Tag Archives: society

On centrality

(public domain-1923)

(public domain-1923)

Many a sitcom has had settings in which a dozen or more people were in the same place together – mostly some type of social-friendly spot like a diner or an old pre-mega-gentrified coffee shop/bar. Actually what’s now considered an average sitcom is already tailored to post-early-gentrification anyway, but I digress: If a sitcom is set somewhere where there’s a few dozen people around, it usually focuses on a handful of exceptional people. We know they’re exceptional because in this small sampling of supposedly average people there are stories focusing just on them. In this sensationalized media-drenched world, it was interesting to see how comparatively muted the coverage of the horrific slayings in Charleston, South Carolina was. Perhaps that’s because sensationalizing something often requires that the designated bad people have played their part. The alleged bad guy here doesn’t look like who’s supposed to be the bad guy; he looks more like someone sitting at the center of everything on a couch or at a booth.

About a decade ago in the familiar sitcom scenario, you would have been hard pressed to look in the background and find any people of color, and even now, for all the supposed “Empire”s that are dominating TV, in the narratives of your average sitcom set in what’s considered an average place, there may or may not be a few. Did you ever notice how odd it really is to always focus on a few amazing people, almost always white, when there’s all these other people around, just kind of dawdling? For some, many even, that’s aspirationally metaphorical–these central people who are worthy of having good things happen to them as the rest of the world is reducted.

This dynamic is still commonplace, but in some quarters it’s a bit less common than it used to be, which really upsets those whose sense of self-worth is built on being the good average person inherently worthy of centrality.
A survivor of the Charleston massacre reportedly said that the alleged shooter told his victims that he had to do it because African-Americans, it was implied, were “taking over.”

“Had to do it,” as if there was a counterpoint that said, no, these are people. They don’t deserve this.

In typical fashion, the massacre has been considered by some to be an aberration; this is what hate crimes are supposed to be, even though hating those insidious others that threaten to challenge someone’s supposedly rightful space of centrality is hardly an aberration culturally. There are plenty of programs that regularly present information and twist it through that prism.

What’s amazing is the way that the victims of some of these families are so forgiving. What’s incredibly sad is that hundreds of years of molded centrality will continue to make some people think that it’s only right for some people’s lives to mean much more than others. And what those people, so desperate to be more than somebody else, don’t get it is that if they weren’t being pointed to one scapegoat, it would be another.

One less hour

The sun via wiki/public domain and old political allusions.

The sun via wiki/public domain and old political allusions.

The complications from the loss of an hour to due to daylight saving time are — and let’s not mince words or sporadically used punctuation here — mammoth!!! One hour of rejuvenating slumber traded for more time with the sun? Psh. What has that thing or Congress done for us lately?

So all right, maybe the sun has its moments — but to be just a tiny bit more serious, it really is interesting to ponder the loss of an hour. Is it just a loss to how much sleep we could have gotten, or, if one doesn’t have to work, would that lost hour have accounted for more escapism? Sleeping and escapism both share a disconnection from the present, though one is obviously a biological necessity, and the other — like vegging out on TV — would generally not be considered in the same vein. Of course, life as we know it has always been padded by escapism, and in a society in where there’s more perennial fear-mongering and increasing anxiety over both that and more corporate demands on what essentially amounts to breathing, escapism has become something nearly all-consuming. Beyond sleep, extra time rarely goes to the kind of personal development that doesn’t just keep one in a self-satisfied bubble and instead makes one, like, a part of the overall world where there are also people who are downtrodden — and hopefully makes that world just that much better. Sure, that’s probably as customary as anything. I don’t know. It’s just, you think there’s an hour that is now gone, but any extra time we have as a society usually goes to disconnecting or keeping up the right funhouse mirrors for ourselves anyway. So, hey, the concept of one more hour in a given day may not be all that fruitful, and not just in a corporate way (but not in a tie-dye kind of way, either).

a messy world, but don’t give up on it

The news about Robin Williams seems to have given millions of people a sense of pause, in a way that many people wish would happen for the loved ones in their own lives. Some have resented the enormous presence this has had in media, and such opinions have been dismissed as anything from insensitivity to the somewhat mythic “reverse racism.” But with the senseless shootings that take place everyday, such a reaction is hardly completely devoid of humanity. Maybe it’s not the beacon that the media likes to pretend humanity is when something senseless happens, but a little self-concern when your looks are demonized should be understandable.            

