Here We Stand

And here we stand, admiring the wreckage. Wondering where to turn, what to do. I know a lot of people who still feel sick to their stomach. It’s like Ghomeshi plus plus plus. Our institutions again reminding us of the entrenched sexism. On top of the entrenched racism. A triumph for old white men. I’ll just let Justin Charity from The Ringer take it away:

“The fear isn’t just that Trump will replace a diverse Cabinet with a homogeneous one, but that he will also replace a meticulously inclusive administration with a parade of old white men who will proudly dismantle that framework, with no sense of how much their vision for the United States resembles South Africa in the previous century.” 

The parable couldn’t ring truer. When you factor in the instutional racism, the voter suppression, the police discrimination, the millions of disenfranchised African American voters*, the gated communities with private security…. Then you consider the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Freddy Hampton. You consider the police shootings today, you compare them to the lynchings of yesteryear. You listen to this: 

*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/12/michelle-alexander-more-black-men-in-prison-slaves-1850_n_1007368.html

And yet… we’re still in shock. We probably shouldn’t be. The Stanford swimmer-rapist got off easy. So did Ghomeshi. The cops shooting the black kids keep getting off easy. Something morally objectionable happens, we all protest to our friends, to our social circles, on social media, all agreeing that shit is fucked, but we can’t believe it. It totally doesn’t fly with our worldview, right? 

I was raised by bougie liberals, surrounded by bougie liberals. I was fortunate (read: wealthy) enough to go to a bougie high school, and go to a university for a liberal arts degree. I’d read Marx and Sartre. Discuss the injustices of the day, the future of the world, always hopeful. Buttressed by my social milieu.

But I’m also a man. I don’t know what it feels like to walk home at night in the dark. I don’t know what it feels like to walk into a crowded bar. I don’t know what it feels like to know you’re vulnerable. I do however know what it feels like to be profiled and judged based on my appearance. To have my identity and citizenship questioned because I don’t look Canadian. But I don’t know what it feels like to go to prison for possession of marijuana. I don’t know what it feels like to grow up with multiple family members incarcerated. I don’t know what it feels like to go to an underfunded school, with security guards and metal detectors. I don’t know what it feels like to get called a “nigger” with hatred. Nor do I know what it feels like to get called “nigga” like family. I know what I am. But I also know what I’m not. I know what I’ll never experience, what I’ll never know. 

So here we stand. Stuck with our own narratives and experiences. Trapped within our own subjectivity. Trying to move forward together. Trying to build more inclusive and equitable societies. I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling. I can’t think of a better way to try to bridge the compassion and empathy gap. Remember the old saying about putting yourself in someone else shoes? When I was curating the second issue of my nascent magazine, I wanted to dedicate a section to the female experience. Specifically walking home late at night. Based on years of conversations with some of my friends. I wanted to hear the stories, print the stories and share the stories. Call me naive, but I do believe in the power of the story. I do believe that one story changing one person’s perspective is progress. I want to keep sharing stories, hoping some of them resonate with others like they did with me. I personally don’t know what else I can do. There’s an old saying in Swahili: Tuko Pamoja. We are together.

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The Empire Strikes Back

White America voted out multiculturalism. Following a trend, a growing global trend, of conservative militancy against globalization. Which is actually the worst way it could have played out. The first opponents to globalization were the students and leftist activists in the late 1990s. Think Seattle. They saw the coming future. They saw what NAFTA meant. They disagreed with it. They knew what was coming.

Here we are, 20 odd years down the line, with a president who campaigned using xenophobic, sexist and racist rhetoric, whose rallies forcibly removed people of colour, also campaigned on an anti-NAFTA, anti-globalization stance. And won. Against the supposed “left” candidate, the shockingly centrist democratic party, with Hillary Clinton. Campaigning to keep everything the same way. Keep the same corporate structures that are raping and pillaging the people and the planet. So the people voted in the anti-globalization guy. Who also happened to be a racist, sexist, xenophobe. Paralleling Brexit. Literally called his movement Brexit plus plus plus. And nobody believed him. He didn’t even believe he’d win. But white America voted for him. In their droves. Voted out the black president. Enough of this shit,we want our jobs back, and we definitely don’t trust this black guy.

