After I posted the article, a white friend of a white friend posted on my timeline a video of a young African American man speaking to other African Americans about "personal responsibility". This, after conceding that slavery was awful, and that some police behave badly. The core message was that conditions of black communities were their own fault.
I delete such posts when posted on my timeline. Facebook is a place of relatively open and free debate, but I don't feel responsibility to post every point of view on my timeline. I have a small (under a thousand) list of people who read my Twitter, Facebook posts and this blog. This white friend of my white friend can gather his own readers; I don't have to give him mine.
It was also obvious that the guy had not really read and thought about the story. Antonio Morgan, the guy with the auto shop was exercising all the personal responsibility and individual initiative that should have endeared him to pro-business conservatives everywhere. But he was being extorted and fleeced by a parasitic legal system created and sustained by racism.
But I digress from my intention here. I don't really want to recapitulate all the arguments over suburban St. Louis justice. And I am not really about discussing whether I should delete posts I don't like from my timeline. What I really want to talk about is how people take in other people's stories when those stories challenge their worldview.
I have come to believe that there are two big stories in contention now in our culture. One is that the system is essentially fair and good and just; the other is that it is not. In the first story, people and peoples suffer because they fail the system. The system will reward all those who exercise "personal responsibility" and punish those who do not. The poverty and suffering we see are unfortunate, but they are not injustice. If there is injustice, it small, temporary, local, and individual. In the second story, injustice, oppression, exploitation, and exclusion are the system.
There is a lot of information out there that supports the second narrative. And it comes to us through individual stories: stories that range from tiny micro-aggressions to dead bodies lying in the street. It takes a lot of mental work to maintain faith in the first story. It means that a lot of incidents, facts, statistics, experiences have to be neutralized, or batted away, or fed down the memory hole. To keep alive that story that everything is fundamentally just, a story on someone's timeline about the exploitative suburban St. Louis justice system has to be countered by a video of a black man admonishing other African Americans. Even if it doesn't speak to the point of the article. (Expect to see a lot from Dr. Ben Carson between now and 2016.)
This is not just other people. It's hard for me to take in and absorb other people's experience of oppression or injustice, especially where they challenge my own loyalties. This is why I find stories of oppression or exclusion on people of color in Unitarian Universalism so hard to take in. I want to, in some way, minimize them or explain them away.
The question that helps me is this: "What if their story is really true?"
Which of these two stories, the one about the system being essentially fair, and the one that the system is exploitative and exclusionary, can absorb the truth of the other?
|Political Junkie, Future Senator|
and mild reformer.
But I don't believe that the story that all is well, except for some minor anachronistic bigotry, can absorb the truth of North St. Louis justice system, as an on-going, fully functional, legally legitimate system of parasitic exploitation of poor African American people.
Accept that as true, really true, not an exception, but the reality, and that whole first story crumbles. And if you are not ready to make that concession to reality today, there will be another story, from an acquaintance, on your feed, or in the news, tomorrow that will do the same, if you just ask "What if it's true?"