The violence in Baltimore has gutted the city far more than can be seen by charred hulks of cars and buildings. A general riot like this demonstrates how a complete breakdown in order is always close to the surface – and how “order” itself is always a manufactured concept. It has to be made, it has to be worked at by everyone every day. It is hard work sometimes, too, and it starts with basic civility and respect.
Ask anyone in Baltimore, especially in the affected areas, if they are surprised by this. I doubt you’ll find a single person who is. Baltimore City Council Member Brandon Scott cited “a long, long, longstanding issue with young African-Americans.” It was a long time coming, and it will be a long time before it is repaired. But away from the teevee cameras there is a genuine movement, and it will be better. It’s going to take your help, however – even if you live far from Baltimore.
How many young blacks have to die before we do something about problems like this? In the last 400 years innumerable African-Americans have been killed by various authorities. We don’t need any more to die because we already cannot count that high. We need to act. All of us.
Where can anyone begin when talking about this? We have to deplore the riots because nights of unrest always affect those who can least afford it the most. Those living paycheck to paycheck can’t afford the missed work, those who have a modest business can’t afford to lose it to arson. A riot is never the way to solve any problems.
Still, a riot is an excellent way to get everyone’s attention. It’s hard to condemn something that simply had to happen. Do we condemn common harassment of blacks on a daily basis with the same strength of conviction? We certainly should because both are deplorable to a civilized society – and the two are directly related. My own white skin allows me the great privilege of ignoring everyday injustice, focusing on it once a major American city starts to burn. White America suddenly has no choice but to pay attention.
But pay attention to what? Let’s start with “White Privilege”. I’ve written about it before and won’t change a thing in this piece. It’s very real, but usually no more than the benefit of the doubt. It’s a small thing every day but becomes a matter of life and death when the volume is cranked up and adrenaline fuels a supposed need to separate the good guys from the bad guys on sight.
There is no more eloquent statement on what White Privilege is than this piece by Dixon D. White. The language is harsh, but it has to be. It’s also not at all what anyone expects. His whole YouTube channel is worth listening to for one simple reason – a lot of people get it, and you should, too.
What do we have in Baltimore? It’s a complete breakdown of civilization as we know it. It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight. It’s a lot bigger than the city of Baltimore, too.
Civilization is more than a stack of bricks put up in the form of buildings and cities, filled with comforting things that can burn. Civilization is the space between, the mortar that holds the bricks together and makes them into something strong. That social mortar starts with respect and ideally at least some empathy in the mix. It also comes with a realization that any city, any civilization is older than we are and should last until long after we are all gone – and concepts like wealth and privilege mean nothing in the long run.
Without this, cities are just piles of bricks which can be toppled in one violent night. Without this, civilization itself is a terribly thin line that even the bodies of 15 policemen cannot hold. Without this, we are all doomed to a short and empty life. All of us, black and white.
We must all work together to restore order. It doesn’t come from force and no amount of tear gas or bullets will truly restore order. Only justice can do that, and only respect for each other and the need for a genuine, lasting, and real order in our lives can restore it.
As Dixon D. White tells us, it’s time to take some (F’in’) responsibility, folks. All of us.