We Must Have the Hard Conversations
As the trial proceeds in Minneapolis, establishment media continue to set the stage for violence.
We ignore uncomfortable truths. The melding of the horrors of slavery and Civil Rights-era lynchings with the killing of George Floyd, all wrapped in the theory of everything that is systemic racism, flirts with incitement to violence. It won’t fix anything but falling mainstream media circulation rates, but that’s sort of the point.
Charles Blow writes in the New York Times that there is a direct line from slaves whipped in the 17th century to black Americans lynched in the 20th century to George Floyd, cranked on fentanyl, dying in restraint after trying to pass a phony $20 bill in 2020. America has gone from “the noose to the neck,” Blow writes. Anger today is insufficient unless fanned by multipliers from the past.
Blow uses all of his high school creative writing class skills to make his lurid case; slaves aren’t just whipped, it is black bodies that are punished and defiled. Blow writes of “the flaying of flesh, the human beings torn apart by hounds, the stiff bodies dangling from the stiff branch of a tree. The display was the thing. The theatrical production of pain, to the point of mutilation, was the thing. The transmission of trauma was the thing.”
Those are fighting words. They are meant to set the stage should that Minneapolis jury fail to satisfy the blood lust masquerading as a call for justice. The certainty across America that cities will burn if the jury reaches the “wrong” conclusion makes clear that eye for an eye will be taken one way or another.
The sad thing about what Blow writes (and obviously he is just an avatar who puts into words what many think) is the assumption of intent by the cops who killed George Floyd. Intent is a critical part of justice. It’s the difference between Murder One and lesser crimes such as manslaughter or even self-defense. Blow seems to see no such distinction because it was a cop and a black man. At an Upper West Side cocktail party, he would probably say the application of intent in such cases is racist itself if it saves a cop from the gallows.
Within the horrors of slavery the intent was indeed to create ghoulish examples. Violence was a cruel tool of communication. Same for the ravages of the Civil Rights era, where Klansmen went out of their way to tell people that though they may have hung the wrong man for the alleged rape of a white woman, no matter, they’re all guilty of something. Same for the assaults on Freedom Riders—how many do we have to kill before y’all stay home? The violence was systemic, intentional, and towards a common purpose of racial dominance. We share a sick history.
But does any thinking person believe those Minneapolis police officers woke up one day with the intent and desire to kill whatever black man fate put into their hands? That they each wanted to send a signal that white power as exercised by uniformed cops, like modern day overseers, will keep black Americans in their place? That in the chaos of that moment a complex socio-racial-political drama was intentionally acted out?
That is exactly what Blow, establishment media, and BLM want everyone to believe. They use every tool available to create that emotional narrative, complete with an awkward martyr, from Blow’s dramatic prose to the media linking every white-on-black act of violence to a national, racial supremacist conspiracy while ignoring black-on-black crime or any other kind of violence. The job is to start a fire, and you can’t start a fire without a spark.
Linking hundreds of years of events under the rubric “systemic” fans the flames. Each week we have a new national outrage pulling on that thread. Which thing is elevated is driven by the presence of good video, a clever hashtag, and the ease with which the new tragedy can be linked to others.
So the mass shooting in Atlanta zooms to first place because of the anti-Asian/POC theme (which is untrue) while the mass shooting in Colorado fades quicker than a beer buzz. The recent murder of a Capitol cop by a black nationalist received little coverage, and less political comment. In the cesspool Facebook has become it is easy to see the tide come in on an issue and then just as quickly go out. The same people upset about Russiagate last year were all about anti-Asian violence last week and have shifted back to Floyd with equal vitriol this week.
Thought is not allowed. Apart from the crude techniques of deplatforming and canceling one trick is to simply disallow people who speak uncomfortable truths or propose counter-narratives. The disallow response usually starts with “as a…” with the commentator moving on to say “as a woman…” or “as a trans man…” and dismissing any other understanding of events because of an inability to have their lived experience. So what can I know about George Floyd, systemic racism, etc.? HuffPo built an entire vertical around this, with various “as a…” people claiming victimhood as birthright.
As a human being I cite the ability to learn about others’ lives through books, music, or listening to people, whether in real life or via documentaries. Isn’t that what all that stuff in the library is for anyway? But we dismiss education today as part of the same system of racism. We self-righteously allow tweeting mobs to ban books. We want to believe emotional narratives, as people once did with tales about angered gods who controlled the sun and tides.
But if emotion is all that matters, here goes. My father was a Holocaust survivor. He lived, and I exist, only because someone on his side of the family realized they had to risk everything to get out. And for those who want to argue now that that doesn’t count because he didn’t suffer as much as someone else, well, then let’s talk more about how slavery was OK if the owner was a nice guy. I thought not, bro.
For those who say I can’t understand, you cannot point to a more comprehensive example of systemic racism than the Holocaust, an explicit nation-state goal in our lifetimes to use industrial resources to eliminate an entire people. When I visited Germany a few years ago and was singled out for jay walking by an over-zealous cop, should I have claimed anti-Semitism, told the cop my family story, demanded reparations? Or maybe just not jay walk?
So let us talk uncomfortable truths. Of course reforms are needed, they always are. But the cop killings that dominate our mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of black Americans who destroy themselves with drugs, the road Floyd was on. The number of police killings of black men, however tragic, is a drop compared to the ocean of black men killed by other black men, never mind all the other murders America tallies.
There’s another uncomfortable truth about George Floyd. Floyd wasn’t at home eating breakfast when he died, nor was he dragged to the cops in chains. He broke the law to arrive at that terrible moment. Now that doesn’t justify his death, but there was more than ideology that brought Floyd and those police officers together. At the same time, no actual evidence exists of systemic racism. The most compelling “proof” of anything systemic is some simplistic numerical totals, naïve in purposely ignoring every other possible explanation.
The pattern is so clear that if we avoid it there must be some reason. And that reason is the use of deaths for political power and partisan gain. If you want to enflame people and drive voters, you focus on cop killings. If you really believed all black lives matter, you would focus on issues less politically useful but many times more deadly.
Without victimhood to dismiss every problem as someone else’s fault, what would Charles Blow write about? Steps to make the patient well instead of prolonging the disease? Could he and the others switch to demanding more work directed toward drug abuse, abandoned families, kids who skip school, juvenile crimes, teenage moms, children shot in gangland crossfire, intergenerational dependency on public assistance, and personal responsibility?
Or would he find something else he could blame on anonymous “systemic” forces, something seemingly without a solution other than to keep voting for charlatans and buying newspapers from exploiters?
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.