Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An encounter with an African American woman, discussing whuppin's in black culture as relating to Martin/Zimmerman

Which is pretty interesting, difficult, certainly an insightful and compelling issue. I'm not inclined to just dismiss it, but it appears to be a bit telling. Does she evince the very thing I'm talking about? That is, does she affirm that very "whuppin'" mentality, and as an African American? She is, it should be noted, a lawyer, a professional, I guess in a way well-to-do, definitely upper income, and her son, she is certain, won't fall into bad crowds. Her main worry, in the conversation, is of his being profiled when he is older. 

I point out that he is in more danger of being inculcated by association into some of the more violent veins of black culture than he is of suffering a bad take-down or being targetted for being black by bigots. Not to dismiss that possibility, by any means. But I imagine that he is more likely to wind up at a party of mostly blacks, being there because he is black. And that party will, in turn, be conditioned by black culture, a somewhat racist culture, with norms and standards that tend to predispose its members, such as they are (a mix of willing and unwilling participants, of self-identifiers and, certain, people who are "just people"). And some people from another vein may come to the party. Black, maybe. And violent. Maybe. And there maybe a shooting. And he may get hit by a stray bullet. And I'm thinking that danger is just as great, and probably greater.

And the problem is going to be that her defense against bigotry is going to use up any and all possible critique of black culture. And the problem with black culture is going to be that there are too many whuppin's as an accepted norm, not only of child-rearing, but as a basic logic of justice and amelioration. A logic of retributive justice. 

Her response, as I said, was that the rise in black crime is due, as far as whuppin's go, to the rising injunction against corporal punishment, spankings. Blacks are no longer able to make use of an important disciplinary tactic: beatings, or merely spankings (I actually think she stopped herself from saying "beatings" at one point), leading to an improperly raised sub-segment of black males (predominantly) who are too violent for want of this practice in their upbringing. 

I do find the basic endorsement of the practice questionable, to say the least. At the same time, I'm just as prone to critique the anti-whuppin' culture as well, insofar as it favors a "time-out" approach (as opposed to what I call ensubstantiation, or gettin' all substantive on a kid's ass when they do something wrong, as a part of remediation or Ubuntu-type justice) . The "time-out" approach favors a seemliness that has every tendency to lead into bigger times out, in the form of imprisonment culture, as kids get bigger and their mis-deeds become more consequential, just as the logics of beatings play out in more serious ways when they feel wronged or wrong someone when the stakes are higher: adult and late-adolescent "whuppin's" take new and more deadly forms, especially when guns are available. She did not wish to attribute the spikes to the availability of guns, by the way. No, she seemed pretty set on defending whuppin's, although frankly I doubt that she beats her son. Interestingly enough.

I don't doubt, however, that she supports the criminal justice system, which is massive, bloated edifice of systematic violence, often masquerading as "nonviolence" in the form of incarceration of various kinds, oiled and smoothed out with psychotropic drugs for the population who can't take it. Et cetera.

So the question I'm asking is: was she in a way speaking for black culture in endorsing whuppin's? I won't bother with the critiques of this general approach by thinking African Americans. I'm just more interested in  illuminating this basic situation and asking the pointed, difficult question of whether and how this was a "teachable moment", so to speak, as regards that aspect of black culture that does not enjoy what any broad cultural entity should enjoy: critique. "Enjoy" is, of course, a funny word to use here, but I like it. 

I think that withholding critique of black culture in the name of lining up into the ranks of the cause of anti-bigotry is, at the minimum, needful. I liken the situation to there being an elephant in the room covered with a big, brightly colored blanket. That blanket is the cause of anti-bigotry. The elephant, the positive norms and practices of black culture, insofar as it is a definite entity, a culture in which people enlist, on the basis of color of skin or not. 

But this problematic, in the end, and in the beginning, is not really specific only to black culture. It is just another instance of a status quo that has yet, in a way, to be adequately named. It is a certain stasis, a stalemated position in which a glaring lack of progress issues from a too thoughtless business of taking the usual sides and pushing, without bringing those sides into view and seeing how they work together to form a system or economy. The general condition is something like modernism cum post-modernism, where the later simply designates reflective progressivism that is tinged with a fairly thorough-going suspicion, coupled with greater conceptual adumbration and subtlety. 

The condition I mean to instantiate here is post-postmodern and entails what I call nonviolence thoughtaction. I find it needful to articulate these nominations as it seems somehow essential to the territory, while the failure to launch of this kind of approach appears to lie in the difficulty of managing the issues involved, having adequate umbrella terms and getting one's bearings in this kind of space. 

As for the substance of the issue, whether whuppin's are a problem, well, I'd say they are. They lead to a logic of fear, a failure to really solve things, the idea that one does the right thing simply in order to avoid getting beaten. It leads to later, higher-stakes whuppin's, playing right into the ultimate whuppin's: shootings, solitary confinement, languishing in prison, infinite detention, and really, endless wars. Hardly strictly matters of black culture. Which is a fitting point to make, as it should be a general MO of such critique that it does not issue from a focus solely on racial issues, and must make reference to transcendent generalities. This issue, the a problem, indeed, of/for transcendence and thought, is part of the founding conditions of this problematic, the failure to broach which is leading to a whole series of intractable problems we are being forced to witness again and again, be they in the form of persistent problems in black culture, the prisons, the wars, economic stases, etc.

In approaching someone of the usual orientation, one gets, unsurprising, the usual. The usual stance. The usual arguments, the usual causes, played out until they either reach pay dirt or give up and move on to other causes in which to deploy the same arched, single-minded stances. Witness, for example, the strangely mute muttering of Democracy Now, potentially a harbinger of the cessation of the Martin/Zimmerman story: in a recent segment, an "important" bit of evidence was reported: Zimmerman, according to an *anonymous source*, was considered by that source to be racist. That's about the whole of that bit of evidence. Someone called on the phone and said, basically, "I'm not giving my name, But he's racist". And that's news. And Democracy Now will drill to that depths and then pull out the drill bit, if necessary, and move on to other issues. But they will not, absolutely will not, and probably can not, bring into view the whole drilling operation as such.

To do that, to bring the drilling operation into view, requires another approach altogether, which is why, I suggest, the nomination of a kind of post-postmodernism and nonviolence thoughtaction is necessary. Gravely necessary, as evidenced by the wars, by countless (or nearly countless) black on black and black on white killings, by the prisons, by infinite detention, by solitary, by the failure to support nonviolence-based revolution in places where this is, in fact (I suggest), the most critical thing and the only actionable policy, as I think is the case in Syria. 

So for me this is not your usual topical engagement; it is another instance, stepping foot momentarily, in the issue of black culture as such, but moving on to other things in the process. This stance pretty much absolutely requires the affirmation of the usual progressive causes: anti-racism, anti-war efforts, even prison activism. I include the last with a bit of trepidation simply because the movement, such as it is, is so incredibly weak and because most strident Leftism is in such a kindred spirit with the very logic of imprisonment, in which it really just turns into "finding the real killers" and putting *them* in the same prisons. A mess? More than a mess. A system that requires transcendent thought to even bring into view. But isn't transcendence a word usually reserved for spirituality?

Indeed it is. Indeed it is.