UPDATE, Monday, February 17: It occurred to me this morning while watching Chris Cuomo's uncomfortable interview with George Zimmerman (who framed his answers to even the simplest questions with a painful reticence) that we may be having the wrong debate here. I'm now thinking the Dunn shooting is less closely related to the Trayvon Martin case than to mid-January's killing of moviegoer Chad Oulson. Oulson, you'll recall, was shot by retired cop Curtis Reeves after Reeves confronted Oulson over his cell phone usage and Oulson responded by throwing popcorn at Reeves. Seems to me both shootings, Dunn and Reeves, were really about the degradation of civility in public life and the inclination on the part of many of us to say "SCREW YOU!" when corrected over our boorish behavior (e.g. loud "thug" music, inappropriate or obnoxious cell phone use), etc. Now please reread that line and understand that I mean only what it says and no more: I am not contending that loud black teens or yuppie cell phone abusers deserve to be shot dead. I am merely noting the likelihood of such confrontations in a nation in which (1) consideration of those around us seems increasingly rare, and (2) there are an estimated 300 million guns in circulation, so each
armed citizen who takes a stand knows that the person he confronts may well be packing,
too. ... In fairness to Oulson, by the way, he was merely texting his babysitter. But some people are fed up with rule-stretchers as a class, and have become self-appointed Enforcers of Decorum. ... Mark my words, if the FAA follows through on its plan to lift restrictions on airborne cell phone usage, you'll see more and more of these heated confrontations...thankfully, one thing missing in mid-air (at least we hope) will be the gun...though who knows what may happen once the plane lands and fliers have access to their checked bags.
The real OGs ("original gangstas"): St. Valentine's Day massacre.
Pitts is writing here about Dunn/Davis, specifically's Dunn's use of the term thugs to characterize the young black men blasting music from the adjacent car that night:
"What [Dunn] describes, of course, is the great Catch-22 of African-American life. They decide you're a thug from the moment you're born, so they lock you up in disproportionate numbers. Then they point to the fact that you are locked up in disproportionate numbers to prove that you're a thug."I'm not arguing that the columnist's point is altogether without merit. But I submit that there's no hope for the true dialog that everyone claims to want if the paranoiac, blame-shifting paradigm embodied in those lines is the authorized (and only permissible) lens through which black crime and social dysfunction can be viewed. In this context, as with most calls for an "open dialog" nowadays, the phrase translates to "let's have an open dialog [monologue?] about how irredeemably racist you whites are, though you go to great lengths to deny it, even to yourselves..."
First off, to deal with Pitts' most directly stated point, when I was a youth, the thugs were Italians. Wops, as we were known. I dare say there remain any number of culturally prominent Italians, including most of the alumni of Jersey Shore, who still qualify for the thug label. Snooki and the girls, too. Maybe Snooki and the girls in particular.
So thug does not always = black. It can refer to blacks, of course, if they're, well, acting thuggish, which not a few young blacks in certain settings surely do these days. Such blacks can be said to have acquired the thug label the old-fashioned way, if I may paraphrase the famous Smith Barney ad: They earned it. But the word does not translate to black, certainly not to "the N word," and any contentions to that effect are defensive, PC overkill. Regardless of who's doing the contending.
“There is nothing more painful to me … than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”Cosby, meanwhile, has long chastised black youths for the manner in which they comport themselves in their "streetcorner culture." Here's a highlight:
"People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something? ... Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body? ... What part of Africa did this come from??
"We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans. They don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail."Is it overstating to propose that Cosby's provocative torrent of words reduces to the single word, thug? (Here's another link for those who may think I'm quoting out of context.)
As Cosby suggests, an open dialog about race must be one that admits the possibility of some black culpability, and does not seek to excuse every form of black failure by (1) tracing it back 300 years to its roots in slavery, and/or (2) linking it to poverty/oppression. These inquiries should not be driven by political correctness or the demands of social engineering.
The statistics on black crime are sobering, and one wonders why we are pressured to construe them solely in terms of racism or some other virulent environmental injustice. (Keep in mind that blacks constitute just 13% of the U.S. population. By the NAACP's own admission, blacks are arrested at nearly six times the rate for whites, and as of 2001, one in six black men had been incarcerated. In fairness, the page also includes the NAACP's explanation for this phenomenon, which will resonate with Leonard Pitts sympathizers.) In other settings in life, we accept statistics more or less at face value, without straining to rationalize or excuse them. In my case, I am charged prohibitively more for life insurance because of my age (63+) and the fact that I've had a stroke. It doesn't matter what kind of shape I try to keep myself in, or how diligent I am in taking my meds and watching my diet; New York Life could care less. All they know is that men my age die a lot more often than men age 25. Especially men my age who've already got one stroke under their belts (or above their collars). Similarly, the fact that your 17-year-old son may be the best driver this side of Indy and you put him in the rough equivalent of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle won't stop Allstate from using its good hands to extract an awful lot of lucre from your pockets in premiums. That's because of what the stats reveal about other 17-year-old males. Is this bigotry? Or is it a commonsense response to what the data say? I could name dozens of other circumstances in which we're allowed to draw such ipso facto inferences from data, but that would be overkill on my part.
Even in academia, which supposedly exists to expand the boundaries of human knowledge, we're not allowed to go anywhere near the research of, say, the late Nobel laureate William Shockley or Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray, co-authors of The Bell Curve. (You do not tend to see those names come up in Black Studies curricula, except perhaps to disdain their motives and discredit their work. And again, I'm not saying that Shockley and Murray were right. I'm just saying that they did the research, and they claim to have done it honestly, and if our dialog is "open," it should be open to their conclusions, too.) Nor are academics fond of research into a so-called "violence gene." That's another dialog we cannot have with regard to any sector of the population, because the implications are irreconcilable with our a priori social goals. Also, while I'm on the subject, feminist academicians have historically been hostile to all inquiries that seek to document hard-wired differences between the genders. Let the science, if it exists, be damned!
A related point, and one that I know I've fallen back on before, so forgive me. I'm just reminded of Bill Maher's timeless line about the "profiling" of Muslims at the airport:
"Let's face it, those planes weren't hijacked by 19 guys named Sven."Yes, that is dangerous thinking. I agree. It can have disastrous consequences for innocent people if applied on a universal scale. But does such thinking not even deserve a hearing in our search for answers to the threat of terrorism? That's not rhetorical. I'm asking.
Incidentally, as a Caucasian, I am a member of a large group that trails another large group, Asians, in the hierarchy of intelligence posited by Hernstein and Murray. And you know what? Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong, but if they're right, I simply don't care. What is, is, and anyway, I'm me. I'm an individual, not my group. (See my dissertation on my refusal to take pride in my Italian heritage.) On the other hand, I happen to be substantially taller than your typical Asian, so I lucked out there.
Bottom line is, if we're going to have an "open dialog," it needs to be truly open, which is to say, no-holds-barred. And let the thugs fall where they may...
* Do not be misled, however. Although I wasn't in court, I think Dunn is guilty as sin.
** I'm not squeamish about the actual word, and I think the bowdlerized form looks more than a bit silly on the page. I just think it's high time that we all stopped using the slur itself...though I must insist on the Blazing Saddles/Gang Starr exception.