One of my favorite books in recent memory is Richard Iton's book In Search of the Black Fantastic. It is a formidable text which ties together basic questions about black cultural politics, political theory, notions of how the public sphere has changed, and its consequences, for the long Black Freedom Struggle.
The news coverage of the black lumpen youthocracy run amok at the Ford City mall signals directly to Iton's sharp claims that:
More broadly, we must also think of how the increased availability of these pictures troubles the relationship between citizen expectations an the narrative developed by the marginalized in terms beyond the narrowly racial.
To what extent and how are members of the black middle and upper classes disturbed by imaged designed to (geo)graphically contain and specify, and naturalize supposed black lower income disorder? How do black elites respond to and, and engage with, the spectre of the nigger?Documenting these outbreaks of thuggish ignorance by young black folks in Chicago is painful for me. Albeit, once committed we must soldier on. I write not about black nihilism to participate in the spectatorship, of what is for all intents and purposes, a human zoo. Rather, I comment on these matters because om my deep commitment (both intellectually and morally) to truth-seeking.
I love black people; as such, I call out black foolishness without apology or regret. I also place black foolishness in a broader context.
America is a nihilistic and amoral society both at home and abroad. The violence perpetrated in other countries, and normalized by the mass media domestically, does, as Brother Malcolm famously said, come home to roost. Ultimately, if whole communities are marginalized economically, socially, politically, philosophically, materially, and morally then their children will behave in anti-social, aberrant, and violent ways. Garbage in more often than not equals garbage out.
In watching the the video of this most recent black flashmob brigand street pirate riot at Chicago's Ford City mall, I immediately fall back on three questions.
First, where were/are the parents?
Two, if a good civilian shot and killed one of these hoodlums, what would the narrative of "victimization" and "injustice" be among community activist types and others?
Three, when one of these youth highwaymen is inevitably shot and killed either by a peer or the police, how will he or she be valorized, and a hagiography summoned up about them, at their funeral?
The role of video technology, cell phones, and the Internet often goes uncommented upon in an era of viral videos and sites like World Star Hip Hop. The Internet and social media have allowed what were once local incidents, known to only a few, to became international stories.
Historically, the mass media is one of the key technologies of race. Radio and newspapers, TV, and other mediums have facilitated the mass circulation of images. In turn, these images have supported white supremacy while also unsettling and disrupting it.
Richard Iton's observations about the power of images to do the work of regressive politics is extremely relevant in the context of the Ford City riot. Images can be liberating. They can also reinforce racial and social marginalization.
Although all representations--whether musical, literary, visual, or political--have the potential to short-circuit, depress, or displace (by replacing) more intimate forms of engagement and communication, visual forms are particularly effective in this regards...What do we do when a not insignificant cohort of our young people have taken it upon themselves to project the worst, an image that is taken by both outsiders and insiders, as some type of "authentic" "blackness?"
Reinforced in this context would be the notion that some bodies cannot be thought of, at least for long, as genuinely suffering or capable of substantive feeling: they are in the end just bodies, objects, things that at best enable others to feel more deeply within and about themselves while and by denying the nonwhite sufferer that capacity.
There is another, related tangent that might be pursued here. These narratives, especially in visual form, might also function as a source of pleasure--like pornography--and reinforce citizen attachments to the security state as a means through which to monitor, incapacitate, control, and disappear the highlighted and hypervisible. The visual accessibility of black life, then, rather than humanizing African Americans in the eyes of others...might simply underscore citizen expectations and imaginings regarding the proper disposition of these marginal constituencies (i.e. blacks)...
Indeed, in their double effects and ambivalent impact, they are as likely to produce disidentification, in a manner that suggests the impossibility of blackness ever being seen as separate and apart from some larger narrative of disturbance, abnormality, and pathology and, in general, the futility of merely speaking--or showing--truth to power.