Archive for June 14, 2020

Dear Fellow White Journalists

This week I did a 20-minute podcast that I really didn’t want to make.

It bore the same title as this article and it came about because I got tired of seeing the same lazy ideas masquerading as compassion from journalists and media figures when it comes to Black Lives Matter.

As long as we’re not expected to do something or change anything, we’re all on board.

But ask us to give up anything – no matter how small – and the reservations kick in.

For most, by the time George Floyd was murdered it was already too late. The frenetic scramble to find Black people to comment belied the shallowness of their contact networks. They simply did not know anyone that they could talk to.

And even if they did, it’s not just any Black people that are acceptable – you need the right ones who will be illuminating but not angry, informative but not threatening. Preferably college-educated, well-spoken and with enough self-restraint not to cause us any embarrassment.

I’ve seen a lot of white people asking moving questions and stroking their chins thoughtfully as they drag the trauma out of people of colour before breaking for the commercials, never once interrogating the link between how our interviewees are treated and how are societal systems are constructed.

Now is not the time for us to be asking Black people to do our emotional labour for us, to be our unpaid tutors as they teach us the things that we should already know, because they have been telling us for centuries.

When we bring them in under the hot TV studio lights, we are not doing so to include them – we are doing it to make ourselves feel better.

We are doing it so that they can explain these things to us in a way that makes us feel comfortable about the choices we make and the norms we perpetuate.

Black Lives Matter, but not as much as our prosperity and peace of mind.

And when someone does something concrete, such as removing or re-editing a TV show, we cluck our tongues about how that’s going too far.

In the case of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers – one of the most brilliant comic shows ever made that also contained some of the most nakedly racist and xenophobic stereotypes ever on TV – is a good one.

“BUT WHERE WILL IT STOP?!” they cry, ignoring the simplicity of the answer.

It stops when a person of colour no longer has to worry about turning on a streaming service or a TV show without the risk of them hearing the word “n*gger” said by a white person, for laughs.

It may come as a shock, but we as white people are not the arbiters of what others find racist or offensive. It is not up to us to tell them how to feel – in doing so we reinforce the very racism we claim to abhor.

And then there’s the statues. Yesterday the beer-bellied white lads gathered in their numbers to “protect” monuments to slave-traders and racists all over England.

“THEY WERE OUR GREATEST LEADERS!”

Yes, but they were also racists and slave traders.

“THIS IS OUR HISTORY!”

Yes, and it too is racist.

Then the pseudo-intellectual daytime TV logic takes over.

“WE NEED TO LEAVE THEM UP SO WE CAN REFLECT ON THESE THINGS!”

Karen, these things have stood for hundreds of years, and you have never once reflected in a meaningful way about the racism that put them there, and how you benefitted from it. Now step aside as another bronze white supremacist is rolled off the pier.

And then when the TV lights go out and the Black interviewee leaves the studio, the number of Black people working on the production returns to its usual level – of zero.

Have a look at the media. How many times in the last month have you seen Black people comment on issues other than race? How many times have you seen them present a show about economics or education or science?

How many times have you seen a Muslim asked to talk about something other than terrorism or racial profiling or Ramadan?

Not that these are not important conversations in and of themselves, but if that is the only time they are allowed air time or column inches, then that is part of the problem.

So I’m asking you to do something that doesn’t come naturally to any of us as white journalists.

I’m asking you to think about why you are sitting in the seat you are sitting in, and why your Black interviewee is sitting in the seat they are sitting in.

I am asking you to not see things from your own perspective, but from their perspective.

I am asking you to leave your own world, your ego and your fragility behind and humbly enter theirs.

I’m asking you to be quiet for once and listen, and when you’re done listening to speak to other white people and tell them that the way things are is wrong and needs to change.

I other words, I am asking you to radically rethink the way you and those around you approach your journalism about the fundamental building blocks of our societies, and I’m asking you to change it.

It does not mean losing your privilege – it only means giving up the “white” part of that privilege and extending it to everyone else.

Because if you’re not prepared to do that, well then maybe Black lives don’t matter to you nearly as much as you thought.

Shocks Await The Privileged In America’s Uncivil War

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 

Anger, as Ewan McKenna says in this week’s brilliant Black Eye podcast, has a shelf-life, and we would do as well to observe and take in as much as we can while it burns at its brightest.

Many things are obvious – the irony of protests against police brutality being met with even more overwhelming and widespread police brutality cannot be lost on anyone watching a TV this week – and some are less so.

And some are blindingly, staggeringly obvious, yet are either ignored or somehow unseen.

The protests at the murder of George Floyd (and yes, it was murder, as one man has been charged with it and three for aiding and abetting it) in a massive misuse of state power have shown us that the Second Amendment is not about protecting people from the violence of tyrannical state.

It is about protecting white people from having to concede that their fellow citizens are equal.

An old man violently pushed to the ground by a police officer in Buffalo, his skull splitting open.