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And here we are now, with a bigot in charge. Telling the kids its fine. You can play nasty, you can pull peoples hair, and you can still win. But not a majority. Not even a majority. Because of electoral politics. And now he gets to appoint a supreme court judge, after the republican controlled senate denied the Obama-appointed judge over the last two years because that’s how their system works, and now that the republicans control all three houses, Obama’s judge won’t get in, they’ll patsy in a conservative, and rig the deck 5-4 in their favour, giving them the chance to repeal literally every beacon of progressive social politic, right down to abortion. It’s all in play now. The great erasure. Taking us back.

And I’ve said we and us this whole time for a reason. We’re not impervious here in Canada. We may not have a vote, but we sure as hell feel the impact. There are 330 million americans. 36 million Canadians. There are more Americans in California. We’re basically a nation within the North American Econmic Sphere (oh wait, is that you NAFTA? Sshhhhhhh). Everything and anything that happens in America politically impacts us. And then you remember that America is the world. Team America World Police. So this impacts the whole world. Hugely. This is without a doubt the most important and shocking political event of my life. 9/11 just got trumped.

And now we’re left grasping at straws, and hoping we’re not taken back to the dark age. Because this wasn’t supposed to be how the fight against globalization was supposed to go. The conservatives weren’t supposed to lead the charge. How in the hell did the liberal elite let this happen? They chased out Bernie, that’s for sure. Bernie must just have done it. But there are more Bernie’s. We need more Bernie’s, younger Bernie’s. Not stooges like Justin. Because Justin is a stooge. A pretty boy charming stooge, but a stooge. You don’t hear him decrying neoliberal capitalism and it’s infectious and pernicious grasp on modern democratic institutions. Trump nailed it, just with a very different tone and lens. But Trump nailed it. Politics are corrupt, lets clean out the swamp in Washington. How the fuck did we let this happen? We only have ourselves to blame as progressives. We only have ourselves to blame. We compromised our morals. We took the word “socialist” out of the constitution of the NDP. Under le bon Jack no less. We campaigned on austerity. We moved to the middle, just hoping to grasp power, sick of living in the shadows. But we stopped speaking truth to power. Trump spoke truth to power. Just from the right. With xenophobic language. But he spoke truth to power. The banks and the government are working together, we need to clean up this garbage. How in the hell did we let this happen?

Yes We Can

Hours before the election. The most important election of my lifetime. Definitely so far. Perhaps forever. Seriously. Perhaps forever. It’s that important. Hilary or Trump. Yeah, we’re all in disbelief that it got to this. I still can’t quite fathom how. Nor can most of the republican establishment. And yet, Donald Trump has a chance to be president of America. Leader of the free world.

Forget for a moment all the doubts you harbour about the power a president actually wields. Forget all your disenchantment and disillusionment with Obama. And remember that a black man was elected president of America. By the American people. Democratically. Twice. In a country built by slaves. With slave-era social policies that continue to this day. (watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th right now if you haven’t) Any child born today will grow up with the notion of a black president as a normal thing. For me, and anyone older, until the sudden appearance of Barack Obama on the national stage in 2004, the notion of a black president was so distinctly abnormal it wasn’t even really considered. The symbolic power of Obama’s election is profound and ultimately positive for the continuation of our “social progress”.*

*If we read this as the continued push towards more open and inclusive societies shorn of prejudice based on ethnicity, gender or sexual identity

Suddenly, the symbolic election of Hilary seems a hell of a lot more important now eh? She has to win. For the sake of social progress. For the sake of normalising a female president. For the sake of normalising the idea that a leader is a leader, regardless of gender.

yes-we-canThe suffragettes fought a long and hard war at the turn of the century for the right to vote. For their sake, and the sake of more than half the people in the world, we need this symbol. So that any young boy born into a staunchly patriarchal household, will forever have a seed of doubt because there was a female president. Just like the young boy born into a racist household will forever have that seed of doubt because there was a black president. The power of the symbol. It’s not about now, or the next four years. It’s about the next 50.

