RANGER AGAINST WAR: Running from the Police <

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Running from the Police

 --Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Intelligence is a moral category
--Theodor Adorno

 "Nay, I’ll not unvision
A shape which, somehow, there may be." 
So I went on softly from the glade,
And left her behind me throwing her shade.
--Shadows on the Stone, Thomas Hardy,

Give 'em lots of sex, perversion and rape
Give 'em lots of violence and plenty to hate 
--Give the People What They Want,  
The Kinks

Maybe our fascination with zombies is largely metaphorical. What if the grotesque, suppurating beings represent the vulgarities that live beside, within and among us daily? What a clever and poetic thing to call that which you place outside of you, "undead".

The term recognizes the thing's existence in a liminal area; not quite exterminated, though you wish it were gone. They threaten the existence you think you have lest you avert your eyes for a moment allowing the thing to reanimate, and possibly consume you. Eternal vigilance is the only salvation.

"The Undead" is a trope we may use to explain every recent incident of a black man dying while in contact with the police. Like Casablaca's Captain Renault, we cry a disingenuous "Shocked!" when we see videos which prove the fact.

We prostrate ourselves, overlaying our collective guilt upon the scene, as if to erase the reality of power over a group of people we fear and disdain: the outlaw, the threat to conformity within the society. We can shuttle off our concerns onto the culpable officer of the law and breathe somewhat easily for a moment, but the mise en scene is still "undead".

The benefits to the masses of this forefronting of our outrage, backgrounding our fear, are many.  We get to throw stones, and discharge a collective angst. We get the high of viewing the salacious footage.

Snuff films used to be outre, the outliers in the undercover world of porn. Now, with the advent of our ubiquitous recording devices, we may view heads rolling or bodies pumped with bullets day or night from the comfort of our device of choice, from our own bed (if you wish.) No need to trek to the Coliseum anymore. 

Michael Eric Dyson's recent New York Times Op-Ed, Racial Terror, Fast and Slow, offered little that was new. Dyson wrote, "Problems arise when images of blackness contradict a received racial script" -- what blather. In fact, the "images of blackness" cohere quite nicely with the racial script. 

The images follow the script like night the day: 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock. Children born into a single-parent household languish in most developmental tests from the beginning. It is hard enough to run a household with two parents, how much moreso with one usually marginally-educated parent in a society which does not support single parenthood. 

In 1992, the white, liberal, educated and employed t.v. character Murphy Brown played by an attractive Candace Bergen sallied forth to bear a child without marrying, and the liberal commentariat cheered her. Republican Dan Quayle had the temerity to suggest this might not be a good thing, and the liberals drowned him in howls of execration. A woman can do what she pleases (and it's especially nice when, as with Brown character, she has an attractive Latino handyman and a good paycheck helping her out.) 

An iconic 1970's commercial of female empowerment for a perfume (!) featured a perfectly groomed woman in a power suit and heels slinging a frying pan to the sassy tune, "I can bring home the bacon / fry it up in a pan / and never, ever let you forget you're a man." The reality for most single mothers and their offspring isn't an Enjoli commercial or Murphy Brown's sophisticate dream, and it is their children you are seeing on the real-life snuff films.

Another script is, black men have been marginalized by the advent of various social welfare programs which  benefited single mothers in the 1960's. But perhaps the programs were developed to meet a need, and did not have the nefarious intent of displacing the male head of household. A sociological survey in the 1950's, "The Negro Street Corner Man", suggested that black males, like males in many machismo cultures, enjoy hanging out with their boys (their peers, not their offspring), leaving the women to run the household. Kick it, and run, or as the Jamaicans say, "Trow down and take away."

In a supporting role is the rap culture which glorifies the bling of the lone trolling thug, the female reduced to his adoring toy. (We are not talking about "life-affirming" rap, which is a small subcategory of the genre.) Too many young women have bought into this, so a working-class male cannot match this image. Therefore, they end up with no partner.

In addition, many African tribes are matriarchal, as are many black American families today. During slavery in America, blacks were forbidden to marry. Following Emancipation, there was a rush to enforce marriage in the black community to bring them quickly into the Western Christian model, but many rejected this enclosure.
These are just a couple of idiosyncratic observations, but rather than accept Dyson's constructed script-and-image duality, let us look at the reality. This is not often done as most people want to see themselves as good and as such, refrain from stating anything which might be construed as racist, pejorative or prescriptive. But by not stating what is apparent (though unpalatable to some), one never has the opportunity to change the actuality (if it needs to be, or can be changed.) 
When looking at the black men who have died in police encounters, we should be honest about our presumptions, the realities and the solutions. Over the next few posts, we will aim for that.

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Blogger Ghost Dansing said...

might just be a friend of the devil

Monday, April 27, 2015 at 6:26:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


You are a wit and a wag; delighted to hear from you.

I am motivated to string some thoughts together soon.

Monday, April 27, 2015 at 10:21:00 PM GMT-5  

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