Sometimes I gotta laugh, other times I wanna cry. I bounced back and forth between these two sentiments all week. Let me start with the emotional work of the week which was watching Baltimore riot after the funeral of Freddie Gray last week. The disturbing particulars of his death have been thoroughly explored I think in the responsible media, however the riot in Baltimore that took place afterwards I think has been viewed through the prism of race and class, through which any act of violence is always deplorable and the utter isolation of entire black and brown populations are tolerated.
President Obama, who has the unenviable task of being a black president in a structurally racist country, immediately condemned the violence. Here’s his remarks
To be fair the president needed to uphold te principle of law and order, but I think he missed another teachable moment when he called the rioters looters and thugs, not taking their hopelessness and despair into the equation – at least to my satisfaction. I’ve taught in Baltimore at the Maryland College of Arts (MICA) and needed to catch a bus back to New York after class in a part of town not more than a few blocks from when the riot occurred. This neighborhood makes the worst parts of the South Bronx, or Detroit look charming. Anyway the folks there live lives of quiet desperation, and if we’re to say their response to Gray’s murder was not acceptable then at least we should agree that the response was predictable.
Two reactions that speak to the legitimacy of violence as a tool to instigate positive social change caught my eye this week. One was from MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry in which she cited the Stonewall riots as a time when a violent protest gave new life and energy to the gay rights movement, a year after the riots the first pride parades began in New York. The second came from comedian D.L. Hughley when I think he dismantled an argument on the right that the riots occurred because of the breakdown of the black family. He points to the much more violent riots of the 1960’s when the black family was more intact to make the comparison between civil unrest then and now. Not surprisingly its the endemic poverty in communities of color than and now which are the same. See his complete comments here:
While no one would immediately condone violence in the form of a riot I think logically one has to admit to its effectiveness – especially when a besieged population has nothing to lose. I think we can look to our own much vaunted very violent American revolution, or the revolutions of the Arab Spring – which we supported (see Obama praise Tahrir Square here) – as examples.
Okay so I’ll end this post with what made me smile so much this week. I’ve become obsessed with this drag queen comedian on YouTube named William Belli. I’m probably pretty late to the party in appreciating him. He’s sort of a Daniel Tosh a dress. I find YouTube to be a place of absurdities and I love it when someone can come along and reduce all the craziness in nice little snippets. Saves me the trouble of shifting through all those videos myself. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite episodes of his “Beatdown” show, until next time…