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Poll, musings on Jordan Neely death
Things suddenly feel 2020/2021-ish again
Warning: The following is a rambling commentary on racial tensions without any particular point to make. No refunds will be offered for the reader’s time.
*Edit, May 5: The local political response in New York over the last 24 hours has pivoted to sensible messaging regarding rider safety, suggesting that the odds for a rerun of the 1990s as described below are higher than I proposed. See also this follow-up post:
The prompt for today’s post is the Jordan Neely death; see this Intelligencer post for an introduction to the controversy via the burgeoning mainstream media perspective:
Reader poll, motivated by my genuine desire to know what others are thinking:
Question two regards the following tweet:
This isn’t a perfect example since “The Cat Lady” throws in a caveat regarding unspecified “threats” that can be recognized (but that don’t include Neely). But let’s take the tweet’s implicit argument as being that Neely could not have been a threat short of, essentially, handing out a card formally stating his profession as Jack the Ripper.
I would add follow-up polls regarding replier residence, but substack polls don’t allow enough answers. Feel free to comment with where you reside (US or not; a city or not) and your answer, if you would like.
The author has seen things
I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, poor, in a period of time that in theory ought to have afforded me abundant familiarity with the reality of the ghetto before the ensuing fall in crime rates and widespread pacification of the late 20th Century’s wild American cities. Instead, my exposure was to the American Black middle class (as well as docile island societies, particularly Bermuda). Not quite the tony life represented in The Cosby Show or Fresh Prince, but by and large more comfortable and opulent than my own house. In all cases there was no shortage of awkwardness and aloofness along racial lines in public school or other public spaces; but I never developed any particular associations with race and behavior, because there truly were no points of evidence to inform such associations one way or the other.
What I can say of my time in California over the last years, in short, is not the same. I have seen the types of neighborhoods and communities that I did not see in my youth.
I have seen enough, for example, that my only question regarding a recent video of a man beaten and left concussed on a sidewalk while a sideshow carried on occupying an intersection in the ambiguous territory between Emeryville and West Oakland, for the offense of having thrown a bucket, is what was the man even thinking.
The same goes for situations involving lone individuals on public transit. I logged 1,000s of hours on public transit in LA; fortunately the worst that came of it was catching flu twice, but LA’s problems are totally unlike the Bay Area’s. In fact, much of the crime in LA in the years immediately before the lockdowns was imported from Alameda and Contra Costa-based rings.
In the Bay Area I never touched public transit; it was enough to see who was at the stations.
A new generation of Sals
The thing is, other people are voicing similar observations (presumably because they are having similar observations). And they have been for many years; I only did not understand that they were based on real observations until I saw for myself. There is an entire generation of white American kids whose pattern-recognition machine, by dint of living where they live, has only been fed the same feed of experiences as one imagines generated Sal from Do the Right Thing.
Sal, with his grievance and incompatibility with Blacks, was only a transient portent of the coming decade in terms of racial violence. In so far as he prefigured Stacey Koon (the officer sacrificed for subduing Rodney King indelicately), the King riots were a sort of fever that marked the fading of the dream of race war. Giuliani tamed New York; other cities were gentrified; crime rates throughout the country fell for reasons no one has been able to explain to this day.
Because American racial tensions seemed outdated, even unfashionable, after the 1990s, the spontaneous and rampant emergence of overt racism in younger, suburban American whites beginning in the late Obama era struck me as inexplicable for many years — I wasn’t aware that anything of “the ghetto” had survived the previous two decades, outside of the sort of backwater, fading urban scene portrayed in The Wire (the entire theme of which is the obsolescence of the Black, urban Wild West and of Sals like McNulty who would roam it, stoking tensions).
But it turned out an entire new generation of Sals was still being incubated in the suburbs. They have seen mostly or only the types of culture and behavior that (whatever blindness regarding white poverty and criminality is required) must lead to the conclusion that whites and Blacks cannot live next to each other. The two races (in absence of any experience of ambivalent or positive manifestations of Black American culture) must be left their separate ways, either in a Balkanized America or via more extreme measures; at all events the outcome will be greater contentment for both races.
A recent proposal and comments, encountered via a twitter search for Jordan Neely, serves to represent the mindset:
The best to hope for is that everyone is too tired to care; a return to 1990 or 2020 does not seem possible.
In May of 2020, when the George Floyd video sparked a racial panic throughout the West’s entire Professional Managerial Class and their offspring, there was certainly not an absence of reason to have concern over a backlash leading to something like “race war.” However, no such backlash really occurred. Two factors that likely pushed against backlash were residual shock from the lockdowns, and the atmosphere of censorship on social media platforms.