 As is feeling for Williams. I don’t know that people’s affection for him is generally about the admiration of stardom; he was a unique entertainer, somebody who mixed a lot of heart into that one-of-a-kind whirlwind humor. That he so obviously wanted to make people laugh and smile in a goofy kind of way might have worked against him a little career-wise, in an increasingly moment- and cool-obsessed media. The art of being a goofball is not one that always seems vital and contemporary, but the world would be incredibly dull without it. Quite possibly even to himself, Williams’ merits became underappreciated — in the way that most people juxtaposed with a one-sided notion of “vital and contemporary” often always are.

The tributes are understandable, but a substantial part of the media reaction is entirely about Williams’ stardom and what can be milked from the combination of it and tragedy. That this generally trumps the senseless shootings of people who aren’t stars or considered All-American enough is ridiculous. Even with what’s happening in Missouri, perhaps only such an extreme example of the kind of messy unfairness that happens everyday makes it linger in the media. There’s also a tiny bit of self-righteousness that gets to be utilized, with the crusaders of justice for all who are on the nicer side of some subdivision themselves.

The only positives from this all seems to be a greater cultural awareness of institutional bias and depression, neither of which should add up to someone being ostracized. Often it’s all a mess, but really, it’s not just a mess, and you’re certainly worth the fight to not be overwhelmed by acutely feeling the worst of it.  If it’s too much of one, don’t try to go it alone.                .   

environmentalism when there’s a lack of resources

With the world’s climate changing the way it is, with permafrost not being so permanent anymore, it’s clear that a much broader sense of environmentalism could have been quite beneficial. But there’s always been a divide between people who are just privileged enough to enjoy a relatively contained experience of fresh air with nice views and those who are considered quite far from nature and heedlessly contributing to litter.  It’s not uncommon for the latter to be disenfranchised and often just trying to get through the day. Between this divide is where most people would probably consider themselves: mindful about their environment, but generally just going with the flow of a world where pollution is the not-overwhelmingly-tangible output of convenience as normalcy. I don’t know that environmentalism has ever really addressed those who aren’t privileged, though I’m speaking only to the privilege-regarded field.  Even in something that is supposed to be as eco-friendly and accessible as urban gardening, it seems like the people lacking in privilege who take it up (particularly in areas that aren’t gentrified) are quite the exception. I figure that most populous among polluters are people who are sort of privileged and those who are underprivileged.  But both of them are utilized and out-polluted by rampant profiteers — folks who  have instilled and created an infrastructure of considerably wasteful and literally toxic values all over the world. A disparity in resources can mean the difference between apathy about the environment due to a lack of solidarity, or apathy that comes from entitlement and convenience.   Generally people with resources are the only ones whose opinions count (or seem to count) in a society that can be all too driven by money; maybe this is why few people have ever really expected under-privileged people and areas to be devoid of (or care) about pollution.   If you’ve lived in a place that’s not considered respectable, you’ve probably seen people from neighborhoods that are (considered respectable) come to drop their garbage off. The world’s changing climate is already affecting everyone to different degrees. People who have no resources and are unable to move to drier pastures (hopefully not so dry that they don’t have a decent supply of drinking water) will continue to be affected most negatively — though there’s little clear sailing all around. It’s an awful lot to ask people who aren’t privileged to care about something they don’t get to enjoy the best of.  But, however it may be subdivided, there is only the one planet.

Always tense, but reasonably so

For about as long as I can remember, at least a little fear of people has been woven into the fabric of every backdrop.  If I started to think the world was welcoming as a kid, a bully would quickly emerge with the shadow of a giant.  There was no space a bully couldn’t get to, and I suppose the place they most get to is one’s head.  Your places with a lot of people that aren’t considered the typical definition of scenic — long-term residents either try to live around the natural result of a lack of elbow room/resources, or they become part of the problems that, outside of these places, defines them entirely.  Make this space one full of dark-skinned people of color, and it is typically deemed to be quite scary, a land of bullies, by people whom consider themselves in sync with a “natural” notion of what is picturesque and peaceful.

