Question: If someone from the 1950’s suddenly appeared, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?
Answer: I posses a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man and I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.
My Twitter is public right now, but that is gonna end in a hot minute. (It is only public while Le Tour de France is going because it is fun to engage with les fanaticals de tour.) Since it has been public, I have had the “opportunity” to be interacted with (awkward semantics are intentional) by a variety of people, which in turn has cause me to really consider the purpose of such discourse. Because really, people rarely hear what they do not want to hear, and the chance for people to hear you when the exchange takes place in a series of 140-character quips on line I think is even more unlikely. And honestly, I would much rather look at pictures of cats than argue with complete strangers (it is hard enough to avoid arguments with people we know and care about!)
Anyhow, I felt compelled to reply to a specific “interactor” last night, but realized that articulate, logical argument was going to be lost on her (not to mention would take more “tweets” than should ever be allowed on a single subject) because she already knows everything. So, I watched some Tour de France recaps and went to bed. Unfortunately, I woke up thinking about it, and so I told myself that if, after yoga and a shower, I was still thinking about this, I would write it out. I was. So I am.
Here is what happened.
As has been well-documented, the verdict in the Zimmerman trial exonerated the accused of all wrongdoing in the shooting death of the unarmed minor, Trayvon Martin. As has also been documented I was both unsurprised and terribly saddened by this verdict. In fact, the only remotely hopeful things I have seen come out of the whole situation came from the victim’s parents who clearly, and repeatedly, said that they would now turn to their faith because they felt that things were out of their hands. Their faith. Not black masks, bricks, spray paint and hammers…. but I am getting ahead of myself. Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton, in response to people saying that the verdict was the worst thing to ever happen to her said, “No, the worst thing happened on February 26, 2012.” Her attorney added, “Last night was a decision made by six people on a jury, but that does not define her son, Trayvon Martin, and they’re going to define the legacy of their child.” Following the verdict, as many predicted, a variety of protests have broken out, and as I live in the Bay Area, the focus has been on Oakland, even though there have been daily rallies in San Francisco and other cities in the area, and in Los Angeles protestors managed to shut down the Santa Monica Freeway for a brief period of time.
The next thing that happened in Oakland was that the protests became destructive and violent. I feel that it is important to say here that I was raised by people who took part in more protests and rallies than most young people today could even imagine; and that I too participate(d) in protests (hey, we closed the 5 down in San Diego following the Rodney King trial); and I support the right to protest, to free speech, and protect one’s self from harm. Having said that, I also have to admit that I have not come all the way over to Malcolm X’s position of only being non-violent with those who are non-violent towards me, and I acknowledge that holding this position comes from a certain place of privilege. Still, I am not comfortable with proximity to violence of any sort and I know this about myself.
So, where am I going with this? Here is where I am going. “Protestors” in Oakland took it upon themselves to randomly destroy businesses in downtown, and in one restaurant, they took a hammer to a waiter’s head. Now, it just so happens that I know the family that owns the restaurant, I teach both of their daughters, and this is a family deeply involved in the Oakland and Berkeley communities and definitely in support of the position that another terrible injustice has been done by the Zimmerman verdict. This family owns several restaurants in addition to Flora (Doña Tomas, Tacayuba, Xolo) and they contribute a tremendous amount to the local area in myriad ways. And of course, knowing them makes this much more personal to me. They are a working family with several kids, why should they be targeted even if it was just collateral damage, or symbolic destruction of the “system” as these wannabe anarchists would have you believe? And hitting a waiter in the head with a hammer? Right here I am just going to have to say GTFO of here.
Alright, so that is the context. Now here is the part where I allowed myself to be fished in to a discussion with an individual whose life experience I should have accounted for: it is minimal. It went like this:
Basically, this young white girl, who is apparently an anarchist because she has colored hair, piercings, hangs around with self-proclaimed feminist vigilantes, and is raging against the machine, told me that in condemning community violence I was a white supremacist. Ironically, without getting my context, which she said was required before judgin people. She then backtracked saying she had always condemned violence and accused me, among others, of suggesting that breaking windows was the same as breaking someone’s head, and basically went on to say that the destruction of the community was the only means to change here. So our little anarchist has become a nihilist I guess. To be fair she did a lot of backtracking:
Only okay to tell me, the bougie white lady, I guess….
Sadly, she missed so much of the irony and contradictions in her own rhetoric. She would not dictate how people can express rage, but she said violence was not okay, AND she has no problem dictating other people how they should think. Then she went on the defensive talking about how she was basically the Occupy Oakland Florence Nightingale, which is nice for her.
You know what kiddo? You talk to me when you are in charge of 30 teenagers (who come from the places you purport to represent) and someone comes in your classroom with a gun. You talk to me after you have been spent days writing letters and appearing in court so that one of your students, another young black male, does not end up a victim of the system. You talk to me when you are the last line of support for kids who have lost yet another peer to violence in their community.
Then she switched tacks and took a new course:
Which basically underscored the weakness in the framework of her entire argument. She hates any imposed system. “One that is collectively, voluntarily participated in would be fine.” Oh really? You don’t say. How bloody original. Sadly, this person clearly has not studied much history, anthropology, or sociology. (Shit, she could start by just reading The Lord of Flies for goodness sakes.) Myriad people have endeavored to make that view a reality. But the flaw in the system is the free will of the human being, and the destructive influence of self-interest (whether or not one believes this self-interest to be innate is definitely a discussion for another post…)
This young lady lacks the understanding that the only way to beat any system is to truly understand it, not to react to it because reacting is easy, it is facile and weak. I spend my days (and more nights than I care to admit) working my ass off to educate kids about the dangers of the system, of not thinking about the system, and how to effect change – dramatic or otherwise – with a clear purpose and a goal. “Destroy the system!” is not a plan, and it is a diffused, confused message (and I would suggest the failure behind the Occupy Movement.)
My students and I also talk about the problems in our society that have managed to completely destroy the social contract that our country was meant to rely upon, and how this is largely a result of the aforementioned self-interest. The exact kind of self-interest that reactionary “anarchists” and “nihilists” like our Miss Armageddon are perpetuating as they continue to act and speak for others (in the precise way they say should not be allowed) to achieve their own agenda in the name of others.
And now you see how there was no way that this could be summed up in a Twitter response.
At the end of it all I take heart in responses like these:
And my personal favorite:
There is a lot to be contemplated, and even more to be fixed in our society if we are going to make it a better place, but breaking windows is not going to get that done. The young lady below – also white, though much more clear in her sense of self – has some very interesting points. (Thank you Stacy Jill for sharing):