Friday, July 08, 2011

This ain't the Summer of Love

"Really? Is this really happening?"
--Flash-mob victim

This ain't the Garden of Eden,
There ain't no angels above,
And things ain't what they're supposed to be,
And this ain't the Summer of Love


The post-racial dream has become a nightmare. The use of social media to take over public space by surprise (the definition of “flash mob”, alas) for the purpose of recreational racist terror is this summer's trend.

Affected municipalities across the country brace themselves ahead of heat waves and large public events; holiday weekends loom like potential squalls on the horizon. Recession-lean budgets strain to add police ("...we have deployed additional officers..."): more police aren't always enough ("...shootings happened despite a high police presence..."). Businesses lose money and fear for the safety of employees. Some are harassed for closing their doors to the chaos.

Suburbanites surrender the city and stay home; events are cancelled, scaled back, starved. Organizing ad hoc via social networking for the purpose of amusement, black adolescents terrorize parts of the country like al Qaeda only wishes it could.

It all seems so long ago now. Once, liberal Americans anticipated with perverse ecstasy a violent racist reaction to an Obama presidency. This is not what they had in mind.

In the burlesque of Obama's first presidential campaign, the occasional white rube documented fretting over emboldened black racists was a recurring act, eliciting satisfied shivers in the Good, and proving all the more the need for absolution by Obama. Fear of “uppity blacks”—how quaint! What a reassuringly familiar theme! How comforting, to see the good narrative, the one we've been steeped in since childhood, playing out as scripted, in one's very own lifetime, with the promised marquee villains hitting their marks and the handsome black hero in charge. Less loftily, one could stick it to a despised Other (other white people—topsy-turvy world!) and claim the moral high ground in doing it. Everything was so easy then—virtue especially.

The production was on schedule until the wrong crowd showed up for the mob scene. Who cast these extras? Without script or direction, public officials are improvising--and the dialogue just gets worse (the beatings were "barbaric", said Milwaukee's police chief, but crime, like love, is “colorblind”).
But the dominant culture has taken too big a stake in Barack Obama's role as racial healer to let the public focus-group this ending. The problem is today’s reality plays out like the earnest speculative fiction of 2008's presumed-phobics:

In the president’s adopted home of Chicago, political and cultural center of black America, networking teens—emanating from the same streets as young Barack Obama, community organizer—randomly form in bands, terrorizing non-blacks and forcing the closure of parts of the city before melting away like guerrillas—excelling a national trend in just this sort of racist mob violence. Small-town Pennsylvania remains dormant.

To deny his city was under siege, new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, of all people, was forced into embarrassing public obstinacy: fears of “heat stroke” in the 88 degree weather, and nothing else, prompted the city to close beaches along the lake into which black adolescents happened to be throwing bicyclists for amusement. He was roundly mocked.

The new mayor accepted the necessity of this humiliation. Like one of the victims he won't acknowledge, Rahm checked his dignity, took his beating and endured the taunts. Add the self-respect of one of the most influential people in the world to the casualty list. No mean feat for the feral children of Chicago's south side.

The trust Emanuel and his brand-new police superintendent (I presume) hope to establish with Chicagoans will have to wait. Superintendent McCarthy blithely invoked trust, while repeating the lie once more with feeling for the heckling crowd. The irony was lost in all the irony. But trust was established: the mayor has demonstrated, to whoever it is runs his city, that he knows how to keep his mouth shut.

With fellow feeling the major papers will ignore this latest example of a public official misleading citizens about a criminal threat to avoid offending the same criminals--or black and liberal sensitivities. Faced with a nation-wide outbreak of racist violence our political and journalistic classes collude in Soviet levels of disinformation. This debasement of our discourse is yet another consequence of the violence—precisely, of the need to deny the nature of the violence.

Thankfully, the Great Recession is a massive plausibility-generator. The general angst of the present. Catastrophic unemployment. Cutbacks in summer programs. I don’t discount these things. Responsible public servants will recourse to them so they can do what they can while preserving the lie--and themselves. Invoking the general downward trend in crime is already a common, if fallacious, means of distraction.

But obscurity has its consolations. We get to ask. Does the recession explain the trend? Not on paper. Black Americans poll disproportionately optimistic about the future. President Obama inspires their pride and confidence still. Black Americans are feeling much better than other Americans about their prospects, because we have a black president. This contradicts the hoary stock reply that black racism and violence always stem ultimately from righteous grievance.

Neither does the video support the recession ruse: the flash-mobbers (so confident in their indemnity they document their crimes on camera for later boasting) are amused, giddy, joyful even. What is expressed (often verbally) is not resentment of white privilege but disdain for white weakness. This is an expression of power, not powerlessness.

The world is turned upside-down. The grandchildren of the civil rights movement now riot and plunder out of a sense of entitlement.

The respectable media, perhaps comforted by the fact the criminals are relatively few (barely seen from the commanding heights), have cordoned off the story (with "context" and "perspective" their Orwellian bywords) to keep the creepy white racists out. The thing will play out, to whatever end, with no indelicate commentary from them. In that silence is the tacit agreement: the physical damage of the mobs is nothing as compared to the psychic damage the truth will bring.

Where is the president? Where is that promised leadership on race? It's difficult to imagine a white president addressing the problem squarely, as an issue of black responsibility; Barack Obama could. No single man has had--or will likely have again--this level of moral authority among blacks and this much political power. But the president will remain silent.

The fact is that rather than being uniquely qualified to address the issue, Obama is uniquely hampered. This same story that made him the most powerful man on earth romanticizes and politicizes black racism. Our rapidly degrading reality stands out in relief against this inviolate, rigid narrative. There is much embarrassment, and I hope a little shame, in the silence of our race-rioters' apologists.

The narrative holds that we've failed black Americans. But reality demonstrates black America is failing the rest of us.

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