Lots of people want to live in a world where they’ve minimized the presence of people whom are somehow as scary-looking as they are bad, but that notion is at the expense of anything remotely fair  — and it’s certainly at the expense of people whom happen to be “scary-looking.”  I’m sure some people don’t care, because these are scary-looking people we’re talking about.  “And **** ’em.”  Right?  Well, the last six months or so has seen the tragic slayings of a few people looking for help while happening to be black (And these were just the ones with a relatively high profile).  The kind of paranoia and rampantly internalized fear that often leads to these events is what’s really scary.  Can you imagine being lost and needing to ask for help in a place where you looked “scary”?  Your confusion, your reaching out to someone else for help, somehow warped into something “monstrous.”

If one were lost, one would reasonably feel a certain level of fear, too.  It’s strange to think such a fear can misconstrued, but it’s hardly surprising.  While some level of fear is a boon in a world full of myriad possibilities, it seems like there’s so many people so existentially lost they’re always afraid of anything that doesn’t share the hallmarks of the funhouse mirrors making them look otherwise.

Fear, quite simply, keeps us on our toes, wards off from potential dangers.  We have the kind wrought via personal experiences and, more often it sometimes seems, stereotypes from the twisted strain that is most media (yes, even the one you like that’s the good one).  How much of a reign is one giving these forces in one’s head when someone else is doing wrong by just looking like those bullies?

If someone “scary” gives you the stink eye, or if they make a rude comment, I know that’s not fun and that it can easily set a harsh tone.  But your not-joyful day should not be the ultimate signifier of someone else’s worth as a human being.  Someone being a jerk or terse hardly makes them someone who would do harm to one’s person, but just looking a certain way can result in those attitudes being interpreted much differently.  There’s a cultural conditioning to be afraid of violence from scary people — often easily chalked up to people of color.  One should certainly be wary of certain kinds of behaviors and looks, but in order to even be an effective judge of these in people, shouldn’t one be able to talk and listen to others who happen to not look quite so much like them?   Or, at least, such seems like it’d be quite vital to discerning humanity beyond people we’re conditioned to have an inclination for.

Here’s what some people in diverse areas do every day.  They keep their guard up¸right up until the actions of a person they find scary is or isn’t detrimental.  Guard up around all kinds of potential dangers, including a kind of violence that’s more likely to be inflicted on someone else who is a person of color.  So much violence results from some imagined slight that’s amplified by how insecure someone else is, and such a mindset often seems to regard these imagined slights even more when they’re from someone that’s not supposed to be “better” than them.   So people of color have to fear generally messed up human beings, generally messed up human beings who can see a bit more of themselves in them,  and being seen as scary when they’re in the wrong place and perhaps look like they’re having a bad day, or just look like a certain way at all.

One of the many reasons people in some loosely classifiable groups have a short life expectancy is because they live in the thick of it — of good and bad, from all sides.  There’s no strain to wring out the easiest or the “best” of this or that for them.  On top of such, it particularly wears one down — always trying to be strong enough to both discern danger and still be human.  But people still do it.

In honor of today

Lida Husik talked about Martin Luther King Jr. in my 2011 interview with her: “The American travesty that hurts me the most is the Black Experience.  I’m not a do-gooder, or politically active, besides voting, and being vegan. I don’t protest things or write my congressperson.  But I was six years old when Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. I remember that day and how it felt like a wound piercing my heart.  So this was what the grown-ups got up to.   The heart of a child never gets used to constant disappointment in adults. I grew up in Washington, DC, in the white sector, although later in jr. high and high school black kids were bussed in from other parts of the city, so I was exposed to that other culture thoroughly—and in the seventies as well, a different world.  You couldn’t see the math problem on the board through the sea of afros.  The black kids were loud, angry, and funny; they sang and danced in the halls and popped gum.  There was Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Parliament.  The hits were sung with gusto.  We little white kids tapped our Lawrence Welk toes hopefully along to the beat.  The black kids had a different way of speaking, mellifluous and abbreviated, full of mysterious code words that cracked them up.  We were meek and pale and tongue-tied, and turned even whiter next to them.  Most of our teachers were black, too.  They were warm and funny and had life experience in their faces.  The white teachers seemed shriveled and boring and nasal.

Art by Robert Pinero. Words by Lida Husik.