Forget the politics. It’s the power of the symbol. From a black president to a female president. Symbolically breaking two glass ceilings. After well over two centuries of white men. And honestly, the less said about how abhorrent this current version is, the better. Just discussing his vile, crass, unsuitability, especially given the fact that it’s fucking 2016, amid a growing social movement striving for inclusiveness… it’s just indescribably awful.  I can’t even begin to imagine…

It’s a pivotal moment in our lives. And we’re not even American. The world is waiting, and watching, and hoping one way or another. Please America. Please. You can do this. We’re all counting on you. T-minus two hours. My heart is racing. I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous. It’s like a job interview, a first date, and that moment when you’re alone in a foreign country all rolled into one. Yikes!

Lies, damned lies and statistics

It’s been a while since the end. Grantland went off the air* (webz) at the end of October. Grantland was a special place for me. We all have our separate pathways on the web, the courses we chart every day when we log on. The minutiae we browse. From news to social media. Reddit, Facebook, Wikipedia. Grantland was one of my haunts. I visited every day. It helped me fall back in love with Basketball and strengthen my understanding of the game. And of course it had Bill Simmons. Simmons who I’ve been reading since 2004. Simmons my favourite writer on the internet.

Grantland helped establish and promote the link between sports and culture. Offering wisdom on the importance and significance of sports in society. Telling stories. And of course it was a Simmons brainchild, his columns were always a wonderful amalgam of pop culture references, social commentary and sport.

Since ESPN took Grantland off the air* (webz) I’ve found there’s been something missing in my routine. I feel weirdly discomforted when surfing the web with a cup of coffee in the morning. Gone is my perfect repository for everything sports and culture related. And nothing has come in its place. Now I’m grasping at straws. Spending an evening discovering and reading the Players Tribune, but never going there every day. Spending an evening discovering and reading Sports Illustrateds’ new faux-grantland knockoff, and shuddering. SB Nation has never really been Grantland, for all its merits. There’s a hole in the middle of my personal internet. It was my hub, my centre.

And it speaks to a bigger and fascinating trend in human (western) society. The triumph of scientific rationalism over human emotion (I need to figure out the word that describes the arts, in a more ethereal kind of way, you know, the way the arts make you feel, the way it’s totally unquantifiable by modern metrics). This has been a long-running battle, especially in the social sciences. In political science you have the birkenstocks and the bow-ties. In psychology you have the humanists and the rationalists. All because of numbers and the rationality of numbers. The translatability of numbers. Globalization’s a lot easier when everyone’s speaking the same language. Economics. A number doesn’t lie. A number is a fact. Humans lie. Stories are fiction. Art is dead.

See, Grantland wasn’t financially viable. Its writers and producers and editors were too expensive. Not enough ads. Not enough ad revenue and targeted traffic. Because Simmons, being an idealist, didn’t really think about making money. He was more interested in the success of the idea, of the project, because the project: a place to share knowledge and discuss the important intersection of sports and society; was such a worthy project. Why should money even enter the discussion? Because it matters. FiveThirtyEight, the site created by Nate Silver, the statistician, is a great example. FiveThirtyEight is the place you’ll find every advanced metric available to every sports statistician and fantasy geek on the planet. All of their stories use statistical metrics to compare and analyse sports, politics and society. FiveThirtyEight versus Grantland is the triumph of rationalism in the arena of sport.

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Here’s a graph from FiveThirtyEight comparing Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout in the MVP race last year.

Here we have Donaldson making plays in the flesh. Yes, we have advanced defensive statistics to describe all the plays he made here, factoring into the graph above. But is it really the same?

 

This has been an ongoing aspect of the sports world for generations. As long as we had statistics, we were able to objectively measure and compare players. And as long as we had statistics, we had meaning. We could rationalise and understand what the players were really doing. Hank Aaron chasing the Babe’s record. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Gretzky. Kobe’s 81. Patty Kane’s point streak. The Warriors win streak. A team’s playoff record. A team’s regular season record. A goalscoring champion. Without statistics there are no truly objectively great players. Statistics objectify greatness. Are statistics the only measure of sporting greatness though?

