As I get older and older, one thing that I realize is that my desire to comment on every social issue subsides with the passing of the years. It’s not due to the depreciation of social activism in my estimation, but rather an internal response to an unwelcome thought: everything is so complex, and to be frank, I’m pretty ignorant. The response to what’s happening in Baltimore is indicative of the deleterious effect of our modern social activism. Many have shirked their responsibility to represent the truth, and others have shirked their responsibility to bleed with their fellow brothers and sisters. I have seen the impoverishment of Baltimore and marveled at the overwhelming number of poor men and women that have huddled on corners building homeless communities, while two blocks away at the harbor, tourists and well-off citizens of the city spend their days in material pursuits. Increasingly, what I have seen is an issue of class, though cloaked in the contrast of black and white. But even that is overly simplistic and indicative of my ignorance.
As one of my beloved teachers, Jamaal Diwan, recently posted: “It is an issue of human beings who have been stripped of their dignity through violence, oppression, lack of representation, intended poverty, and systems of injustice.”
To understand that is not impossible. You do not need to be of color, or poor, or disenfranchised to feel that pain. The only hindrances are the two oppressive forces in our world today: those who disregard the pain of others and those who inform others that they can never understand or truly empathize. Ironically, the same Marxist ideology that underlies our economic critiques of power, is the same Marxist ideology that underlies our limiting concepts of privilege. We are a society that is internally fragmenting due to the chaotic convergence of diametrically-opposing forces: a system of interpretation that teaches us that people have serious socio-economic issues that we need to understand, and an interpretation within that system that teaches us that understanding those issues is impossible for non-sufferers.
None of us are inside Baltimore. None of us are interacting with those folks on the ground. We’re all merely observers; we’re all watching the complex interactions of The Wire play out in real life on our television sets. And like observers, we can take one of two visits we have always been taking: to the delapitated city corners where the have-nots have been corralled and stripped of wealth and property, or to the harbor. Whichever trip we take will color our view of what’s happening.
For my part, I’m standing in solidarity with #BaltimoreUprising and #FreddieGray.