Monday, July 29, 2013

The Left's commitment to a race-based narrative

Detroit and New Orleans, two famous--of not legendary--American cities that each spawned unique cultural phenomenons, that were both major hubs of industry and commerce. The Motown sound came out of Detroit, while New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz and, really, of the blues as well. These musical developments were a reflection of the multiculturalism both cities were known for, particularly with regards to the African American communities in each. At the same time, both cities went through massive periods of economic growth, boom times really, that played a role in the way such music developed and became nationally and internationally recognized and accepted.

Andrew O'Hehir at Salon discusses these two cities, their cultural and economic contributions, and their downfall, then offers up an admittedly nonsensical conspiracy theory in this regard (my boldface):
Is it pure coincidence that these two landmark cities, known around the world as fountainheads of the most vibrant and creative aspects of American culture, have become our two direst examples of urban failure and collapse? If so, it’s an awfully strange one. I’m tempted to propose a conspiracy theory: As centers of African-American cultural and political power and engines of a worldwide multiracial pop culture that was egalitarian, hedonistic and anti-authoritarian, these cities posed a psychic threat to the most reactionary and racist strains in American life. I mean the strain represented by Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” (imagine what he’d have to say about New Orleans jazz) or by the slightly more coded racism of Sean Hannity today. As payback for the worldwide revolution symbolized by hot jazz, Smokey Robinson dancin’ to keep from cryin’ and Eminem trading verses with Rihanna, New Orleans and Detroit had to be punished. Specifically, they had to be isolated, impoverished and almost literally destroyed, so they could be held up as examples of what happens when black people are allowed to govern themselves.
While he seemingly admits this theory is basically nonsense, he nonetheless allows that some--on the Right--would be more than happy if it wasn't nonsense, are willing in fact to entertain the narrative as more or less accurate:
I do, however, think that narrative has some validity on a psychological level, and that some right-wingers in America are so delusional, so short-sighted and, frankly, so unpatriotic and culturally backward that they were delighted to see those cities fail and did everything possible to help them along.
He further argues that the failures of both cities have been framed by "many mainstream commentators" (his words) as "black stories." He offers no examples, no evidence for these claims, mind you, he just puts his opinion out there as consistent with the facts. And even as he allows that the problems besetting both cities can be attributed to the failures of local government leaders, he minimizes these actual facts in favor of his own unsupported narrative. He concludes the piece--which is entitled "Why the Right Hates Detroit," by the way--thusly:
I think the collapse of Detroit makes us look the way we looked after the national humiliation of Katrina: like a bitter, miserly and dying empire where the deluded rich cling to their McMansions and mock the suffering of the poor while everyone else fights over the scraps, and where the slow-acting poison of racism continues to work its bad magic.
But the facts are still the facts. Let's review a few of them.

With regard to New Orleans and Katrina, the local levee boards misspent millions upon millions of dollars across decades, dollars that were supposed to go to levee repair and improvement and instead went to fund things like golf courses and casinos or went simply into the back pockets of local leaders. Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was not a dying city in the way Detroit was and is, at all. But the destruction and aftermath of the hurricane laid bare just how deep the corruption ran in New Orleans, corruption that was always known to exist but was often ignored or romanticized by people like Mr. O'Hehir. Propped up by tourism dollars and the State and Federal governments, New Orleans was not an example of failed black leadership, it was an example of failed liberal leadership.

And this is just as true of Detroit, a city that has been floundering for decades but whose political class has been unwilling to actually address the core problems, mostly because it was responsible for creating those problems. As the auto industry began to change in the 1970's, the political class in Detroit--eager to hold on to power--simply pretended nothing was changing. It continued on a path of unsustainability, putting the city into deeper and deeper debt, based on fantasy assumptions about future economic growth. Dopey "revitalization" programs never came close to having the effects they were supposed to have and indeed represented a negative return on investment, by any standard. But such ideas were the totality of the platforms of those in power; the general populace accepted such lies because local leaders were supported by state and national leaders on the left. Thus, Detroit's failures were the failures of its liberal leadership, as well.

It is impossible to deny the racial elements in this tale. But contrary to O'Hehir's claims, it is not the Right that clings to race as an issue, it is the Left. Why? Because waving the race-flag is a powerful tool. It allows people--like him--to simply ignore the facts in order to fashion a narrative that excuses the people actually responsible for the problems in both cities, while simultaneously launching attacks on political opponents.

Look through O'Hehir's piece again. There is not a single person or source actually identified who is expressing "delight" over the failures of Detroit or New Orleans. Indeed, I find just the opposite on the Right: sadness, anger, and frustration are the norm. And those on the Left are not much different, for the most part, with regard to Detroit. The real difference is the existence of people like him--people actually a part of the "mainstream media," for Salon is nothing if not mainstream--using the situation in Detroit as a basis for phony narratives, using Detroit to drum up business for the race merchants.

There are, I'm sorry to say, many outright racists on the political Right. Of course, they exist on the Left, as well. Whenever they appear, it's fair to expose, ignore, or attempt to marginalize them, as the circumstances dictate. But holding on to race as a political club, as it were, that's the sole province of the Left. And those who wield such a club do so because it sustains their own egos, because it affords them easy access to political capital, or both.

Cheers, all.