies stomping on the ‘faggots’, ‘Arab scum’ and ‘filthy Negroes’ they see as polluting the pure and proud meant-to-be-white landscape of their beloved France.

As a rare attempt to address an enduring strain of xenophobic thought in French society (and that, as hate-crime headlines sadly show, is by no means limited to France) this compact, unsettling tale deserves to be seen beyond local borders. Drawing respectable admissions on 11 screens in Paris proper and 50 additional screens throughout France since its June 10th release, French Blood managed to land the second spot in terms of ticket buyers per print for new releases on opening day — with Jurassic World in first place.

In his second feature, writer-director Diastème (who, as a film critic, director, screenwriter and playwright uses only one name) follows Marco — a fictional character drawn from the director’s own birthplace and youthful environment — from 1985-2013. It’s a convincing portrait of blind ignorance and lethal anger as Marco gradually evolves toward a more reasonable approach to living among others in a multi-cultural society. The melancholy truth that gives the film its power is that initially reprehensible Marco manages to become an infinitely better person but, in real life, the Extreme Right thinking he embraced in his twenties hasn’t dimmed and may have grown stronger for many of its French followers.

The trio of male friends at the heart of Mathieu Kassovitz’s Hate (La Haine) circa 1995 were an Arab, a Jew and a black guy. They wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with Marco and his three brawling buddies as portrayed in the opening reels here. Fights are convincing and miles removed from Fast and Furious-style silliness in that punches hurt, knives slice and bullets cripple. Diastème captures a restless, angry, violent vibe.

The film’s most shocking episode — a black street sweeper being forced to drink drain cleaner — was inspired by an authentic crime against a man from the formerly French island of Mauritius. Although the film is a work of fiction, it follows a timeline inspired by real events particularly within Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right wing party the Front National. Diastème knows his subject — he hails from the same suburb where the first skinheads in France were born and he sang in a choir whose benefactors included fundamentalist Catholics. He first reported on the Front National as a young journalist in 1990.

Although he has certainly been hit on the head more than once, as Marco ages, he starts to question his own actions. In a series of ellipses marked by changing facial hair and authentic TV news snippets, Marco grows into leading an increasingly honest life of meagre satisfactions. Marco doesn’t have one shining moment of realisation that his behaviour is horrific but, rather, gradually comes to feel that it is neither right nor good to beat up — let alone kill — people because they’re “different.” When a panic attack leads him to a pharmacy where the pharmacist (Patrick Pineau) goes beyond the call of duty, Marco starts to think for himself in tiny but lasting increments.

Come 1998, Marco is living in Guadeloupe. He used to beat up dark-skinned people for sport but now has no problem serving them alcohol in the beachfront bar where he works. But his wife, who can pass for sleekly refined when she’s sober, scoffs at the about-to-triumph soccer World Cup team whose talented players are mostly of African and North African heritage and therefore unworthy to represent France whatever their athletic excellence.

Following another ellipse it seems unlikely Marco will be able to pass on what he has learned about acceptance and tolerance to his daughter since he isn’t permitted to see her. Ironically, that’s because he no longer shares his ex-wife’s hard core racist views. Adding to his loneliness, Marco’s former skinhead buddies don’t fare very well with passing time.

The film garnered attention before its release with media reports that certain exhibitors, spooked that hooligans might trash their theatres, cancelled sneak previews. If there’s any truth to this, now that the film is out it’s hard to fathom what today’s neo-Nazis might object to. If they’re misguided enough to think the Le Pen family has the right idea, those ideas are presented in an accurate context.

Nesselson’s review is comprehensive and gets it right, though she appears to rate the film higher than I do. Not that I didn’t like it—it’s pretty good overall—but I had a couple of issues. E.g. protag Marco’s transition from violent, hate-filled thug to nice, better person—and who abandons extreme right-wingism altogether as he grows older and wiser—which is depicted via body language but is not convincingly explained (cf. the neo-Nazi skinhead protag in ‘Combat Girls’, whose transition is more fully developed). Also the scène de ménage on the beach in Guadeloupe with Marco and his bleached-blond bourgeois chick, named Corinne (actress Lucie Debay), the latter’s words and general rhetoric ringing false IMO.

Mais peu importe. The film’s treatment of politics is on the mark, of the relationship of the skinheads to the Front National (not specifically named in the film—except in the televised footage—but more than obvious). The FN engaged the skins—notably in recruiting them into its security service (DPS), Marco in the film being part of it in the early phase of his better person transition—but sought to keep them at a distance at its public events (e.g. they were not in evidence at the FN festivals and rallies I attended in the late ’90s, likely having been asked to stay away). The FN’s relationship to the neo-Nazi skins is indeed akin to the southern GOP’s with the CofCC: the latter being a little extreme and not publicly fréquentable but still part of the family, to be engaged with discreetly.