*note: the importance of establishing objective greatness. Because with statistics, you don’t have to see the player in action to establish their greatness. Their contributions to success are objectively measurable against their peers, easily establishing a hierarchy of objective comparative greatness. You know that Sidney Crosby is one of the best players in the NHL simply because of his points totals every year. You know Tom Brady is one of the best football players of all time because he has won so many super bowls. You know who Babe Ruth is, because he hit so many home runs back in the 1920s. You know who Pele is, because he scored so many goals. We have statistics to provide an objective measure, which also transcends linguistic differences.

Because there’s the other side to sports. The one when you’re at a live sporting event, and it becomes akin to theatre. Except that it’s unstaged. Everything’s happening in the moment. Every movement of every player, is improvised to an extent. It’s incredible. And it’s also where you can establish and observe greatness. It’s in the fluidity of motion. The ease. You can just see it. The way one of the players moves. The way they make it look easy. It’s always been said of the best athletes: they just make it look so easy, so natural. And when you see it, it’s a sight to behold. Human athletic excellence on full display. When I saw Eden Hazard glide across the pitch at Stamford Bridge in 2013, so effortless, balletic, incomparable to every other athlete on display. In another world, on another plane. When I saw Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta in Barcelona. When I saw John Wall or Damian Lillard drive to the hoop. Just better. There’s no statistic for gut, for instinct and for feeling. And there are players, in the flesh, that give you that feeling, that show you the ease, show you the poetry in motion. And you can’t measure that. And that creates myths. And myths are foundational cultural touchstones. We have the myth of Jim Thorpe, because few people saw him play, and we couldn’t really objectively measure his greatness vis-à-vis established greats since the dawn of “proper” statistics. But that myth is powerful, and wonderful. And we lose that myth with the primacy of statistics.

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Jim Thorpe

The statistics tear away the humanity, the feel, the emotion of sport. Sport is meant to be an experience. As a former athlete, there was nothing like the performance and the competition. And statistics couldn’t tell you anything about the way it feels to dunk, or to score a goal. And that’s why we play sports, and love sports. For the way it feels when you win. Or when you lose. Sports are about feeling.

*note: I wrote this last march, and since then Simmons has launched a new website The Ringer attempting to replace the void left by Grantland. It’s solid, still needs to figure out it’s long form-platform, but I’ve definitely read some really good articles, especially lately. Hopefully the financial model works and The Ringer is around for years to come. We need the stories.

The Black Guy Did It

“The Black Guy Did it”

Netflix’s Making a Murderer and Justice in North America

 

 

Netflix’s new original series Making a Murderer has been doing the rounds over social media over the last month or so. It’s become one of the newest water cooler topics of conversation, amidst Star Wars and the like. Hell, I even saw that an internet petition is trying to get the subject of the documentary pardoned. Wow. Great. Activism in the digital age is a funny thing. Occasionally effective. A few people have highly recommended the documentary to me. I don’t really watch much television, especially not things that are tremendously popular at the time. Star Wars? Nah. Game of Thrones? No thanks. You get the idea. But hell, I gave it a go. Started watching the first episode. And almost immediately I felt sick to my stomach.

Why?

Was it because of the apparent gross injustice perpetrated by law enforcement? Against a kind and simple man. A family man. A misunderstood family man.

Absolutely not.

It was because he’s white.

If Steven Avery was black, there would be no documentary, no internet sensation. In fact, there are thousands of Steven Avery’s every year in North America, who ARE black. Who are constantly thrown in jail on spurious charges. And that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re not so lucky, they’re just shot. In the street. Like dogs. And the police officers get off scott-free. For fuck sakes, we live in an age of Ferguson, of Michael Brown, of Trayvon, of #blacklivesmatter, but all of a sudden, we get this documentary about a poor white dude getting fucked over by the cops, and we’re all suddenly in a collective rage? What the fuck guys? How does this make any sense at all.

President Fucking Obama goes on national television and cries about gun violence. A black president, in an age of #blacklivesmatter. And really, what’s important is exonerating this poor white guy.

