Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Baltimore

This blog post has nothing to do with video games, but I'm having trouble giving a damn about video games right now, for reasons detailed below.

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I have never had so much difficulty writing about anything. I struggled to decide where to even begin regarding the riots in Baltimore. The best I can figure is to introduce who I am in relation to the them.

I grew up right on the western edge of Baltimore city. The city/county line bisects the house where I was raised. The schools I attended and the friends I visited were generally in the suburbs, but a very significant amount of my life has otherwise been spent in the city. I am white, but grew up in a mixed race neighborhood. I am not currently in Baltimore but will be returning home shortly.

Many people, but especially those from outside Baltimore, have said that they "care more about broken spines than broken windshields." Today's riots have been preceded by centuries of violence performed against people of color, and that violence continues today. I understand the anger and frustration of the rioters, and I believe that the anger is justified. The violence that has resulted from the riots is insignificant compared the the violence that motivated them (I am referring to "violence" in a very general sense here, to include the infliction of harm beyond the physical).

However, I feel as though those who have never lived in Baltimore, who have no personal stake in the city, do not fully understand the cost of the riots. Some of those people even seem to be romanticizing them. It's hard for me to do that when its my city that's burning.

That barber shop I used to go to? Window smashed. That market I got lunch from? Looted. That cafe I once went to? Destroyed. That neighborhood I rode through on a regular basis? High school kids there got hit with pepper spray.

For some people who have never lived in Baltimore, the "broken windshields" they reference are abstractions. For me, what is being damaged by the riots are not just windshields, imaginary or literal, but actual places and living, breathing people.

That being said, while I do not condone the riots for reasons that should be obvious, it is, frankly, difficult for me to condemn them. Peaceful protest alone is not always successful. The threat of violence can make people in power more inclined to listen to peaceful activists. Not only do militant activists make peaceful protesters seem more appealing by comparison, but they provide an incentive to enact progressive change. People in power are presented with a choice - either reach a settlement with the nonviolent demonstrators today, or deal with the fire in your streets tomorrow. If you believe that peaceful protest is a magical one-size-fits-all solution to every social justice issue, I encourage you to question that belief. Every situation requires a unique response. A whole lot of rioting occurred in the 60s alongside Dr. King's peaceful demonstrations. It would be foolish to believe that riots did not impact the perception of Dr. King's faction within the civil rights movement, or that riots did not make dismantling white supremacy a more urgent issue for the general public.

However, violence is violence. I should not have to explain here why violence is bad - I do not think there is a single person watching the events in Baltimore who would not prefer a peaceful solution. However, I honestly am uncertain, one way or another, whether a purely peaceful solution is feasible. I do not know the best method for achieving racial equality. I do not know, in this context, whether or not riots are necessary to bring sufficient attention to the problem of white supremacy in America. I do not know if peaceful protest alone can be sufficient. Neither, probably, do you.

Therefore, I am reluctant to condemn the riots. However, the pain that they respond to, and the pain that they cause, are real. White supremacy is not an abstraction to most of you reading this. However, for many those of you who are of a certain age and have never been to Baltimore or Ferguson, the riot is still unreal. It is not something that has personally affected you. When Ferguson burned, the riot was an abstraction to me. This is no longer the case.

The revolution is here, but there is no glamour in it. It is real fucking ugly.

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