Also notable in the film are the scenes toward the end, where Marco watches from a distance as Corinne—now his ex, whose personal convictions were as extremist and racist as his in his youth, but, in her case, did not change—, leaves Sunday mass in bourgeois banlieue, with bourgeois husband and Marco’s now teen daughter—whom he has not been allowed visitation rights in view of his police record—and then sees them on television marching in one of the big 2013 hard-right demos against the government’s bill legalizing gay marriage. Subtext: there are plenty of upstanding, respectable members of society not from the lower classes who share the world-view of the neo-Nazi skinheads—or, in America, of white supremacists—but, as they are upstanding and bourgeois, are not considered infréquentable on that side of the political spectrum.

As for Dylann Roof, he looks too physically wimpish to be a marauding skinhead. He wouldn’t have been allowed. Skinheads need to be physically strong. But who needs physical strength when you can go out and legally purchase a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol? Thank God—and the Republic—one cannot do that in France.

In case one missed it, Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, respectively, had an op-ed in the NYT the day before the Charleston massacre on “The growing right-wing terror threat” in America, which, they say, is of greater preoccupation to law enforcement than that from Muslim extremists.

And TNR’s Brian Beutler has a commentary on South Carolina GOP governor Nikki Haley’s announcement yesterday that she will seek to have the Confederate flag at the SC State Capitol removed, which, Beutler says, does not make her a hero; she’s just doing damage control for Republican presidential candidates too terrified to take a position on the issue themselves.

UPDATE: Watch here Jon Stewart go after Fox News for its coverage of Charleston. Excellent.

un français

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The Charleston massacre

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,  Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders  (Image credit: BBC News)

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,
Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders
(Image credit: BBC News)

[update below] [2nd update below]

As usual in the aftermath of such horrific events, I have nothing in particular to add to what has already been said by others, except to observe that while there are psychos and homicidally-inclined racists everywhere, such a massacre is, in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings. The issue in this one is not the persistence of racism in America—racism and hatred of the Other are present everywhere—but that the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who’s the same age as my daughter and a sizable number of my students over the years, was in legal possession of a .45 caliber handgun, and which was apparently given to him as a birthday present by his father no less. Needless to say, such a gift from father to son in France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan etc—and who are not in a mafia family—would be totally inconceivable. And illegal. In France—or in Britain, Germany, etc—there is no way a young man his age not associated with a criminal gang could come into possession of such a weapon. If Dylann Storm Roof had not had that gun—if America’s gun laws were akin to those where I live—the nine parishioners of Charleston SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church would be alive today.

Can Dylann Storm Roof’s father be made liable for the massacre, as an accessory to the crime? He should be, morally if not legally.

On the centrality of the gun question here, Vox staff writer German Lopez has a piece on that fine website—with statistics and videos—saying that “Obama is right: gun violence is much worse in the US than other advanced countries.”

Also on Vox is a post by Max Fisher in which he has a quote by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik—a passage I’ve no doubt quoted myself—saying that “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.”

The most intelligent reflection I’ve read on the massacre so far is David Remnick’s in The New Yorker, “Charleston and the age of Obama.”

For the moment at least, that’s as much as I have to say.

UPDATE: I wrote above that the Charleston massacre is “in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings.” I should modify the bit about “the Western world” to read “in any society not in the throes of a civil war or riven by communal conflict.”

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a short video (3:45) on how “The Charleston shooting is part of a long history of anti-black terrorism.” Watch it.

The second most popular article on The New Yorker website at the present moment (June 20th) is a commentary by Adam Gopnik dated December 19th 2012—which I linked to back then—on “The simple truth about gun control.”

Making the rounds on social media this weekend is the video of a 16-minute stand-up act by Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, who “perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy,” and which I linked to three months ago.

TNR senior editor Jeet Heer, weighing in on right-wing media coverage of the Charleston massacre, has a commentary on “National Review magazine’s racism denial, then and now.” I have also mentioned NR’s treatment of race, in a post four years ago.

And here’s a hard-hitting SFGate.com blog post (June 19th) by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, on “The myth of America’s awesomeness.” Morford’s comment, which is driven by the Charleston massacre, veers somewhat off the topic but not entirely.