Now don’t get me wrong, any instances of injustice and corruption, especially involving law enforcement are serious fucking problems, and we should be morally outraged, and doing everything we can to fix these problems. But.

But.

If we’re talking about abuse of police power, the conversation HAS to start with the way law enforcement treats visible minorities. And that’s not a sexy or interesting conversation. It won’t sell. A conversation about a poor innocent white guy, embroiled in class warfare, with a nice conspiracy to boot? Now that’ll sell. So we make a documentary about it. And all the well-meaning white people, the internet over, clamber onto their pulpits, and rage against the machine. Because a white guy got fucked over.

 

Update:

I tried to keep watching. Couldn’t even get through episode two. Ended up on NPR, watched a performance by Christian Scott, a trumpeter from New Orleans. He told a story about this time he was driving home from a gig and was tailed by cops. Then pulled over, had a gun pulled on him and told to strip. He argued, and got racial epithets and death threats in return. One of the cops was black, and stood in the back and didn’t say a thing. Despite his overwhelming anger, he decided to write a song about it. Called it Klu Klux Police Department. (Skip to around 16:00 to hear the story)

Because, as he said, this is something that just happens every day to people with brown and black skin. I got stopped in the airport twice on my trip to London. Because I have brown skin, a muslim name and a beard. Where’s the best selling Netflix documentary about that?

Now how about that famed criminal defense: “The black guy did it”.

http://newsone.com/761925/top-6-the-black-guy-did-it-excuses-by-white-criminals/

This little news story simply highlights a very evident and troubling trend, and one that’s been perpetuated for generations. Generations.

I watched Straight Outta Compton a few weeks back, and again, the theme resonates. Yes, it’s a Hollywood movie, so one would assume there’s a degree of sensationalism, but when it comes to the way the police treat African Americans, there’s no sensationalism, just cold hard truths. The cops will harass African Americans. That’s a guarantee. They will threaten them. They will try to abuse and mistreat their bodies. They will assert the authority of the state, a state that says a black life doesn’t matter. You know, as great as the #blacklivesmatter movement is, I can’t help but reflect on the age old saying: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. You think of the riots in Detroit in the 1960s, but then again in LA in the 1990s. You think of the riots in Brixton in the 1980s and then again in Hackney in the 2010s. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. When a culture, and a country have a history of segregation and racial hierarchies, especially ones that have an entrenched economic bias, these issues don’t go away any time soon.

I could throw a hundred different statistics at you. But you know the ones. The ones about incarceration rates for African Americans, the ones about median household income, the ones about educational attainment. We’ve heard them all before. And yet, still, today, the one thing that really gets people angry, is some poor white hick being screwed over by the justice system? I guess its easier for people to sympathise with someone that “looks” like them. Because as much as we want to talk about post-racial societies, there’s one statistic I will throw your way. 75% of Canadians are white. 65% of Americans are non-hispanic white (Christ, what a mouthful that is. Boy are we funny when it comes to ethnic categorization. Post racial my ass). Over 85% of Brits are white. What does that mean? It means the majority of the population, the majority of consumers of media, are white. This is why Aziz Ansari’s show, Master of None, had no chance of being made by a major network. Because a show about non-white people is really hard to sell, en masse, to a largely white audience. And as long as the media perpetuates this image, not much will change culturally.

Thank god we have a black president. Because at least, figuratively, there’s a black man in charge. All we can hope for and yearn for is the next generation. The generation growing up with a black president. But then I remember Dylann Roof, 21 years old, mastermind of the Charleston Massacre. White supremacy holds deep, holds strong.

You just have to listen to a speech from dear old Donald Trump. And then remember his millions of supporters, all so happy that someone is finally saying all the things they’ve been thinking for years, but have been too scared to utter in our politically correct society. No joke. That’s Trumps supporter base. Basically closet racists. Trump’s father was taken to housing court in the 1970s because he was discriminating against black tenants. He told his supers not to rent to blacks. And if you think Trump’s father is an isolated case, hah! Think again. This is systemic.

