i need you for one second to remember that almost a year ago the boston marathon was bombed and 6 months later, after having had the greatest collapse in baseball history the previous year, the red sox went on to win their first world series at home since 1918 and if that doesn’t make you cry you have no soul
Ironically, when Vancouver was met with sports-related protests, not every single person should have been punished to the fullest extent of the law. Bob Whitelaw, an individual who penned over 100 recommendations for British Columbia’s attorney-general and the British Columbia Police Commission after a 1994 Vancouver riot, even considered the word use of “hooligan” as too strong.
“They talk about hooligans….Many of them seemed to be just young people who were out to have some fun and got caught up in it and that’s unfortunate.”
Of course, 2011 was not the first (or last) time people rioted over sports. Alternet compiled a list that included other instances such as, the University of Kentucky Wildcats winning the NCAA Championship in 2012 and the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004, 2007, and 2013. There are also video compilations of news coverage showcasing the differences in vocabulary used when a journalist is describing a white riot versus a black protest.
Making a musical out of the 2011 Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver, while seemingly benign, is in poor taste. It suggests that we should mould an act of mass violence into something silly – perhaps even igniting a few “I remember when I was young and…” moments.
It also signals to us what we can validate and what we always must condemn. Throughout all of this, we must question who it is we are laughing at and who it is we are laughing with. The answers may reveal a truth that most of us do not want to come face to face with.
Abraham Riesman from Vulture.com recently asked me some questions and I gave him my answers. The interview, conducted in the Vulture offices and then in a cab rushing through upper Manhattan, is hopefully a decent chunk of somewhat interesting ideas and stories.
Abraham’s questions were important – one of them so much that I decided to write this post to illuminate it further. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but Abraham asked me about gender and racial discrimination.
I’ll begin with some numbers.
An estimated thirty million gathered to bathe on Mauni Amavasya on 10th February 2013 during Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India. 1989: an estimated five to nine million gathered for the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. In 2004 an estimated three million celebrate Red Sox winning the World Series in Boston. A year before, roughly the same amount of people protest the impending US invasion of Iraq. The protest occurs in Rome.
Meanwhile, three to four thousand of people protest in New York and maybe fifty thousand in Los Angeles.
But three million in Rome.
Over two and a half million more people in Rome than in New York and Los Angeles combined. This defines one core lacking element in the current US climate: that of an organized, peaceful, widespread protest.
What if we are approaching a time – what if we are already in a time – when a peaceful mass protest can change things? Can it ever not? Look at Occupy. For all its failings, it established that Temporary Autonomous Zones can be erected and maintained; it established the now-worldwide narrative of 1% and 99%. Is changing the language, changing the operating system we are using, not enough?
It’s never enough, not until we are all living in a space where we no longer attack one another. But it is a step towards it.
Which leads me to Ferguson.
Are we finally waking up? In the past month there were at least five unarmed black men killed by police. The number of black officers on the Ferguson police force is three. The number of white officers is fifty. St. Louis ranks 15th in a list of the most black-white segregated places in the United States. The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world, now over 2.4 million – an increase of over 500% since 1980. People of color represent 60% of all prisoners. We have 5% of the world’s population but we have 25% of its prisoners.
Mass incarceration became an American business. Predatory capitalism thrives on the disenfranchised. It’s the rule of the stronger – communities weakened by centuries of abuse can’t hold as well as the ones that often benefited from the abuse in the first place. To say that slavery is over is to close our eyes before the facts of mass incarceration in the United States of America.
What we are dealing with is a disproportionate labeling of people of color as criminals. If we go back to 1998 we see CIA acknowledge that the US government allowed in the 1980s for cocaine to be smuggled into our country. Why? This statement alone exposes the “War on Drugs” for the fraud that it is. Why did the Reagan administration escalate the War on Drugs as a response to a crack cocaine crisis that the Administration itself had created by allowing these drugs to flow into our country?
The narrative of the War on Drugs helped engineer the disproportionate labeling of people of color as criminals by generating officers who often genuinely believe that people of color are to blame for our government’s scheme. The narrative of the War on Drugs helped create a system where many people of all colors and beliefs believe that African Americans are to blame for the availability of certain illegal substances in our country. From there the narrative goes further, creating paralyzing fear that infects and twists our perception of the entire community into a horror image that does not reflect the truth of the matter.
I recently watched ‘The Unknown Known,’ a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, who served as the United States Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. The first time the director catches Rumsfeld lying is around the 17th minute. Later on, Rumsfeld says something that connects with this.
“You know a narrative gets built up out there over time.”
But then there’s another quote, from a different source–
“If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.”
When Don Draper, the protagonist of Mad Men, says this, we can read his statement in a few different ways. The reading I am interested in has to do with changing the narrative that gets built up out there over time.
Mad Men is a TV show that masterfully dissects many elements of the 1960’s. We follow the relative progress of women’s rights. It’s heartening to see certain aspects changing as others stay in close proximity to the Ice Age era. The pay gap today means women are paid roughly 77% of what men are paid. The pay gap is even worse for women of color, who make about 53% of white men’s earning. The pay gap grows with age and women face it in nearly every occupation.
What else is there to do? Learn the system. Understand it. Spread the word about it. And don’t perpetuate the systems of abuse. This means we have to identify the root causes of these systems.
What do we require? To imagine systems that do not discriminate, to co-create these systems by becoming our own best examples, to work together, as a community.
What do I do to make sure I don’t discriminate? I am learning. I am telling you about this. I am examining my white male privilege. I am protesting, peacefully, and I am figuring out where my tax dollars go and how I can change that flow to make sure every single cent goes to the policies I believe in. Does it feel like enough? Not nearly. But it’s a start.
In order to affect deep change we require clarity and that can come only after we admit that the system does not work. What happens after we admit this?
We let some structures die so new ones can grow.
We see what needs fixing.
We require education reform. We require a military-prison complex reform. We require a complete dismantling of the War on Drugs. We require de-privatization of the prison system. We require total demilitarization of the police. We require peace, not violence, and definitely not indifference, which is just another way of allowing violence to happen. I say “we” but what I really mean is “I” because I am not here to speak for you. But if you don’t like what’s being said?
On June 2, 1935, George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr retired from baseball.
Over a 22-season Major League Baseball career, Ruth helped win 10 World Series with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, and batted 714 home runs, a record that he held until 1974. Two of his other records - slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging - still stand today.
In retirement, Ruth was still immensely popular, playing golf exhibition tournaments in front of crowds of thousands, and taking part in campaigns to support the troops during World War II. The baseball star also toured the country with his autobiography, “The Babe Ruth Story.” Shortly before his death in 1948, he visited Yale University and presented a manuscript of it to future-President George H.W. Bush, as seen here. His remains were laid out in Yankee Stadium and an estimated 77,000 people came to pay their respects.