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The McKinney pool party

mkcinney texas pool party

I’ve been closely following, along with tens of millions of other Americans, the story of the McKinney pool party last Friday, which seems to crystallize the whole insane racial issue in American society, not to mention the nature of American policing. Thank God no one was killed or injured, though had the incident happened before the mobile phone and YouTube era, and (now ex) police Corporal Eric Casebolt pulled the trigger on 15-year-old Dajerria Becton and killed her, you may be sure that he would have claimed self-defense, that he felt his life was being endangered by this teenage girl in a bikini, and gotten off scot free. And that he would have been hailed as a hero by the good citizens of the Craig Ranch subdivision in McKinney, Texas (and no doubt further afield).

Officer Casebolt was, of course, called a hero anyway by residents of Craig Ranch and with right-wing media (Fox News et al) and websites taking his side. I’m sorry but anyone who can defend or excuse a cop going ballistic and pulling out his gun in the midst of a group of black 14 and 15-year-olds in swimsuits—and ignoring the white teens present—, who does not instinctively find this deeply alarming and totally insane, is a racist. Period.

As for officer Casebolt’s behavior, this has been examined—and contrasted with another, more professional police officer who was present on the scene—by University of South Carolina law professor—and former police officer—Seth Stoughton, in a must-read piece in TPM, in which he weighs in on “what went wrong in McKinney.”

In a NYT op-ed, “Who gets to go the pool?,” writer Brit Bennett—who has had personal experience in the matter—examines the long history in America of water—swimming pools, beaches—as a site of white racial anxiety.

In a similar vein, TNR senior editor Jamil Smith writes about how “White fear can be hazardous to your health,” i.e. the health of black people, whose lives are put in danger whenever panicked white people call the police when seeing a young black male or group of black youths—who are merely walking down the street and minding their own business, or are legally milling about in a public space—and with the police rushing to the scene guns brandished.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, who reports on race, law, and politics for Vox, says that “The only good news about the McKinney pool party is the white kids’ response to racism.” As she says, the behavior of the white teens on the scene—filming it and then speaking to media afterward—is likely the only reason we’re hearing about incident in the first place.

Don’t forget to see TYT Network host Cenk Uygur—a onetime conservative-turned-progressive—tear apart Fox News and other right-wing media for their coverage of the McKinney incident. Uygur’s demolition is 21½-minutes long but well worth the watch.

Pocho Ñews y Satire_By Lalo Alcaraz_June 10 2015_ in Cartoons El Now

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the onion v51 i19 05-15-2015

A decades-long opponent of the death penalty, I could not feel satisfaction at the sentence meted out to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Friday. And my sentiment was shared by many Bostonians, indeed the overwhelming majority according to a Boston Globe poll, “that found little support for the death penalty in general [but] even less when it came to Tsarnaev.” My view was precisely expressed by New York magazine editor Jesse Singal, who wrote

When I saw that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been sentenced to death, a cold, queasy feeling settled in my gut, and I got very sad. From a certain perspective, this doesn’t make much sense — Tsarnaev murdered people in cold blood, and if anyone deserves the death penalty, it’s him. And yet I couldn’t — can’t — shake the feeling that the U.S. government is going to commit a barbaric wrong. And I’m far from the only Bostonian who feels this way — most of us don’t want to kill Tsarnaev.

In one of my Boston bomber posts of two years ago, I remarked that the younger Tsarnaev was, at that moment, 19-years-old, the same age as my daughter, and that my daughter was—for me, at least—a kid. 19-year-olds do not hatch terrorist attacks; they are recruited into them, and/or brainwashed into participating. In a trial, this is a manifest attenuating circumstance. Tsarnaev should clearly spend the better part of his life in prison for his participation in the bombing and for the killing and maiming it sowed. But he should not be judicially murdered for it. Nor put in a Super Max prison and/or solitary confinement, both a manifest violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

Writing in Slate, Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, looking at the jury, pins the responsibility for the verdict on the prosecution, which “framed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, [thus] help[ing] seal his fate.”