“Flash forward to the eighties and nineties and this godforsaken decade.  I am enraged by ‘gentrification’, the very word is so offensive, as if a bunch of ‘gents’ in ascots gallantly swoop in, take off their top hats, and say, ‘Sorry old chaps, we must have use of your neighborhood, but look, there’s a perfectly good crime-ridden suburb for you to move to, and we’ll just turn your old mammy church into a hipster wine bar’; and this has happened everywhere.  The old black grandmas can’t afford the property taxes; if there are government programs that could help they aren’t told about them, etc etc.  Now, I’m not saying that blacks are good and whites are bad; that would be stupid.  The black community has disappointed me too.  I don’t like the anti-gay bias.  I wish there was more of the old-time values instead of the hopelessness and violence, but that’s also just economics.  Mainly though, I’m so sick of how ignorant and selfish some white Americans are.  Just how ignorant of history do you have to be not to appreciate the great moment Obama’s nomination was?  How could you look at one second of footage of the sixties German Shepherd attacks and fire hoses, wielded by government employees, and not grasp that incredibly emotional opportunity for justice?  How could you not vote for Obama and call yourself a Christian?  Well, the hypocrisy never ceases to amaze.”

https://davidmzs.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/lida-husik-interview/

Difranco as human ‘hipster’ paradigm?

Beyond what’s already been said about Ani Difranco’s reaction to finding out that a former plantation was the planned locale for her company’s retreat, I think there’s something to discern from it about so called “hipsters” — a quality of which seems to be priding one’s self as being enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding race and class, though one’s background frequently leads to a life separate from the majority of those who have historically lacked much in the way of privilege.

Criticism about hipsters is, of course, rife throughout all of blogdom — but it’s often frivolous stuff about the way they dress (I would not include the wearing of clothes that mock someone else’s culture in this arena).  Also, people seem to pick up on a self-righteousness that comes with defining one’s self as thoroughly counter-culture while being obsessed with culture-as-a-lifestyle.  But most of the people doing the criticizing — and certainly the ones whose criticisms are on the noteworthy venues that, inherently, cater to the at least somewhat privileged  — are perhaps finding fault with those trying to live a romanticized version of their own upwardly mobile lives.  In short, they’re a scapegoat for people who don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that they systematically have more stock than others.

These others are people that hipsters and the upwardly mobile can’t generally seem to connect with — sure, they can do so with people of color whom are associated with the coolness that acts as cultural currency among hipsters, and also occasionally people of color whom they can be self-righteous about (an idea of) equality with.  With the upwardly mobile more generally, they seem to connect more easily with people of color who’d prefer to disassociate with that color — with with what can make you less than not so old-fashioned notions of what a normal guy or gal looks like.  So there you have a fine melting pot,  just not with anyone who really challenges people’s notions of themselves in hierarchies.

Away from that, there’s criticism about hipster re-emergence into the urban world where they frequently define areas in the cultural zeitgeist that had been defined as being “bad (but culturally rich) neighborhoods.” You know — all of those cities, with all of their scary people of color; these were the places fine upstanding people didn’t have to live — not when there’s a perfectly good suburb you can drive comfortably to.

Difranco wrote a song about an element of this.  It’s called “Subdivision,” and it starts with the line, “White people are so scared of black people . . .”   It’s a good song, and much more in the vein of Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter than “Ebony and Ivory.”  I learned from a documentary that Dylan’s song is one that the great Sam Cooke respected on one level, but on another Cooke seemed to lament that someone who hadn’t experienced racism firsthand hadn’t come out with that song first.   I empathize with the feeling because the simple politics of the music business — certainly even more so during Cooke’s heyday — was such that a black artist couldn’t speak his or her truth forthrightly.

Difranco’s initial response to finding out about the plantation as a setting for a retreat noted that she didn’t pick it as a venue, but, once she she knew, it seems she thought it could be an opportunity for healing.  I have a lot of respect for Difranco as a writer and musician, but I could never listen to her sing about race at length without feeling like it was nice enough — and not hollow, but just on some other planet where people leave their suburbs, or mini-suburbs, to go on things like retreats.

You see, frequently hipsters may live in urban areas, but they’re areas that have been turned into mini-suburbs that cater to them — this is the general downside of a place becoming what we generally think of as being livable.  You can live in a place that’s associated with being some great urban place where people of color managed to get by in hard times, but really it’s separate from the heart of that — the part that knows about what the pain of being in the “less than” part of town added up to.

I’m not someone who thinks Difranco should be demonized (there’s a component of her detractors who salivate over this sort of thing and have no personal regard for black pain otherwise), but it’s worth noting that maybe knowing about subdivisions doesn’t make one as aware of the pain of being “less than” as some people might like to think.