Is the National Fabric a Bit Threadbare?
I have wanted to start an essay that grew out of a discussion I had with Queen Brandi on Twitter. I had made a comment about Freddie Grey, jackpot justice and raising better kids. QB challenged this and suggested that I was likely being racist. Normally, I’d blow off such a comment or even make fun of it. But I had spoken to Brandi before, she’s nice, and I decided that 140 characters doesn’t allow for much elucidation. So I promised I’d write a more detailed critique.
Book obligations and other distractions intervened, so this is about 2 weeks late. It is also not what I first thought I’d write. An otherwise insignificant event intervened and changed the essential direction of my thoughts.
Late on a lazy afternoon, after a day on the beach, Lynn and I were trying to decide whether to have dinner out or grill up some steaks at the house. We compromised on cocktails and postponed the decision about where to eat.
We stopped at an Irish pub. There were a few people in the pub. Some coming from the same beach we just left. There were some crew members from an oil tanker tied up at Pascagoula and there was a sad barfly.
This creature was particularly pathetic. She looked to be about 30, going on 55. She was very pretty once, probably the apple of somebody's eye. Now she was a cross-eyed drunk who, we learned later, had spent an entire beautiful day in a dark bar. She had no muscle tone and was wearing a dirty shirt and what looked like her mom's stretchy pants.
We weren't there a full minute when this clearly loaded creature yells out, " I got niggers in my family tree. And they’re still hangin' there."
Now, I have gotten into more than my share of barroom brawls at times like this because I can't resist telling a loud drunk to quit being an asshole. But on this day I had Lyn with me. The first thing I did was to step far enough from the bar to be sure that we would not be in the line of fire if a mug or a bottle were thrown at the drunk chick.
My second reaction occurred inside my head and surprised even me. I immediately thought, how many are there of “us” left?
By “us”, I mean normal, relatable people. This girl (too immature to be called a woman) suddenly represented far too many people in this country. I say that even setting her drunkenness aside. I say that even setting aside her dumb joke. (I’m not one to be shocked by jokes, even stupid ones. Show me a joke that doesn’t come at somebody’s expense and I’ll show you an unfunny joke.) Aside from her obvious intent to be offensive, no one was even paying attention to her.
The “us” I was thinking of are stable, productive, pleasant, mature adults. How many adults are there that don’t think Duck Dynasty, or the like, is a significant cultural signature of present-day America? Who actually believes that the standings in Dancing With the Stars should be in the headlines on news channels? How many are left who don’t live their lives inside the electronic echo chambers of their Facebook groups or Twitter follows? How many adults still even conscientiously notice race BEFORE getting to know someone? How many people actually believe that what a politician says about his/her religion is true? And despite the fact that we all know that the only real football fan is an Eagles fan, how many fully functional adults still truly realize that the measure of a person is not indicated by the team one chooses to follow? And on the subject of sports, who is left sickened by the amount of our hard-earned treasure being heaped on professional sports figures? How many pay it without a thought? How many folks are more concerned by that which entertains than they are the impact they’ll leave when they assume room temperature?
In case you are asking if I truly mean to offend; YES! I am comparing you/us to the drunk chick. Because if I have offended you, if I have lost more than half my readership with my last paragraph, that speaks not well about where we are as a people; not well at all. I’m the guy who thinks the film Idiocracy is a documentary.
I have had conversations with responsible people, people who work in important posts vis a vis the military and the government, who think UFC and MMA on TV is more than just steroid induced lunacy intended to entertain a drooling, unthinking public; bread and circus. They discuss reality TV as if it were real. They are actually held in suspense about outcomes. Am I crazy to be disturbed by this?
So what the hell does all this have to do with Grey and Baltimore and my discussions with Brandy? Well. I’ll tell you.
I think the most important question I asked above was about leaving an impact. Let’s face it, not everyone can be a political leader or sports legend or a V-shaped, laureate writer like myself. (Of course I am kidding about being V-shaped or a laureate. And as a writer, I am a legend in my own mind.)
No, we the unwashed must satisfy ourselves with making right that small corner of the world we inhabit. And the most important thing we can do there is raising proper kids. But do we?
In the interest of full disclosure, I got off easy, in a manner of speaking. My kids grew up with me 300 miles of more away for much of their lives. Their mother did an amazing job. Again, easy only in a manner of speaking. But I contributed what I could.
But, by and large, when we see tragedies like Freddie Grey, the bulk of the commentary is on Freddie or the cops.
Before I ask the obvious question, let us all stipulate that when you lock eyes with a police officer and then bolt, even the most honest and forthright cop is going to give chase. Whatever was on Freddie’s mind that day, we’ll never know. But it wasn’t good. He had a record and, for some reason, thought someone had gotten the drop on him for something else, I know not what. Too many people try to make the excuse that all black men fear cops and that’s why he ran. If that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to swing a cat in most places and not hit a black guy running down the street like his hair was on fire. And happily, that is not the world we actually live in.
So who raised Freddie Grey? And while my real disgust is reserved for the City of Baltimore, and the mayor and prosecutor who took a tragedy and turned it into a circus by making themselves the stars of the show, I was also critical of Grey’s family and called the $6.4M buy out for what it was: jackpot justice.
Brandy asked if I had no heart for the family. Generically, of course I did. To lose a son, no matter the circumstances, is a heartache no parent should bear. But the story ends the way it does because two things happened. Somebody raised Freddie (the parents’ contribution) and the City of Baltimore turned his death into a circus and gave credence to all the scum that used the circus as an excuse to steal and destroy (the inexcusable result).
Under these circumstances it is standard procedure for cities, indeed legal necessity, to avoid admitting or paying on anything for as long as possible; years perhaps. To do other would open up an avenue for less than honest citizens to empty the city coffers. If you don’t think there are shyster lawyers and cynical citizens praying for a misstep by the Baltimore police right now, you are pathetically naive.
And that’s just one of what is becoming the common example of the pebble effect. We don’t teach our kids, they grow without direction, and more than our little corner of the world gets messed up. Then the ripples start to merge. Tell me how hard it is to raise a kid. I’ll show you no heart. It has to be done. And a better job was done consistently, decades ago than is done now, and with a tenth of the help now available.
AND…all that was just one example inspired by my friend Brandi’s question. But, with that in mind, go back and look at my questions in paragraph 10 again. Extract any one as an example as I did with the parenting question. To what influences are we subjecting ourselves and our kids? Are we in the Idiocracy? Or is there a colony of regular people standing by to show me the error of my assessments and complaints?
I REALLY want to know what you think.
In the meantime, I have to run. There’s a Dawg the Bounty Hunter rerun coming on and I have to catch up on my Trump tweets.
Matt Jordan is a travel writer, political commentator and author of 16 20 24. Get your SIGNED copy here! A book on his travels in Mexico and Belize will be released in the Fall of 2015.
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