A homeless man in a wheelchair in Los Angeles shot in the face with a laughably-named “non-lethal” round.

Journalists arrested and assaulted live on air.

And yet, not once have the “patriots”, who arm themselves to the teeth at Dick’s Sporting Goods and who were out cosplaying in camouflage over their inalienable right to get their mullet trimmed just a few short weeks ago, responded.

Not when a man was executed in the street for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill.

Not when the First Amendment rights of reporters and journalists, and indeed fellow citizens, were being trampled under the jackboots of the police and National Guard.

And not when innocent people were being left bruised and blinded by rubber bullets, batons and tear gas.

Nor did any African-American pick up their legally-owned weapon and go out to defend their community, invoking the Second Amendment rights that are supposed be vindicated in exactly these kinds of situations.

That’s because this is not about the “tyranny of the state”, and hasn’t been since the Boston Tea Party.

It is about preserving the structures of white power, where white people prosper because they control the police and thus the state’s monopoly on violence which is used to vindicate their rights at the expense of others.

View the social media footage of police actions this week. Take away the uniforms (they’ve already covered up their badge numbers), and what do you see?

You see armed gangs intimidating and brutally beating protestors for having the temerity to protest racial injustice.

“Ah, but the rioters! The looters! The mindless violence!” they intone, while never distinguishing who is doing what.

One doesn’t have to make too generous an interpretation to see that, in many cases, it is police that are instigating the violence, often under the guise of enforcing arbitrary curfews that effectively suspend many of the rights guaranteed in the constitution so allegedly beloved by the cosplaying cowards.

The looting is also worth a close look. Forget Target – zoom out just a little and you will see that Africa was looted of its people, but no armed man or woman stood guard to vindicate the rights of these slaves; in fact, they hunted those who escaped from slavery as if they were animals, looting their freedom, their dignity and their future, not to mention that of their children, for generations

The “mindless violence” of crowds is only mindless if you do not wish to consider or understand where it comes from.

If you do, you will find that riots are in fact complex social events with shared boundaries set depending on social contexts and power dynamics.

There are no singular “flash-points” that suddenly cause them; riots are a result of tension built up over time, in this case a pressure-cooker of injustice that exploded with the death of George Floyd, but that can be traced from 1619 through the murder of Clifford Glover in 1973 through those of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and thousands of others, culminating in the knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Of course, all this is of little interest to a goober with an AR-15 who is petrified of pulling the trigger unless it’s a black child in his sights, or a man with skewed notions of “law and order” who is only protected from prison by a badge and the colour of his skin.

All they are interested in is preserving the status quo. After two terms of a black president, they voted in their droves for a racist demagogue to redress the balance and claw back what it was they felt they had lost.

That racist demagogue has not disappointed them.

America has always been a paradox; “discovered” by Europeans fleeing persecution at home in search of “freedom”, who then set up a rigid society based on norms and notions of morality, white supremacy and closely-guarded power and property rights.

It claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, but all too often it incarcerates and oppresses to protect the privilege of the spineless mediocrities who outwardly profess faith in the “free market” but inwardly fear it because it would expose the comical myth of their superiority.

In a democracy, the state’s monopoly on violence is accepted by the citizens, but only to a point; when that monopoly is turned against the citizens and the descent into dictatorship and oppression begins, there is a window in which the citizenry can use the threat of its own violence to arrest or reverse that slide.

In America, the guys and gals with the guns are standing idly by while the protestors are beaten off the streets. What they see is the police as vindicating their personal and property rights, so there is no need to intervene.

But the biggest betrayal is yet to come.

For decades, they have been flattered into believing that they can defend themselves against state tyranny by keeping some guns and ammo handy.

The oppression of America, hardwired into its policing, did not apply to them; the “well-regulated militia”, as they see themselves, could rest easy.

The truth is that the might of the now-militarised police will crush them if and when the time comes. The warm feeling of power they get from clutching the bump-stock of an automatic weapon to their shoulder gives them a false sense of security; for all the firearms in American society, they are hopelessly, overwhelmingly and inevitably outgunned by the police.

White supremacy is not about the supremacy of all white people; it is about the supremacy of some white people – the powerful, the manly, the fearless, whose destiny it is to lord it over the weak, be they people of colour or women or lily-livered liberals who are to be swatted aside, trampled in the dirt of the progress of the privileged.

But as the situation gets more serious, the definition gets narrower and narrower until such time as the “supremacists” wind up in an exclusive club too small and weak to defend itself before finally, grudgingly being subsumed back into society.

Anger does indeed have a shelf-life, thus the need for those who seek to right injustices to strike while the iron is hot.

If they don’t, the cost of this will be enormous, but this is not new; minorities have been paying it on the never-never since the foundation of the republic. Soon, however, those who thought they were immune will have to cough up too, and it is then that the lies of their “freedom” and “supremacy” will be exposed.

In America, you can be anything you want to be, as long as it is compliant.

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