Longtime readers know I single out exceptionally good reader comments for the Evans-Manning Award, in honor of Franklin Evans and Erin Manning, two veteran readers of this blog who maintain consistently high standards of commenting. Though my writing about race, culture, and crime often tends to bring out the worst in some readers, the weekend’s Mall Killers thread (about the Mall Of Louisiana flash mob, which was black) produced some very good material. I wanted to highlight two posts in particular.
The first — first couple, actually — are from AliceAN, a black reader from New Jersey, who made the solid point that it’s wrong to expect middle-class black people to solve the problem of underclass black social pathology. Alice said they’re just as disgusted by it as white people, but what exactly would whites have middle-class blacks do about it? Can middle-class white people solve the problem of white underclass social pathology? She wrote:
It’s a cultural problem and a huge one. It’s also a point of contention between African-Americans and recent African immigrants, both equally poor but the later still equipped with the ability to transcend and escape said poverty.
Within the African immigrant community, African-Americans are called “Akata”, which literally translates to “wild beast”. Unfair, because most middle class African-Americans are not like that, but it springs from the same well that feeds the discussions you are talking about in the white community in Baton Rouge.
The only responsibility lies with the boys family, or lack thereof. There is no solution to the behavioral problems of people who lack what I’d call “home training”.
Good judgement and good behavior are learned traits, and if you are raised by your 30 year old grandmother and her live-in ex-con boyfriend, while your 15 year old mother drops out of high school and hangs around with latest transient, badly behaved man in her life, there is distinct lack of people from whom to learn good judgement or good behavior. What is the “black community” supposed to do about this?
We do what white folk all do with their white trailer trash brethren: move away.
And she added:
Food for thought is the double whammy on the respectable black people. On the one hand, more likely to be victimized themselves by the black hoodlum class, and on the other hand, they bear the brunt of the backlash in the form of racism. After all, the black person an average white person gets to interact with are the least likely to be a part of the hoodlum class.
I would love to read an essay by AliceAN on this topic.
The second outstanding comment comes from SDB, who said that we could make malls safer by increasing police presence, but that won’t get at the root causes of the social and moral breakdown behind crime and other social pathologies. He suggests a novel approach:
But of course, these measures don’t get to the “root” problem. We (as a society) would probably have to make a full press effort to stigmatize bad behavior – why couldn’t sexual promiscuity be treated like racism? I’m not talking about passing laws, but imagine if movie studios and advertisers wouldn’t give contracts to guys who fathered kids out of wedlock (or that skimping on child support got you the Jimmy the Greek treatment)? What if there was a major tax/financial advantage for staying married (or getting married before having kids)? What if employers, insurance companies, and lenders could discriminate on the basis of marriage? What if divorce was just a bit harder to get? I’m not saying these things wouldn’t come with problems or that on balance they are necessarily good ideas, but they are the kind of thing we have to decide as a society to do to turn around our sexual mores. Sexual irresponsibility and frivolous divorce (and if you and your ex vacation together, the divorce was frivolous) have very significant public costs – why shouldn’t those costs be carried by the irresponsible? Sure this kind of stigma will not be evenly applied, but from a social point of view, who cares if a few politicians or hollywood bigshots are sexual deviants behind closed doors? Society can afford a certain level of hypocrisy. We cannot afford the trajectory we are on.
I agree with him, but I also see this as completely unrealistic, given widely shared cultural assumptions. For the time being, at least, the white middle-class and upper class can afford hedonistic morality. It’s always easier to live squalidly if you have lots of money (e.g., the Kardashians). People without that financial cushion can’t afford Kardashian morality. But nobody wants to believe that, or live by that truth. Certainly nobody who produces popular culture wants to take responsibility; it’s the capitalist thing to give the people what they want. And the people do want it.
I wish I could think of a more realistic idea than building high walls (metaphorically speaking) around oneself and one’s family and community. But the culture really has gone mad, and whether or not we can afford this trajectory we’re on, we’re going to follow it all the way to hell. If you’ve got a more optimistic but realistic approach, I’m all ears. Seriously.
Anyway, great comments from these readers — and they were by no means the only ones on that long thread. If you haven’t checked out that Mall Killer thread, please do.