So what does this really have to do with Netflix’s Making a Murderer?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/09/netxflix-murder-whoddunit-petition

And

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/04/darren-wilson-ferguson-shooting-made-him-unemployable/31097619/

So we’ve got a massive online petition, trying to free a man who’s been potentially (probably) framed by the police. In other, we have a man who went free after shooting an unarmed 18 year old black boy. Where’s the petition guys? Yes, Ferguson spawned #blacklivesmatter, but where’s the petition to re-indict Darren Wilson? If we internet-age moral crusaders are trying to right purported wrongs, where’s the petition guys? Why does Steven Avery get a petition? Where’s the documentary about Darren Wilson, about abuse of power, about institutional racism. The kind that takes lives away from black people. Consistently.

That’s the issue. And it’s something you don’t, can’t and won’t understand unless you have black or brown skin. Where’s the empathy guys?

 

 

Organized Labour, or whatever it’s become

It’s the day after labour day, and I just read a fascinating article on The Atlantic about Millennials and unions. It spoke to me almost immediately. I’ve always had a fascination and a soft spot for the theory of organized labour. I’m also predictably sceptical of the whole charade. I see hierarchies, and I see wealth disparities. It’s always struck me as strange that unionists and organizers get paid more than the workers they are supposedly protecting.

This is generally a really good article (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/millennials-unions/401918/) but there were two specific segments that really appealed to me. The case study is about a worker at a boutiquey coffee shop. I’m sure the description will ring true to some service industry workers. (I was about to write most service industry workers, then stopped myself, remembering fast food chains, not boutiquey restaurants)

“Bell Bern liked working at Peet’s. Founded in Berkeley in the 1960s and known for its laid-back atmosphere, the company encouraged her to develop in-depth knowledge about their selection of coffees and teas from around the world, taste everything she could, and develop her palate.”

And then:

“But a few years later, in its efforts to secure an almost $1 billion acquisition, the company started looking for ways to cut costs and began making operational changes, some of which frustrated Bell Bern and her coworkers. At her store, she says, the manager cut the morning-rush staff in half, and a shop that once allowed for detailed conversations with customers about the minutiae of coffee now had lines snaking out the door.”

This example speaks directly to my experience in the service industry as a millennial with a university degree. I work in a boutiquey restaurant, one that’s been very successful for years, but one that’s been cutting costs for years. Shifting more and more of the burden onto us employees, all the while expecting us to maintain the same high standards. I find it absolutely fascinating that none of my managers could do my job. And that’s just the in-store managers. The management team at head office? Not a chance. None of the management could do my job. And yet, they keep shifting more and more labour and responsibility on us. It doesn’t really seem fair does it? But is it not a reflection of late capitalism?

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Now the article goes on to discuss millennials relationships with organized labour. About how a couple Starbucks workers started a ‘zine about unionizing, about how the lady from Peet’s coffee shop attempted to negotiate with head office, and about how she was eventually fired a few months later for being late 3 times in a year. Which was a selective policy. The article goes on to discuss how management have been winning the fight against unions for a very long time. About how the most effective tactic is to fire the most outspoken employee, safe in the knowledge that the fines from the labour board for wrongful dismissal are minimal. In fact, many companies have a little slush fund to cover that. Then the article got into a discussion about other labour unions, and how they would show up at Peet’s, and try to take over the movement. And how millennials are largely distrustful of large hierarchical entities.

The article is pretty clear about the fact that millennials believe in organized labour, but just not in its current form. Except maybe the wobblies.

So it kind of leaves us in an interesting position. We don’t want to keep being exploited by management, in the name of profit. But we don’t necessarily trust the old model, the one that pays unions reps more than it pays us. Because that doesn’t seem fair at all. It’s actually emblematic of a disturbing societal trend if I’m honest. I studied International Development in school, and by the end of my degree was fairly confident that the ideal approach to development was transferring knowledge and technical capacity to the global south, as well as trying to change our western consumption habits, which fuel global inequality. And then suddenly stumbled across a ridiculous irony: the aid industry is dependent on poverty. When bureaucrats in the west are being paid 6 figures to “help” poor countries? That doesn’t make sense. If we’re trying to help, why the middleman? Why do we have entire careers and livelihoods in the west based on “helping” the global south? And this doesn’t even touch the moralistic and paternalistic aspects of “helping the poor”. Why do we need to pay people in the west quite well to help those less fortunate? It’s just like paying union reps more than the workers they represent. It’s just like paying management more than workers.

