So where will we be when Baltimore “calms down?”

peaceful-scenes-amid-baltimore-riots-92607e99bea30f99Back to “business as usual?” Back to an unquiet calm that’s waiting for the next indecent shooting, the next wrong traffic stop, the next harassment? (For the broader view, read this by the great Ta-Nehisi Coates, of The Atlantic, and this year’s Stowe Prize winner. He writes, of his watching his native city:

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

And how is Baltimore any different from your city? I was talking about this with some CCSU faculty yesterday — good and involved teachers who care about their towns.

Last fall, the CCSU communication department focused on wealth and income inequality. My class wrote a blog. Other classes took photos, made videos, and two classes organized an event, Bridging the Gap, to cap the semester. We had the fabulous Doug Hall, of National Priorities Project, as a keynote speaker.

We’d never done that before, and it was amazing — truly so. So this fall, we’re again focusing on wealth and income inequality, but this time we’re looking at it through the prism of race. I am so excited to do this. I’ve spent the last few months reading everything I can get my hands on, and I welcome your suggestions here.

My latest book is “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality,” by Danielle Allen. Allen started life as a conservative Republican, but her studies — particularly around economic inequality — moved her from that early position. Her book — what I’ve gleaned so far — explores how the public discourse of late has emphasized liberty, and freedom, but the Declaration gives equal weight to equality. Somehow, we gloss over that — at our peril, obviously.

See, if we go back to business as usual, we’re really only putting the lid back onto a boiling pot. It’s not going to stay. It’s going to boil over again. (Say it with me: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and those are just the ones who made the most news.)

If we, however, rigorously and fearlessly shut up and start listening (those of us who have benefited for generations from a crooked system), we can turn down the heat, and perhaps — I think I’ve exhausted this metaphor, but — create something palatable for all. Those riots didn’t just happen. We did that. Those riots and that anger are the results of generations of being pushed from the table for no good or decent reason.

Last night, I taught my last class of the semester at CCSU. A few students hung around — it was a good class — and then one came back after he’d left, waiting for everyone to leave, and pulled up a chair. He talked about being an African American man, trying to pattern good behavior for the kids he mentors. He talked about his 10 friends who are still hanging around, living with their moms, not seeing a future that he sees. He wants to have a radio show one day (we are a communication department, after all) where he asks the tough questions, like the ones we asked — and mostly answered — in class. We talked for a half-hour — or rather, he talked and I listened. I inserted a few times how the communication theories we’d studied were at play in his personal life, and not just in mass communication. But mostly? I listened. I’d already talked myself out, and I’m so glad I quelled my natural disposition to put my two cents in. I came away from that conversation the better for it.

 

Published by datingjesus

Just another one of God's children.

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5 Comments

  1. We all need to listen more, but especially those of us who benefit from white privilege in so many ways that we are not even aware of. Is the fish aware of water?

  2. I read as much of Coates as I can get my hands on and his skill never ceases to amaze me. The man is an artist.

    Been reading some reports this morning, like this one at MoJo, that provide some evidence that Baltimore’s Israeli trained riot squad did everything they could Monday afternoon to further antagonize an already volatile situation. I can’t help but think that, if these reports are true, the violence that began at Mondawin Mall could have been abated…or avoided entirely…by simply allowing those young people to disperse after school.

    I’ve also been reading analyses of media coverage, like this one at American Journalism Review that tends to make me think how antagonizing that community, especially the young people, is exactly what the city government wanted to do. The reaction was entirely predictable. And exploited to characterize law enforcement, and the people who “have invested in building up this city,” as victims of thuggery.

    Business as usual.

  3. That’s awesome – that your students wanted to keep talking. I do think America will be in better hands with the next generation.

    I’m wondering, how can we fix things?

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