“Race and racism continue to be important factors in American life, but we should not reduce every problem facing people of color to race and racism. That’s just part of the overall problem.” – William Julius Wilson
Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson popularized the term “White Flight” in the mid-20th century as a way to describe the mass migration of white people from the cities to the suburbs. His work in the field was lauded by many and derided by others, but his ideas about poverty, job loss, and the effects of segregation on the Black community remain just as relevant today.
In the ’90s, another “White Flight” of sorts took place when millions of white teenagers flocked to malls across America to score cool points as consumers of hip-hop, a phenomenon that has been analyzed to death by scholars seeking to sum the whole thing up as a form of cultural appropriation. Whether that’s accurate or not isn’t nearly as important as recognizing the link between the exodus of the ’50s and the record sales of the ’90s, because artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and Jay-Z were all rapping about conditions that were arguably a direct result of the decay brought about by white people leaving major cities behind. Young, white suburbanites were fascinated by the ghetto concept being marketed to them by record companies, but they had little to no understanding of either the history or long-term implications of said marketing.
I knew plenty of kids growing up whose sole exposure to Black people came from Black Entertainment Television (BET) and the images it disseminated over the airways, which is unfortunate given that a lot of the racial animosity we’re experiencing in 2020 feels as if it’s stemming from decades of separation. You don’t have to be a self-loathing white person to appreciate the fact that we function better as a society when identity politics and racial division aren’t killing us on a daily basis. I shared the above quote from Wilson, because we’ve reached a dangerous peak where everything is viewed through a racial lens regardless of context.
For example, the death of Breonna Taylor was both tragic and preventable, but athletes and celebrities using it to further the narrative that every police officer in America is racist is irresponsible. Sure, it’s natural to want justice in these situations, but jumping to the conclusion that the shooting was racially motivated when it’s known that Taylor’s boyfriend fired his weapon first isn’t productive. Were the cops reckless when returning fire? Probably, but wanting a murder conviction and being able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt are two totally different concepts.
If anything, this case should prompt people to rethink the execution of “no-knock” warrants and focus on allocating funds toward better police training. Operating under the assumption that all cops are racist is as senseless as thinking that all young, Black males are criminals, but, in a year where little else makes sense, what do you expect from people who wish to let emotions drive policy formation?
However, that isn’t likely to happen, because it doesn’t jell with the media’s ongoing mission to divide and conquer. In Shakespeare’s day, the play was the thing, but, in ours, social media is the thing and Twitter is king. Shaming people for opinions that deviate from the hive and establishing one’s brand through half-baked hot takes is the new normal, so don’t expect things to change any time soon. In fact, the upcoming election cycle will only amplify the hatred, because it’s essentially being framed as a good vs. evil contest despite neither party appearing interested in working together to bring this country back from the hell it has created for itself.
There’s a scene from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” in which Daniel Plainview says “There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking,” and I feel as if 2020 has aligned me with that outlook. I feel it every time I see someone get berated for wanting to send their child back to school. I feel it every time I see someone campaigning for social justice while wearing a Ché Guevara t-shirt. And, lately, I feel it every time I hear someone painting all police shootings with the same black-and-white color scheme, because jumping to conclusions is how destructive myths such as “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” are born.
The death of intellectual disagreement is real and the American media’s obsession with race has gotten to the point where certain cultural commentators have suggested that white writers should be disallowed from reviewing anything that wasn’t created another white person. If that’s where we’re at as a society, I’m afraid that multiple people have failed us on multiple levels, because I couldn’t imagine not being able to express my appreciation for the work of John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, or Colson Whitehead in a written context.
It could just be me, but choosing who can discuss what based on anything other than the strength and and cogency of their work is antithetical to the whole anti-fascist philosophy, don’t ya think?
A few years ago, I got caught up in the belief that music could bring people of all backgrounds together and hatched an idea to write a book geared toward white parents dealing with how to teach their children about hip-hop. My basic premise was that unfamiliarity breeds fear and, if we want our children to learn to respect everyone of all races, creeds, religions, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses etc., we have to expose them to cultures other than their own in a responsible way. If the only images of people different from themselves our children see are coming from external sources, it’s not difficult to see why rage, unease, and stereotypes persist.
I may still write that book one day, but, if things keep going the way that they’re going, I may be barred from doing so.