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At the end of it all, I’m really not sure where to turn or where to go from here. Unions may or may not be the answer. The old-style unions definitely aren’t. But we are many, and they are few. Tis the nature of hierarchies.

Until I remember the struggles in the late 19th and early 20th century. Until I remember that big companies would pay security firms to ensure workers didn’t strike, and if they did, they would fight them. Until I remember the gun battles between coal miners and security firms. Until I remember that these gun battles were fought in the struggle for a fucking 8 hour work day. Because the big companies didn’t want to lose out on more profit. Gun battles for a 5 day work week and 8 hour work day and basic safety provisions. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain)

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So then what? We know that management will always have their eyes on the prize, not on the people. We know that the few will always try to take advantage of the many. They certainly know we depend on our wages. Given that basic needs aren’t guaranteed. Life’s a lot harder without a job. How do we eat, sleep, live? So what do we do? We are many, and they are few… But they have drones and security firms. And we have student loans to pay back, and debt. So what do we do?

But its true isn't it? At the end of the day, we ARE the 99%. We're being fucked over by a small distant minority. One that feeds us cultural bullshit in the form of movies and television to distract us. Wilful bread and circus, n'est pas Edward Bernays?
But its true isn’t it? At the end of the day, we ARE the 99%. We’re being fucked over by a small distant minority. One that feeds us cultural bullshit in the form of movies and television to distract us. Wilful bread and circus, n’est pas Edward Bernays?

Who’s to blame?

Who’s to blame?

There’s been an upswing in discourse about racial injustice and racial politics over the last five or so years. A lot of it can certainly be tracked to the democratic election of the first black president of the united states. It opened a can of worms that had been sealed away in the late 1960s amidst the struggle for civil rights.

Much of the discourse today seems to focus on responsibility. Namely: who is responsible for our largely unequal and highly racialized society?

This intense focus on responsibility, and by association blame, has served to colour the debate. I read an article today by Ta-Nehisi Coates about the systematic oppression of black bodies by white society. Responsibility and blame lying at the feet of white society. White society responds, urging blacks to look at black-on-black crime, or perhaps highlights unsavory statistics highlighting incarceration rates or dropout rates. Shifting the burden back to black society. It’s really just a sick tug of war, isn’t it? Neither side willing to accept responsibility. But then. Then there’s something really important to highlight.

Power.

White society has had structural, institutional and economic power over black society for almost 500 years in the American context. Didn’t Uncle Ben say, with great power comes great responsibility? Does that end the debate? Does this mean white society is entirely responsible and entirely to blame? That seems unfair, and plenty of white folk will happily point that out. Touting lines like it’s not my fault slavery happened. I wasn’t alive in the 19th century. Totally. That’s true. But isn’t it also true that if you’re a white person living in the 21st century, you owe your standard of living to 500 years of exploitation and dehumanisation? Okay, but then you’ll get the retort of what about poor white people. They’re being exploited by the capitalist machine just as badly. Perhaps true. But isn’t it also true that if you have white skin you’re much less likely to be harassed by our institutions? Isn’t it also true that if you have white skin you’ll see your image reflected by our cultural institutions? Isn’t it also true that you’ll see your image reflected by our political and economic institutions?

As you can see though, responsibility and blame are very difficult things to negotiate. There’s always a counterpoint. But the reality stays the same. White society subsumes and dehumanises black society. But then what of Asian society, or Latin society, or South Asian society, what of all the other “races” of non-white people. What of the status of women. What of the status of the LGBTQ community. What of all these groups in society that can rightly and fairly claim to being systematically oppressed and dehumanised?

