The following is a short piece addressing the hypocrisy associated with how some of us in privileged positions view oppressed people, in this case the black communities of Baltimore which have this week descended into an open uprising against police terrorism.
As you might be aware, the city of Baltimore in the US State of Maryland, 40 miles from Washington DC, has been the scene of rioting and mass protests this week after a 25 year-old black man died after being in police custody. Video shot of the arrest would suggest that Freddie Gray was in severe distress while being detained by police and it has since been claimed by his family that his injuries received while in custody consisted of ‘three fractured vertebrae, injuries to his “voice box”, and his spine “80% severed” at his neck’. His death lead to large scale protests with the anger in the crowd manifesting in outright rage as people began to clash with police, much like the scenes in Ferguson, Missouri after the police murder of Mike Brown last summer. Rocks got thrown, cars got thrashed, buildings got burned and businesses got looted.
Now I’m not condemning these actions, not in the slightest. Baltimore is one of the most deprived cities in the US with widespread poverty and a highly aggressive police force. Many of the cities neighborhoods are scourged with crime and narcotics, and the prevailing drugs economy offers not much choice to young people looking to earn a bit of money. We are all products of our environment to a degree, and if you are forced to live in poverty while your streets are flooded with drugs, it would be reasonable to assume your choices of economic progression are quite limited. Any of you that would be fans of HBO’s classic series ‘The Wire’ will be SOMEWHAT aware of this side of life in Baltimore. Which brings me to my point…
I think the hypocrisy many people display when it comes to real life and entertainment is baffling to say the least, and outright racist in many ways. As the “troubles” in Baltimore rage on you will find plenty of holier-than-though wankers condemning those that have decided to rise-up against the continuous oppression of their communities by parasitic capitalists and gung-ho paramilitary police forces. Yet I cant help but wonder how many of these same commentators that call for restraint and peaceful protest from those on the ground would be fans of that HBO series and possibly even empathise with some of the main characters in that show. If such people exist, which I would confidently assume do given the popularity of said TV series, then It would seem that it is okay to cheer for the anti-hero Omar (the mass-murdering stick-up kid) or the kindhearted D’angelo (a well-meaning small-time dealer and killer) when we watch the show, yet when REAL people that were raised with the REAL institutionalised racism and the VERY REAL effects of mass poverty, drug-addiction and crime decide to rise up they are jeered as thugs and hooligans.
Now this is a grand assumption on my behalf no doubt, but I believe one with merit no less. From a subjective point of view, I’ve had conversations with people on nights out who were condemning the black communities in Ferguson for rioting after Mike Brown’s murder, yet the very same people were rapping along to 2pac songs that very night. Rapping along to ‘Changes‘ after berating the physical manifestation of the song lyrics is a special kind of irony. So, is this hypocrisy, or thinly veiled racism? My deduction from this type of behaviour, which I believe to be an international and widespread phenomenon, is that some white people are happy when the many problems oppressed black communities face are a source of entertainment for us, yet when these same black communities decide to say “fuck that, we’ve had enough” and challenge the oppressive system these very same people recoil into a defensive carnival of reaction and condemnation, as if to say “Now, now kids. You might not be happy with being second-class citizens, but you’re only making it worse for yourselves. Behave”.
Perhaps this is part of the larger issue of cultural appropriation, but nonetheless it very much seems as though there are a layer of people out there who are happy for black rappers to rap about crime, drugs and murder so long as it is for our entertainment. But if a black person decides to confront their oppressors and the system of oppression, and as a result question our position of privilege and comfort, then the crackers inside come to the surface. It’s okay to portray the cuddly old man Nelson Mandela as a hero, but his violent (highly justified I might add) past is glossed over and ignored. Martin Luther King Jr is held up in high esteem the world over, yet his critical views on the capitalist system are buried beneath his much more comforting calls for passive resistance. There are many white people who seem to believe that racism in America is gone now that Obama’s in the White House and Jay-Z’s running the music industry. There are many white people that downplay the very real and very serious issue of black deaths at the hand of police officers simply as criminals getting their just-deserts. And, it would unfortunately seem, there are also many white people that view the African American population as a real-time minstrel show with no other purpose than to keep us entertained and to abandon all notions of equality and liberation. No wonder black communities are pissed, no wonder they are beginning to rise up. While so many privileged white people, through ignorance or through outright contempt, seem to collectively cry out; “We like our niggers to entertain, not to break their chains.”
Some more reading on the topic…