4. To Pretend (Ferguson)

Chapter: Not Posts
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I am not at all surprised by the verdict or the various reactions to it. The optimist who I want to be sees a silver lining in what feels like a colossal miscarriage of justice: attention must be paid and how can it not be now? Of course, the pessimist who I mostly am understands exactly how it can not be.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Cases like this often present a confusing and diffuse moral landscape, one adrift in nebulous historical context. I don’t mean to offer an excuse—a bit of an explanation perhaps—for the reasoning of the grand jury or the responses (or lack thereof) of any or all of the various near and far constituencies, by which I mean pretty much every single American. The point I want to make is that it’s too easy for too many to evade moral (not to mention social) responsibility. I do not march; I am not a marcher. I do not give significant money or time to organizations that are trying to bring racial equality and rule of law into accord with each other. What I do do, and I’m not suggesting that this is a sufficient contribution, is talk and write about what’s going on.

I talk about race and racism a lot in my classes—and with my kids—sometimes when it’s germane, as it often is, but sometimes when it’s not: “The Lady with the Dog,” metaphor v. metonymy, the comma splice epidemic, these things sometimes must wait their turn. I am, modesty aside for the moment, good at this, not self-conscious about the convolutions of political correctness (intention so often ironically undermined), neither caught up in nor unaware of my own baggage (real and perceived) as a privileged white man, not judgmental (at least I try hard not to be) about anything coming out of a student’s mouth or mind that qualifies as honest human expression aimed at better understanding self and world.

The recent Ferguson news was not discussed at SmallerMan’s school—at least not in his class—because, he explains, “civics” happens on Thursdays (not this week, of course, as it’s Thanksgiving): no deviation allowed from the day’s set curriculum of American history, Jewish values (so-called), and rhetorical approaches . . . . In their defense, per the generous Skeptic: How many schools do you think did talk about it? Not in their defense: on Friday, apparently (hard to believe but why would SmallerMan make this up?), they gave each other manicures inspired by Talmudic topics. Fun?! Education happens in a fucking vacuum.

To pretend that the demographics of crime and incarceration in this country are not disproportionate in the way that they are is not a step toward a better reality. To pretend that societal structures and the deforming trickle down effect of those structures on individual and collective values has not in very large part created and perpetuated this undesirable reality is an utter catastrophe.

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