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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

There's No Riot Goin' On

When I was living in New Orleans--famously described by former Mayor Ray Nagin as "a chocolate city"--in the 1990s, my Aunt Betty used to call me every January and implore me to drop everything, lock up the apartment, and come home to the family farm in Mississippi to wait out the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Aunt Betty didn't see desegregation as something Americans might be grateful for, she saw it as something blacks were grateful for, and she saw the Reverend's birthday not as an American holiday but as a black holiday. And she thought that blacks would naturally celebrate by rioting. She understood rioting by black Americans as an excuse to blow off steam, smash windows, kick the shit out of a few stray white people who hadn't had the sense to get the hell out of Dodge, and end up back at the shack with a nice buzz on and a new, free TV. She assumed that this happened in big, racially diverse cities every year on Dr. King's birthday, and the police just stood by and let it happen, because they were afraid that to interrupt the violent celebration would be politically incorrect. She thought it was like fireworks for white people on the Fourth of July.

In this, she was following the lead of my grandfather, who, like President Reagan, went to his grave convinced that Dr. King was not just a troublemaking son of a bitch but probably a paid agent of the KGB. My grandfather used to tell me about the "real" King and how he operated, how he would go to some town where whites and blacks had gotten along just fine for generations, stir up bad feeling and sow dissent, and then move on to the next town just before the fuse he'd lit would reach the dynamite. "They're all fighting and burning down their own buildings," he'd seethe, "and he's on down the line, and everybody says, 'Oh, he's a man of peace, he's a man of peace!' And he's laughing up his sleeve, while we're left to get those poor people to settle back down and clean up the mess he made."

Neither my grandfather nor my Aunt Betty, nor for that matter Ronald Reagan, would cut it in today's Republican party, until they'd had their attitudes adjusted and gotten in line with the current line that Dr. King, who died at the moment that he was trying to expand his movement's focus to an all-out assault on poverty, to be fought with government programs--was actually a Republican activist who wanted hi people to pull themselves up their own bootstraps and get off the government teat. But the current Republican party would at least respect their general priorities. The actual Dr. King and the other heroes of the civil rights movement were concerned about matters of fairness and unfairness, right and wrong, equality and inequality. My grandfather and Aunt Betty saw such concerns as hippie shit. They were concerned only with order and its alternative. They were all in favor of order, and the Southern sheriffs with their fire hoses and attack dogs were enforcing order, sometimes going so far as to soak their hands in blood to do it. They were heroes; those who made their lives difficult by going into diners and polling places where they were plainly not wanted were agents of chaos.

I thought about my Aunt Betty while reading Dahlia Lithwick's article about Juror B37, the keeper whose book deal got scuttled by social media in the course of a few hours. There's a lot to chew on in the profile, based on the juror's voir dire--Lithwick calls her "a reflexive doubter that truth and facts are knowable anymore," who paradoxically believes anything she hears in the courtroom. I suspect that the first part of her condition is becoming more and more common among people who rely on partisan media outlets that tell them only what they want to hear--including, in extreme cases, confident predictions that the Supreme Court will have to overturn Obamacare because it's clearly unconstitutional, or assurances that any poll results that don't show Romney mopping the floor with the President are "skewed" by the lamestream media, but just you wait and see what happens on Election Day. What what really happens just goes ahead and happens over Karl Rove's strenuous objections, the people who believe this shit must feel very frightened and confused. And just switching the setting in your brain back to unfiltered reality is harder than it looks. Consider the case of Dean Chambers, the unskewed-polls guy, whose immediate response in the days after the election was to apologize for his own silliness and express anger at those who had encouraged him, but who quickly flipped back and devoted his time on Earth to insisting that the real reason his numbers were off is that he underestimated the power and effectiveness of the criminal conspiracy to steal the election for Obama.

Part of what caught my eye, though, about Juror B37 is that she believes that there were riots after Trayvon Martin was killed. Juoror B37 sounds like quite a dense thing, and maybe the tracing paper in her head just laid this event over the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King, which led to the Los Angeles riots, which in turn led to the decision to file federal chargers against the officers for violating their punching bag's civil rights. But maybe the goofy old dear just thinks that blacks riot at the drop of a hat--that it goes on all the time. (Like my Aunt Betty, she's definitely possessed of a classic "give me order over anarchy" mindset; she said in a TV interview that she'd like to have George Zimmerman on her own neighborhood watch, especially now that he's "learned a good lesson.") David Weigel has been following the predictions by people like Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh that a not guilty verdict for Zimmerman would lead to riots all over the country by angry black folks, and one thing that can be decisively said about their post-verdict commentary is that they have not fallen all over themselves congratulating black folks for their self-control. Drudge is apparently--I'd just as soon not visit his site, but I'll take Weigel's word for it--behaving as if there have been violent riots going on all over the place. If the last five years have proven nothing else, they've firmly established that you can say anything you like in conservative media, and if no evidence of what you're reporting turns up anywhere else in the world, the true believers will point to it as proof that there is much that the liberal media sweeps under the rug. Covering black rioters, the thinking goes, would be bad for the cause of political correctness, because then we'd see those people behaving like animals--unlike the red-faced, gun-toting people waving racist signs and screaming incomprehensible bullshit at Tea Party rallies, who were displaying their passionate love for the country that the hippie Socialist Mulsim fake President was trying to take away.

The Los Angeles riots came as a shock to a lot of people, and in their aftermath, President Bush--whose press secretary first addressed the news by saying that it was all somehow Lyndon Johnson's fault; you give these people hope, and this is what you can expect in return--scrambled to try to show that he wasn't completely detached from the reality of the street life that Reaganomics had created, even letting token compassionate Republican Jack Kemp out of the closet and letting him give interviews and shit. Maybe Drudge and company think that, if they can get ahead of the story the next time something like that is about to go down, they can spin it to their advantage instead of getting their legs chopped out from under them. But why this insistence on the persistence of actual, non-extistant rioting? There must have been people who, far from being shame-faced over the Rodney King verdict, thought it was on the money. And then, when the riots broke out, they didn't think, "This is what happens when injustice persists until a major city turns into a powder keg--it can't go on like this." They thought, "Those poor, nice young men were just trying to maintain order, they had to go through the inconvenience of a silly trial, and now, instead of getting to go home to their families, their nightmare had to continue, with the government's contrivance, because a bunch of unorderly people can't obey the rules and had a hissy fit." I guess rioting had become, for some people, one more way that black people have it all over whites; anytime they want something unreasonable, they can just have another riot, and make nice people's lives difficult by tying up traffic, and then the hippies in Washington will just reward them for their bad behavior and give them whatever they want, and did I mention the free TV they always get out of it? The way Drudge and Aunt Betty and Juror B37 see it, riots are like affirmative action for people who are too lazy to be rubber-stamped through four years of college.

5 comments:

Tehanu said...

Hi Phil, great post as always! Nice to see you back.

Regular GeoX said...

Agreed. More, please!

Janet said...

You didn't pst for so long I got out of the habit of checking regularly. Please never do that again,

nolo said...

Brilliant, as usual. Thank you.

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