Racism, Riots, and “Reality”

When a police officer shoots and kills a person of color, whether in the US or in Britain, most in so-called civil society wait until some sort of formal inquiry or investigation before passing judgment. This is a necessary thing to do from the perspective of any system of authority in a democratic society.

However, the people who plead for patience until “all the facts have been observed,” or who castigate others for “rushing to judgment” before such a process is concluded, and do so while demanding others share their level of faith in the investigatory process must also acknowledge that there are other ways of seeing the situation, other ways of feeling about it.

I don’t pretend to be an expert about what it happening in Britain right now, but I feel my understanding of the same sorts of dynamics in the US does offer me a particular perspective on the ways inequality creates undercurrents of tension and hopelessness which can explode in any “democracy” at particular moments.

While this moment is surely more complicated than few paragraphs of thought can capture, one of the fundamental forces at work is a subjective reality that is not part of the mainstream. This is a reality framed by experience after experience that says when a cop shoots a black man it means race is involved, it means power is using unregulated violence to keep others in check, it means injustice. In this reality whether or not the person of color did something wrong, came from a bad background, or has known connections to gangs is not as relevant as other factors.

Which side it right? The question is as meaningless as any answer you can devise. The significant thing for any society to grasp at a moment like this is that there are competing ways of knowing and understanding what is happening. One might consider for a moment which is worse: riots causing damage to person and property, all with no end in sight; or a reality framed by so much violence, anger, and abuse that mass violence to property feels like a solution.

In any real democracy, the answer to that question should be as obvious as any ever asked.

One thought on “Racism, Riots, and “Reality”

  1. Tomas, the roots of the turmoil in England are a combination of demographics, an economic downturn and short-sighted government policies. The U.S. is potentially headed for a similar perfect storm and the rapidly growing Latino youth population will likely be at the center of it.

    One quarter of the children under 18 in the U.S. today are Latinos. It is not hard to imagine that generation reaching their late teens and early twenties alienated by prejudice directed against the undocumented (which by extension tars all Latinos). Should the economy continue to tank, this growing number of young people will find themselves frustrated and bored, another volatile element. Finally, without humane government policies which seek to nurture our human resources rather than condemn the less fortunate, they will be left will little hope or opportunity.

    What we are seeing in England could be a glimpse of our own future if we fail to act sensibly and humanely.

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