Also in Slate, writer Seth Stevenson ponders “[t]he baffling reasoning of the jury that just sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death.” In his commentary, Stevenson concludes with a reference to the trial in Harper Lee’s To Kill Mockingbird, of a black man in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s. As it so happens, I just finished reading this great American novel (and for the very first time). If any Americans reading this post have not read Harper Lee’s chef d’œuvre, they are strongly encouraged to do so. Not only does the novel offer what is probably the best, most dead-on accurate depiction of life in the Deep South in its era that one will find in a work of fiction, but is also a backhanded argument for abolishing the death penalty, as popular juries should never, ever have a say over the life or death of a man. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

715VLP6M-OL

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Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, co-founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, that is. The Russian-American libertarian writer Cathy Young has a great piece in TDB (May 10th) on these two whack jobs and their publicity stunt in Garland TX last Sunday, “In Pam Geller’s world, everybody jihads.” The lede: “Pam Geller and Robert Spencer are being viewed as free speech champions for their ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest, which turned tragic in Dallas last week. But once a moderate Muslim begins speaking, they quickly turn into what they hate.” Despite Pamela Geller’s trying to wrap herself in the mantle of Charlie Hebdo, she and her bigoted crackpot associates have nothing whatever to do with the irreverent Paris weekly.

Charlie Hebdo, for its part, has rejected any affinity between it and the Garland event, or the respective shootings at the two. On page 3 of its latest issue, dated May 6th, is a column signed by Sol, “‘Charlie’ n’est pas Texan” (not online, except the cartoon above that heads it). The lede: “Le hashtag #WeAreGarland, qui a surgi après l’attaque du centre culturel de Garland, dans le Texas, est une escroquerie à l’esprit Charlie.”

See the fine comment (May 5th) in Huff Post by Stephen Schwartz, a convert to sufi Islam and executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, “Malice in Dallas.” Also the salutary tribune in TDB (May 4th) by comedian Dean Obeidallah, “Muslims Defend Pam Geller’s Right to Hate.” The First Amendment. Of course.

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Baltimore & The Wire

Poot, Bodie, D'Angelo, and Wallace

Poot, Bodie, D’Angelo, and Wallace

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

Paul Krugman’s column today, “Race, class, and neglect,” is on Baltimore, in which, entre autres, he cites “the great sociologist” William Julius Wilson and expresses dismay at the reaction of “commentators,” i.e. conservative commentators. Krugman here rather obviously has a fellow NYT columnist colleague in mind (whose initials are DB). As usual, Krugman gets it precisely right.

In following Baltimore over the past week, I naturally thought right away of ‘The Wire’, the greatest show in the history of television and Baltimore’s TV claim to fame. I am, of course, only the 750,000th—or maybe the 7,500,000th, or whatever—person to make this assertion. In addition to being brilliant television ‘The Wire’ is brilliant social science, and is consequently taught in numerous college courses, including William Julius Wilson’s at Harvard. Everyone knows by now that, during its 2002-08 run on HBO, it was Barack Obama’s favorite TV show—and that Omar was his favorite character—isn’t he everyone’s?—as Mr. Obama reminded ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon in a conversation between the two this past March, which may be viewed here. Say what one will about Obama, he is without question the most thoughtful president the US has had in a very long time.

As for David Simon, he weighed in last week on “Baltimore’s anguish” in an interview with The Marshall Project’s editor Bill Keller. Also last week, The Guardian reposted an excerpt of a talk Simon gave in 2013 in Sydney, Australia, “‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’.”

Fans of the ‘The Wire’ are, in their great majority, liberals and leftists, though a few conservatives also appreciate it. One of these, Francis Fukuyama—who’s one of America’s smartest and most interesting public intellectuals—wrote a particularly good essay on the series, “Down to The Wire,” in the September-October 2012 issue of The American Interest. Money quotes:

The most impressive achievement of The Wire, however, is the way it humanizes an entire segment of American society that most white Americans would just as soon ignore (and generally do). By humanize, I do not mean sentimentalize or whitewash. Many of the drug dealers, as well as some of the cops, are vicious people, and the viewer gets to watch them inflict unspeakable cruelties on their victims in ugly detail. But we soon come to realize that most of the characters living in the bad parts of Baltimore are trapped there by the simple bad luck of where and when they were born

And this

One of the fundaments of American political culture is the notion that North America started out as a terra nullis, an empty land to which settlers could come and make new lives for themselves. Americans accept instinctively the Lockean notion that the “industrious and rational” will combine their labor with the mere things of nature and create private property and wealth for themselves, while the “quarrelsome and contentious” will not. Democratic political and legal institutions were constructed to protect what James Madison called the “diversity of the faculties of men” and their consequent unequal ability to acquire property. Americans thus distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor in a way that Europeans, schooled in the historical reality of class differences, generally do not. The idea of social mobility is fundamental to both America’s self-image and to its ongoing success: I may be poor today, but through ability and hard work I can ensure that my children or grandchildren will have better lives. Americans therefore care much less than Europeans about actual socioeconomic inequality; what they care about is a level playing field that allows for intergenerational social mobility. As the experience of countless immigrant groups to the United States has demonstrated, this myth has also been the reality for very many Americans.

