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Monday, May 12, 2008

guns, murder, and the urban dilemma

I heard gunshots in my vicinity this evening. I am nonplussed by it. Ho Hum. Another round of shots fired. Maybe it is just someone popping some caps. Maybe it is someone getting shot. I hear police helicopters and sirens. That's part of the background noise. There have been several shootings by the police resulting in death of the suspect in recent days. These were each situations where the police were face-to-face with someone who had a gun. Who knows if they would have used it on the police. The police shoot first. I read a story about a vicious homicide in Cleveland where 15 gang members beat a man to death on the street. Cops did not get there fast enough to save him. The inhumanity of that slaying is too much even for the jaded to ignore. Guns, violence, inhumanity. Haven't we been down this road before?

I'm supposed to know what to do about urban issues. That's what I have spent a lifetime studying, researching, teaching, working with local governments, working with neighborhood groups, developing policy, crafting ideas, facilitating group dialog, and writing about it. The pundits who write comments have two answers - I'm glad I moved away from the city and good riddance to another thug on the streets. Well, you can run but you can't hide, even behind your electric fences and security systems in your suburban castles. And for every thug killed, two more take his place. It seems so obvious to me that the two are related. But no one in the suburbs thinks they should be held accountable for anything that goes on in the city. And city leaders pretty much ignore the situation and suggest that jobs are the answer, giving them license to subsidize another corporate development downtown.

This blog got noticed by a few people and it got two reactions - the first: I don't need some white chick pointing her self-righteous finger at me, and the second: I (the white person) am not to blame for the crackhead's violent behavior in the city. It is a convenient defense. Attack the veracity of the messenger (me) and deflect all responsibility onto the perpetrator. Yes, I do point the finger. Maybe I am self-righteous. Doesn't make my point incorrect. Just means you don't like my style of delivery. Yes, the perpetrator is responsible for their own actions, but the systemic racism that brought that situation to that person also is responsible. And since white people are the system and the system is racist - then white people bear some responsibility. You didn't put the gun in his hand. I get that. You didn't tell her to pull the trigger. I get that too. You are a party to the lingering dismissal of otherness that leaves people without jobs, home loans, cars, money for food, and the ability to get ahead.

The system is constructed to reflect the white world. If you are white, you probably don't see that. It rewards people who think as white people do, dress and act as white people do, talk as white people do, live in white neighborhoods, and engage socially with other white people. Yes, blacks and other people of color can get ahead in this world. But it is not an easy struggle, nor is it necessarily authentic for them.

Try this on and see if it resonates. Women - you want to earn the same as a man in the same job. You want to get ahead and get promoted. You want to be the breadwinner for your family and send your kids to college. To do this, you must work 60 hours per week and you can't have time off to go attend to your kids and family. Ok. I will make that adjustment, you say. You must enter the culture of male bonding - taking clients to the "club," the golf course, maybe even the "gentleman's club." I shouldn't have to do those things you say. But yes you do if the corporate culture is constructed to reflect men's world view. Men don't see it as right or wrong, it just is. Women are uncomfortable making those adjustments. Well, suck it up sweetie, because this is what it takes. Those that don't tow the line are just whiners. Are you starting to see the picture here?

People of color are expected to curb their accent, straighten their hair, wear "appropriate" clothes, be the minority person at the club and often get mistaken as the waiter, get pulled over by the police in white neighborhoods because it is suspicious for them to be there even if they live there, drive greater distances to stores that stock their hair products and other supplies because the stores in white neighborhoods do not carry it. The list goes on.

There are many, many, many people of color who live in the suburbs. Some are highly integrated places, some people are willing to be the minority family in the subdivision. But don't kid yourself that it isn't a struggle every day to keep it in check and live the life that is defined by white culture. If you can't financially afford to take this on, then you live in other neighborhoods that aren't as safe, that aren't as nice, but have greater authenticity for you as a person of color. What a Faustian bargain people make just to live.

So back in my neighborhood where violence is on the uptick and back in Cleveland where a man got beat to death on the street...what is the solution? Why don't we ask the people who are most greatly affected instead of pontificating that people in the 'hood should do this and not that. It would be a better start.


Xavier Onassis said...

"You are a party to the lingering dismissal of otherness that leaves people without jobs, home loans, cars, money for food, and the ability to get ahead."

Nonsense. I'm not drinking the guilt kool aid.

If people are without jobs, it's because they don't want a job. Last time I looked at the want ads, there were jobs available. Go get one. Work it for a while, prove yourself, then go get a better job. Repeat as necessary.

If you don't have a car, take a bus to work. Or ride a bike if you have one. Save your money until you can afford a car. Then save your money until you can afford a better car. Repeat as necessary.

If you don't have money for food, apply for assistance. A lot of tax dollars are going to programs to ensure that you don't have to go hungry.

EVERYONE has the ability to get ahead. EVERYONE. All it takes is the determination to overcome obstacles.

Yes. Life has obstacles. For everyone. It always has and it always will.

You can choose to surrender to the seductive lure of victimization and allow those obstacles to own you and define you.

Or, you can beat those obstacles like a rented mule and improve your situation just like every American has had to do for hundreds of years.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no redneck, conservative, bootstrap republican. If you have ever read my blog you know I'm about as liberal as they come.

But when I read "Yes, blacks and other people of color can get ahead in this world. But it is not an easy struggle, nor is it necessarily authentic for them." it REALLY ticks me off.

I am so sorry that it is a "struggle" and it doesn't feel "authentic" fr them.

But ya know what? Schlepping into work everyday, sitting in a corporate cubicle and pretending that I care, pretending that I think that the business they are in is actually important enough to justify 40 hours of my time every week doesn't feel "authentic" to me either.

But I do it because it's a good job and it pays the bills.

I wear the clothes they expect me to wear, not the clothes I feel comfortable in.

I bite my tongue and use corporate-speak instead of telling them how full of sh*t I think they are.

No one in this world is owed anything. Not even respect or dignity. I know it seems unfair, but respect and dignity have to be earned through your actions. They are not bequeathed to you by virtue of your birth, not even to white people.

If you think I'm lyin', email me. I'll be happy to introduce you to some folk who just ain't feelin' the whole "white priveledge" thing.

A 42 said...

Every person on this earth is entitled to human dignity. I, too, believe respect must be earned, but at the same if we do not treat others with human dignity and respect how will we ever progress as a city, as a nation, as a species...? Without respect and dignity for human being, no matter how nasty some of us can be at times, how will we ever work together to end poverty, hunger and stupid crap that keeps ALL of us down?

janet said...

wow I came over to this blog at the suggestion of suburban white guy and he leaves this comment? Ya gotta be kiddin me. I think the post was spot on...I am a white, PhD carrying over 100k earning white liberal woman. Thought I got it too. Until I adopted to children of I ALMOST get it...we moved from suburbia bec how many times do children have to endure white people touching their hair, asking their mama if she is a foster parent and commenting on how "smart and articulate" they are (for a black child of course). How sad that no matter how much schooling, people just want to get on the defensive. Write on white woman in the hood...from another wwith.