It may be a shock to hear that, given the tremendous outcry on the part of mayors, police chiefs, alders, bar-goers, Facebookers and just about every person posting their thoughts to news articles online, whose anonymous accounts give them that incredible courage to speak up (reminiscent of a certain “liquid courage” people can get). With the sheer numbers of these brave citizens speaking out, one would think all the public condemnation is necessary, as if people were needed now more than ever to step forward and call out these great injustices.
In Milwaukee, the expressions of outrage to the violence in recent attacks in Riverwest and at the Wisconsin State Fair have been particularly needed:
“Just start cracking heads of a couple of this uneducated drug using drug dealing trash. They have no future and perhaps you knock some sense into a couple of them and they may start acting like normal people instead of street trash,” writes “gbp4life” in the comment section of a 620 Newsradio online-brief offering a timeline of events during the attacks.
“The cops should have opened fire using rubber bullets. The time for niceness and political correctness ended a long time ago,” says “The Robert Hunt,” responding to the same brief.
OK, so this isn’t outrage as much as expressions of racist anger. Turns out, it’s not all that needed either, since the comments simply mirror the usual racialized feelings that always catch people up in a white supremacist society like ours. It might be better just to sit back and seethe, since giving voice to something that already permeates our reality is just redundant, therefore an unnecessary use of time and energy. In fact, even among the ostensibly well-meaning decriers, just about everybody making a public statement regarding these attacks only ends up sounding like they’ve launched into a racist diatribe.
Those decrying the attacks often express how they’ve tired of people “making excuses for the behavior of hooligans and thugs,” which is really just slightly coded language meaning they think black people have gone too far, gotten away with too much, and now it’s time to end the “political correctness,” a la “The Robert Hunt” statement, above. If “political correctness” means not saying what you mean, or using words to hide some reality you feel, then what they really want is just to call a spade a spade and be done with it.
The racially charged public statement issued by Milwaukee city alders Bob Donovan and Joe Dudzik isn’t merely fodder for white supremacists in making their usual, if still reprehensible, attacks on a non-white america. It’s important to point out that everyone, in the simple action of voicing their anger to this violence, lends credence to the white supremacism of american society by the fact that their statements are caught up in a racialized discourse that already others black youth, sees them as deficient, worthless “animals” (in the Milwaukee police chief’s recent use of the phrase “barbaric behavior,” he may as well have said “animalistic”).
Comments on a friend’s recent Facebook video post of Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter offered more of the same, supposed-outrage to violence cum racist commentary, with one person stating that the only thing to be done is “arrest and punish” the youth responsible and another remarking, “[The attacks are] just an excuse to assault folks and committ [sic] crimes. […] When your dog does something wrong you punish it, quickly to leave an impression. […] I say get the firehoses.”
Whether offered unknowingly or deliberately, the display of racial coding in these responses is representative of all the public statements I’ve seen. I’ll leave the latter statements for the reader to comment on the problematic of drawing associations between somehow “correcting the behavior” of black youth and training dogs, as well as to deal with the american T.V. images of black people having fire hoses used on them in the 1960s. The former statement, however, regarding the “arrest and punish” mentality, is present within many such responses to the attacks and is worth unpacking a bit.
Increasing the police state, hiding behind the illusion that police presence makes us safer, only isolates us from real solutions to the problems we face as a community — and separates us from each other. Further criminalizing the actions of black youth engaged in this violence, by suggesting there’s only “one solution” — and that’s to lock them up or beat them like dogs — ignores reality (in addition to simply being an abhorrent instance of othering, of treating people as not-people).
The reality of the situation is that there isn’t only one solution to the problem of this violence. And if there was, it certainly wouldn’t be just to lock people we don’t like away from the rest of us, supposedly-good, folks.
While there isn’t only one solution, there is a key to drawing together all that’s needed to address the violence: radical love.
The concept of radical love that I’m drawing on was written about by Jesus Gomez, primarily in a book entitled, El Amor en la Sociedad del Riesgo (or Love in a High Risk Society), and discussed in numerous circles within the field of critical pedagogy as a necessary, transformative element in an education for liberation.