The one big exception to this happy immigrant story has always been African Americans, who did not come to North America voluntarily and who, up until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, were subject to overt legal discrimination in many parts of the country. Blacks were the only social group that faced caste-like barriers to mobility. Their social and economic liberation and subsequent advancement required political power to achieve, first in a Civil War that ended slavery and left more than 600,000 Americans dead, and then in a long struggle against legal segregation whose end required strenuous enforcement by Federal authorities.

The Tea Party ideology that glorifies individual self-help and points to the dangers of an overweening national government conveniently forgets this history—or perhaps some of them do remember it, which is why they are so opposed to the Affordable Care Act, many of whose beneficiaries would be black. Even for those not on the libertarian Right, there tends to be a view that the end of legal segregation leveled the playing field, that government efforts like the Great Society’s War on Poverty were a counterproductive failure, and that there is little more that can usefully be done with regard to inner-city social policy.

What The Wire does so effectively is to remind us that while individual ability and talent do matter, and that our character and moral choices matter as well, we are nevertheless very much products of a social environment over which we as individuals have very little influence. (…)

My wife and I watched all five seasons of ‘The Wire’ in fall 2008-winter 2009 (a big thank you to Stathis Kalyvas for informing me of its existence and pressing me to check it out). Since then I’ve lent my DVD set to several people—including a work colleague at the present moment—all of whom have gone through the entire series and given it the thumbs way up. I think we’re due to watch it a second time.

UPDATE: The Nation’s Dave Zirin has a post on his Nation blog (May 4th), in which he describes how he was a fanatical fan of ‘The Wire’ but now says that he is “Reconsidering [the show] amidst the Baltimore uprising.” In a nutshell, he is not sure if the series had a politically progressive message after all. Zirin’s post is followed by a lively—and high-quality—debate in the comments thread, most of whose contributors take strong issue with him. The comment by “Steve” is particularly good, and which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting into the comments thread here.

2nd UPDATE: Adam Shatz—a ‘Wire’ fan—offers his thoughts on Baltimore in a post (May 7th) on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: Orlando Patterson, the brilliant Harvard University sociologist, has an excellent, must-read op-ed (May 9th) in the NYT on “The real problem with America’s inner cities.”

Bunk & McNulty

Bunk & McNulty

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Clay Davis

Clay Davis

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Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Watch here Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcing the indictments of the six police officers for the homicide of Freddie Gray. Very impressive. Her political future will be brilliant if she wins convictions. POTUS in 2032 maybe?

Max Rodenbeck of The Economist has passed on to me a most interesting article by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, posted April 29th on the EPI’s Working Economics Blog, on how the black ghetto in Baltimore (and everywhere else in America) got to be that way, “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.” Money quote

Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population. A legacy of these policies is the rioting we have seen in Baltimore. Whether after the 1967 wave of riots that led to the Kerner Commission report, after the 1992 Los Angeles riot that followed the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King, or after the recent wave of confrontations and vandalism following police killings of black men, community leaders typically say, properly, that violence isn’t the answer and that after peace is restored, we can deal with the underlying problems. We never do so.

On the 1968 Kerner Commission report, see the piece in Politico Magazine (April 30th) by Bruce Western, of Harvard’s JFK School of Government, “The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore.” The lede: “Nearly 40 years ago, the Kerner Commission warned us of all this. We didn’t listen.”

In his post Richard Rothstein links to an article by Rutgers University-Newark history professor Beryl Satter, “Race and Real Estate,” published in the July-August 2009 issue of Poverty & Race, that is definitely worth the read.

Louis Hyman, who teaches history at Cornell, has an article in Slate (May 1st), which gives food for thought, on “Why the CVS burned.” The lede: “The rioting in Baltimore wasn’t hooliganism. It was a protest against the depredations of the ghetto economy.”

Emily Badger, an urban policy reporter at WaPo’s Wonkblog, has an informative Wonkblog post (April 29th) on “The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore.”

Gracy Olmstead, an associate editor of Patrick Buchanan’s The American Conservative, has a post (April 30th) on Baltimore—in which she sounds like some bleeding heart liberal—rhetorically asking “Have conservatives lost their compassion?” The question presupposes, of course, that they had this to begin with.

And Julia Blount, a Princeton alumna who teaches middle school, has an open letter on her Facebook page and republished in Salon (April 30th), “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now.” Salon’s lede: “To those rushing to judgment about what’s happening in Baltimore: Please stop and listen before you say any more.” (h/t Michelle S.)

À suivre.

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