An email comes in from a reader of these pages. It’s about Rochester, NY, a town we both grew up in. I’m always a little curious about Rochester, but I was especially so this time because the email contained a link to an article about current race relations in that city. The link took me to the website of Breitbart.com which I know to be an organ a whack job right wing organization of faux-journalism that made it’s bones in that genre as a perpetrator of the Obama “birther” fraud. But this article had a little twist of the sort that we are seeing more of these days; it was proclaiming that in Rochester there had been has been a growing number of incidents of Black on Asian violence. There was vague description, but of course no data. The article was written by an author who has a book out that is very disparaging of blacks in American cities on the same theme. We are seeing more this because Fox News and organs like it in that far right, dark, ugly corner of the media have been scrambling for ways to portray African-Americans as perpetrators, rather than as victims in a high-profile cases in which mostly black men (but some women as well) have been gunned down or strangled by police in a number of American cities. These have been incidents, as we now know, that were it not for witnesses, and especially witnesses in possession of phones and video cameras that have provided graphic evidence of police brutality, would never have come to light in the media. Clever of the Breitbart people to come up with the idea of portraying blacks as predators on another minority, those nice, mostly docile, industrious Asian-Americans.
It may well be that there has been some strife between these minority groups in American inner cities; that has been the way of things since the beginning of cities when different races and ethnicities are spatially juxtaposed, especially when they are at the bottom of the socio-economic scale and there is a scarcity of employment opportunities. In my Italian-American neighborhood in Rochester back on the 1950s I remember quite well the friction between us and the nearby African-American (and we didn’t hit it off all that well with the Irish in the nearby 19th Ward). Even though racial and ethnic slurs were invoked, it was necessarily racism that was behind this contention—it was competition for space, for jobs. “They” were the “other,” of different cultures, religions and languages, with as much group allegiance as we had. Blackboard Jungle and West Side Story weren’t fashioned from myth.
Equally questionable was the sender’s comment that Rochester “used to be a nice town”. Well, not quite. I worked in that city’s Department of City Planning two summers and was well aware of the data about the city’s black communities and the social inequality in the city. It was not surprising that the city exploded in civil disturbance in the 60s and that radical social reformer Saul Alinsky found fertile ground for grievances against the city’s major employer, Eastman Kodak (the same Kodak in which a personal department worker told my mother back min the 1950s that it was a good thing she didn’t have an Italian-American sounding surname, or she wouldn’t be hired to work on the assembly line making Brownie cameras). The sender of that email was either self-deceiving, or a victim of the perception management that is characteristic not only of so-called “news” sources such as Breitbart.com.
Part of the problem of Rochester wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was, in many respects, a company town. Not a company town of low-skilled labor, like a mining town or a steel town, but one of middle and high-skilled technicians that were the workers in optics and graphics at Eastman-Kodak, Bauch & Lomb and Xerox; not companies in need of strong backs and rough hands for uneducated immigrants to break into. Indeed, it was a city that was once called “Smugtown, USA” in a book with an eponymous title,* and was politically complacent about its racial minorities.
But those circumstances are intertwined with a residual racism that was never eradicated by the 1954 Brown decision, or the housing and voting rights acts of the “Great Society” 1960s. It will take a long time to disentangle the hopefulness of the election of the first African-American President from the country’s residual racism and the disastrous economic conditions and wealth-bleeding wars he inherited, not to mention an institutionally-prejudiced criminal justice system that places a quarter of young Black men behind bars for private profit—a system that gave one Black man to cynically comment when NYPD choked Eric Garner to death that [they] are “innocent until proven Black.” School re-segregation is in full operation, under the demonization of public schools and the agency of privatization. Now, when events like the gunning down of unarmed Black youth, or the strangling nor back breaking of others trigger violent reaction, the media explanations search for ways to turn the culpability on the victims. That is the perception management” role of Fox News, Breitbart and the like of David Brooks, among others.
Coincidentally, the Baltimore protests overlapped with the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon.** One begins to discern a pattern here; a pattern that America operates both internally against the “others” it fears and externally against the “others” it fears. Indeed, sinew WWII the USA has adopted the posture of the “global cop,” insinuating itself into any neighborhood where the bugaboos of communism, Marxism, or the scourge de jure, “Islamofascism,” threatens its interests. More and more, that summary interest appears to be a permanent state of war to maintain its largest industry—weapons sales, war profiteering and privateering.
If you put enough police presence in a community, allow extremely lacks policies of stop and frisk, and “probable cause,” soon enough, or even with the imagination of a police officer who thinks that someone hiking up their pants is pulling a firearm, will have an opportunity to bounce some heads off the hood of a police car, or throw them handcuffed into the back of a van. Small wonder that over a period of such policies that young black men are inclined, guilty of whatever, or not, cut and run t the sight of those who are in their neighborhoods to putatively “protect and serve” them.***
America employs the same insurgency/incident tactics in its minority communities as it does with its insurgencies into the affairs of other nations. In Vietnam we first put advisers into the country to support the administration and whose political ideology is closest to ours in spite of how corrupt they are. This is of course putting our advisers in harms way and soon enough there are casualties and enough incidents to begin to bring in greater force (escalation, or “mission creep”) specifically for combat. Or, you can just fudge it (the Tonkin resolution in Vietnam, or pretending that there were Iraqis flying the 911 planes.)
And now, a new tactic to be screamed from the pages of Breitbart and the mouths of the dolts at Fox News: “Blacks people are hurting Yellow people in our cities!” Clever, turn the minorities on each other and give the white knights of the militarized police forces another “probable cause” for insurgency.
I ain’t fallen for it. It is why we are a nation at war with itself, and pretty much everybody else, too.
© 2015, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.5.2015)