Gomez’ conception problematizes “love,” historicizing it as a social construct so that people can question “bad” love-relationships, such as those which involve gender violence, and also come to reexamine not only romantic relationships in total, but the social relations between us all, with the goal of developing those that empower the “lovers.”
Radical love as I know it questions dominant ideas about love being the key to overcoming anything, such as the Christian teachings of loving one’s self and one’s neighbor, as this alone isn’t enough. For example, “loving” the black youth who committed acts of violence against others isn’t going to change anything very much — it might curb the inane racialized discourse about the attacks (offering instead equally stupid hippie-dippy proclamations of love and “can’t we all just get along?”), but it won’t change the underlying racialized feelings people have toward the events and the people involved in them, feelings which undergird our social reality. And love in and of itself won’t get people to stop beating up on each other and to co-exist in communities of respect and tolerance.
In theory, though, it does. That is, an idealized notion of love, like the one in biblical teaching, offers only this mere suggestion — the idea — and it would work, if thinking of people were as simple as thinking ideas, but as a love that doesn’t implicate the complexities of our reality and does not question itself, it is a useless concept (in fact, it’s just that, a concept).
Radical love, as both a concept and a material force, and as it pertains the recent violence would mean something like, OK, what’s going on here is terrible, it’s intolerable; what can be done? Well, locking everybody up isn’t the answer, since a critical examination of the criminal justice system would lead us to understand that prisons mostly “harden” criminals, not rehabilitate them. A critical examination of american white supremacist society would question the numbers of incarcerated black youth already in prison, mostly for socio-economic reasons, and should lead us to seriously question how rounding up the youth involved in these attacks is going to change them, or us, or the reality of all our lives, in any way.
Radical love means loving others in ways that change our social reality; loving one another as human beings worthy of such feeling means addressing, in reality, the feelings / circumstances that actually prevent us from engaging each other in these ways, such as racism, capitalist society based on competition and so on.
Imagine this: after having attended a series of meetings, listened to community forums broadcast over the air and internet, having been able to join in the planning of responses to social problems like this violence, people decided to surround the offending youth the next time, together, with love and non-violence and demand that they stop.
People might be hurt. Yes, maybe, like some of the Freedom fighters during america’s civil rights era who, through collective, mostly non-violent means, transformed a social ill and gave all of us a chance at change. A chance to be better human beings.
We as individuals, rather than merely reproducing classist and racist social relations as they currently are with our statements of well-meaning outrage (that, again, are really no more than funnels of the racist anger which flushes over us, as if society were nothing more than a cesspool of human ignorance) need to actually set out thinking of ways to work collectively to critically address our common concerns. Rather than offer as response to the recent violence, “It is no excuse to say because they are young and bored they should be able to injure citizens and property and then be forgiven for it,” like one of those brave commenters on Facebook who’s got it all figured out already, we need instead, through radical love, to question every assumption in such a statement. Who’s offering this “excuse” exactly? Are the youth really doing this because they’re “young and bored” or are they doing it because they’re also angry, have received little respect in the channels society tells them to move through? And so what if they were bored? What really is going on here? We need to come together to figure out how it plays an intricate part in the larger realities of racist, capitalist society informing all of our actions.
And why shouldn’t people “be forgiven”?
Well? Why not?
Through radical love, we can think past all this bluster and work together to find real solutions to society’s problems (rather, our problems with our messed up society). We don’t know what this looks like exactly, and that should excite us, rather than discourage us. We only need to imagine the possibilities and begin sharing them with neighbors, with everyone in the city, somewhat through the channels currently in place for this kind of idea sharing, letters to alders, other elected officials and other means, but especially outside of them, like at community meetings in public spaces — places where true alternatives can be created and carried out by people who can really believe in them — because they played a role in devising them. The more we can think of ways to come together that are outside the ineffective social structures already built up without everyone’s consent — the better our chances of truly changing our reality.
We need to come together, with questioning, truth-demanding love. Although it’s ultimately our collective struggle, you can take personal initiative and begin the process by examining what it is you think you’re saying.