Obviously, those two factors could have been superfluous to some core implausibility to the entire notion of an American race war, in which case there is no need to fret about the fact that they do not obtain this time around. At all events, let the facts be noted: The white reactionary mindset if anything has been gaining steam going into this summer; and Musk’s twitter is allowing an open forum for overtly racist agitation.
Already — even in advance of the story going mainstream — the mainstream race-conscious narrative of Neely’s death was and is being vehemently rejected in the niche realm of alt-right twitter. And this rejection, delivered with scorn and derision (several tweets show Neely in his Michael Jackson costume accompanied by parody lyrics), constitutes defiance of mores and narratives that the mainstream, liberal media reality designates as non-debatable truths. As such, the very right of the media to claim to represent reality at all is in danger of entering (yet another) acute crisis. And as ever since Musk’s takeover, those convinced to the bone that their non-debatable truths are non-debatable are alarmed and psychologically threatened by the crass response.
If this is not a call for rebellion and race war, what is?
Meanwhile, other facts obtain that amplify the situation that prevailed in 2020, which make a return to 1990 — improved policing in cities, depopulation of culturally toxic ghettos, the insulation of white youth awareness from the reality of the same, and a general “moving past race” — seemingly impossible. These include police body-cams, intractable budget constraints that are downstream of housing costs (Oakland cannot afford a police force, because there is nowhere affordable for police officers to live), pervasive citizen self-surveillance (i.e. Worldstar and all iterations of the same), and atomization and culture-siloing via social media starting in late childhood.
Many of these changes are what brought about Black Lives Matter and the subsequent war on policing to begin with; but that is entirely the point. The same technology that allows for cherry-picking, misrepresenting, and amplifying violence against Black Americans is equally suited to cherry-picking, misrepresenting, and amplifying violence by Black Americans. As with everything involved in the cold war between the establishment media state and PMC vs. populism, both sides exist in echo chambers that make reconciliation appear patently impossible.
Progressive blindness and irreconciliation with reality
Excluded from that list of changes because it is arguably more important than all those things combined, 1990 did not feature a news and media ecosystem that was so overtly one-sided in its promotion of a false narrative about Black crime. True, the news fired early on the Rodney King footage and started the riots; but it was only a few months later that the Jerry Springer Show took to air to offer a temperature gauge for reality. And the peak of the “PC era” was likewise the tough-on-crime era, with nothing like media censorship regarding the nation’s driving political zeitgeists.
Today, aside from Fox and local stations, there is virtually no element of the media that will report honestly about contemporary Black criminality. Acts of senseless violence take place that, regardless of whether they have national news value, are hushed up in all contradiction of media ratings logic, in order to serve a defined Party ideology (just as occurs with insinuations of sexual deviancy into school curriculum). In short, Americans of all races are being gas-lit; and the only ones who seem unaware of it are those doing the gas-lighting.
Part and parcel of this irony and un-self-awareness is that so much of the PMC, after having moved back into cities in the 21st Century, has been exposed to the same rude truths regarding contemporary Black criminality as I did in California; and yet they have perfected absolute blindness to their own experience. At Baker Beach, where tourists and locals go to walk past the nudists for a photo op with the bridge, a young Black man can stand with a backpack in the glass-covered parking lot without the least bit of harassment, waiting for a lull in foot traffic to break some car windows. He, and the meaning of him, is like a phantasm from an alternate dimension, one the visitors to the beach can’t allow themselves to see, even as they walk right past him at the head of the path.
And so of course when a homeless busker winds up in a vigilante restraint that regrettably kills him, the context — the prima facie (for anyone who has used modern urban transit) obvious fact that he was probably presenting a real security threat to other passengers — is likewise willed out of existence by many of the same people who, yes, do have experience of these same unsafe situations. Urban progressives of all races, such as “The Cat Lady,” can make their implausible claims without cognitive dissonance, because they live in a bona fide fantasy land.
And this seemingly unsustainable divorce from reality in the media, at least to me, amplifies the sense of incredible tension. It is as though the establishment has given up on enforcing its own ideology over the dissident populist segment. All that is left to do at that point, is wait for the rebellion to appear and send in the troops.
I’ll link to a related post by Jon at Inflamed Cynic here, because it expresses the issue (regarding media dissonance and extremism on the school stuff) well, and because I’ve reached the end of my own musings (as promised at the top, my post today does not have a point to make).
(In the coming weeks, I may devote some posts to the technical aspects of notorious American racial injustices from the Rodney King beating and beyond.)