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Restoring Order

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.

Scene from the McDuffie Riot in Miami, 1980

Scene from the McDuffie Riot in Miami, 1980

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.

Let's all pray for the same things - and all be thankful for our gifts.

Let’s all pray for the same things – and all be thankful for our gifts.

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.

18 thoughts on “Restoring Order

      • I want to “appropriate” this paragraph entirely from you, because I think it is very well said and more people need to hear this:

        “Who really knows when the lives of black people will be recognised and understood. I personally don’t think they ever will be. I don’t mean to come across so pessimistic, but having recently watched Selma, set in the mid 1960s, and looking at America today, how much has REALLY changed? Again, I don’t mean to undermine the work of the great MLK, Rosa Parks, Malcom X because I know things HAVE changed , but it gets to a point where it is actually just tiring, fighting for your right as a human being, just because of the colour of your skin. It is 2015 and being black is clearly still a crime. They love to appropriate the culture but find it difficult to embrace the people. “

  1. I agree that change is very necessary because the prejudices placed against black people are unacceptable. However, I think its going too far to say the riots “had to happen”. Living less than an hour away from Baltimore, I’ll be the first to say the protests destroyed property, built greater distrust between black youth and law enforcement, and disrupted the lives of modest hard working people trying to get by. The peaceful protest that was intend had a much stronger message. Violence never was the answer. The atrocities committed by the police are a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Which act of violence ever created understanding?

    • Perhaps that is a bit much. But back in 1980 I heard that a lot after the McDuffie riot in Miami. The feeling was that no one would pay attention to the problems until it was obvious, making a riot inevitable. Perhaps Baltimore isn’t quite the same, sure, but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.
      The peaceful protests have been very powerful, and I do think we need to emphasize them more. That’s the one thing I’d change in this piece if I had a chance to edit it again. However, I’m not exactly one to condemn the violence in the first place because I don’t see what people honestly expect when they let civilization break down – and I do NOT mean a breakdown in any “broken window” sense of the word.

      • Thank you for your well thought out and comprehensive responses 🙂 I really appreciate the fact that I understood another perspective from reading your complete thoughts. I wish more people were willing to address pressing issues as you are and to engage other perspectives. I agree that the riot brought so much more attention to Baltimore and the frustration was very evident. Reading your thoughts made me read more sources regarding the justified frustrations of people rioting in the streets.

  2. I really like Dixon White! I would love to have a beer and some bar-b-que with him. Sounds like he has been on a journey of his own. The whole country needs to be on that journey as he said. Good man!

    • If you buy, I’m sure he’d be there! 🙂 Seriously, he’s a good man who just speaks his mind. We need to talk about his openly, and his voice is definitely needed.

  3. Racism is killing us. I can’t imagine being afraid of the police constantly just because of who I am. There are so many other problems in places where poor people and especially those of color are concentrated its unimaginable what it must be like to add fear on top of all that. I can see why it blows up and people start looting and burning even though it is wrong and only hurts those who can least afford it. Maybe everyone will wake up after this and change will happen but it’s a shame it comes to this so much.

    • Amen. And I don’t think white people can ever really understand what it’s like to be black in America, which is why we have so much trouble talking about this the way we have to.

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