When all these groups come together, there’s one common outlier: the white man. An easy symbol, and easy target. The white man symbolises the capitalist patriarchy. The white man symbolises oppression. But then what of the poor white man? Downtrodden by the capitalist machine, dehumanised by late-industrial society, and demonised by the 21st century intersectional alliance. It’s not my fault. I was just born here, with this skin tone. I didn’t choose this. I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, I’m not prejudiced. I’m poor too, I work at a shitty job just to make ends meat. Is every white man to blame? Of course not.

So where does this leave us? With more questions than answers again. Obviously. Justice is important. Equality is important.  But can we achieve justice for the crimes of history while still striving for equality? Must we achieve justice for the crimes of history? Or perhaps should we be striving for justice for the crimes of today? Bankers stealing millions going unpunished, faceless corporations raping and pillaging the planet for profit.

People will rightly point out that there are plenty of non-white 1%ers pillaging the earth all the same. That’s true, there are. So are they to blame just as well?

History says probably not. History says that the industrial revolution and all the social, political and cultural shifts that followed was carried out by white society. History says white society, and the lords of white society co-opted a few non-whites with promises of riches. So then is capitalism to blame? Is it capitalism’s pernicious pursuit of profits? Is it capitalism’s faceless dehumanisation? Because history also says millions of white people in white society suffered all the same for the whims of capital. History reminds us of the industrial revolution, and it’s effects on peasant society. History reminds us that the industrial revolution, driven by profits, objectified and exploited millions of white people too. So is capitalism to blame? It’s quite hard to blame an ideology. An ideology is not a person. An ideology can’t accept responsibility and apologize.

These white men were basically enslaved by 19th century industrial capitalism.
These white men were basically enslaved by 19th century industrial capitalism. But they were paid.
These black men were literally enslaved by 19th century industrial capitalism. They were not paid.
These black men were literally enslaved by 19th century industrial capitalism. They were not paid.

The two pictures are quite instructive no? In both cases, there is dehumanization and exploitation in the name of geographically dispersed profit. Sure the miners are being paid, but does that make it any better? Dare we argue one form of exploitation over another? If someone’s getting paid, does that make it better? Even if it’s just a subsistence wage? I think liberally we’d like to argue that literal slavery is worse than metaphorical slavery.  But isn’t the bigger picture the same regardless? Aren’t people and the planet all being exploited and destroyed by a small minority of wealthy, geographically displaced folk? Isn’t that what occupy was trying to explain?

But its true isn't it? At the end of the day, we ARE the 99%. We're being fucked over by a small distant minority. One that feeds us cultural bullshit in the form of movies and television to distract us. Wilful bread and circus, n'est pas Edward Bernays?
But its true isn’t it? At the end of the day, we ARE the 99%. We’re being fucked over by a small distant minority. One that feeds us cultural bullshit in the form of movies and television to distract us. Wilful bread and circus, n’est pas Edward Bernays?

And what are we looking for anyway? What kind of absolution are we striving for in this endless struggle for “justice”? Again, there are far more questions than answers, and perhaps, again, that’s entirely the point. Perhaps as long as we can keep discussing, keep considering, and perhaps if we stop blaming and assigning responsibility, perhaps then we can “move on”? What does moving on even mean? Utopia? It’s hard to rationalise outcomes amidst all this complexity. It’s easier to just ignore it, and carry on, watching movies, playing video games, getting drunk, eating out. All the supposed pleasures of western life. But then we remember that the price of non-essential consumer goods (TVs, computers, cell phones) has been going down, while the price of food and rent keeps going up. 1 And wages stay the same. So is it capitalism’s fault?

Here I am again, trying to find someone to blame. I guess it’s because I don’t want to accept responsibility. It’s easier to blame something or someone else than accept personal responsibility. Black or white, I live in this world, I have a voice, I have choices, I have responsibility, so perhaps I’m to blame. And so are you. Perhaps we’re all to blame, and the moment we accept we’re all to blame, and quit trying to blame someone else, perhaps then we can have an honest discussion.

Authors note:

This post was heavily influenced by two articles and a book I’m in the middle of reading. Check them out if you have the time.

http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/white-supremacy-not-black-problem

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/

“The Road to Wigan Pier” – George Orwell