Good and Evil Racially Skewed

Al Cappone sipped CROPPED

Imagine today’s 24-hour frenetic news cycle existing on a certain December evening in 1984:

“Breaking news out of New York City – police are responding to a shooting rampage which reportedly followed an altercation on a subway train. There are reports of multiple injuries. The prime suspect is said to have fled…. Bill, what do you make of this?”

“Well, it’s yet another example of urban violence, and further proof that the modern policy of pouring more and more government aid into ghettos has created a lawless mentality.”

“Let’s open up the phone lines – Hello, Frank in Norwalk, Ct…. ‘Yes, this is why decent people don’t want to live in the city anymore. Those street thugs settle scores and don’t care about who gets shot in their crossfire. And they’ll just plea bargain it and be out of jail by tomorrow!’ ”

“This just in – the fleeing suspect has been described as the son of immigrants. Bill?

“This shows how they just aren’t going to assimilate and learn civility unless we make English our only language and stop feeding them that multicultural self-adoration!”

“Back to the phones. We have Suzanne in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Go ahead…. ‘When are we going to keep the undesirables out? Foreigners come here and breed children, like this person, who have no respect for our laws or our ways!’ ”

“We have an update – police have identified the suspected shooter as Bernhard Goetz, whose parents came here from Germany. Bill?

“Ah, another law abiding American fed up with crime. He’s a hero to us all!”…

Well, such a 180-degree turn in spin wouldn’t necessarily be that sudden, but it does characterize how the majority and their mainstream media are biased in assessing actions by shooters, drug dealers and others who do violence.

The enduring fashionableness of Al Capone is underscored by prominently posted notices outside Louisville’s acclaimed Seelbach Hotel and in the corridors of the equally elegant French Lick Springs resort 50 miles away in Southern Indiana, each boasting that the Chicago gangster had been a guest there.

Capone’s deeds rank as romantic cultural lore, and his rise has always been attributed by standard history curriculum to the unwise policy of prohibition. Yet we all know he was a killer; he got rich by ordering the murders of dozens of people to protect his control of the illegal alcohol and prostitution businesses. In one shooting he is thought to have arranged on St. Valentine’s Day 1929, seven people were killed in a Chicago garage.

A black gangster with a record like that will be known as a heartless killer. If he dresses sharply and is charismatic and admired by the poor of his neighborhood, as Al Capone was, he will still be known as a heartless killer, as well as a destroyer of neighborhood stability, a classic example of all that is wrong with black male behavior etc., etc.

And his rise will not be attributed by any consensus of punditry to the ill-advised policy of the war on drugs — well, this may be mentioned among the white mainstream, but as an afterthought. First, all agree, he is a heartless killer.

If I start to check into a hotel somewhere and see a sign bragging that Francois Cunningham or Reggie Rice, high profile Louisville drug dealers from recent years, did illegal drugs here and “you should, too,” I will turn around pronto and look for lodging elsewhere.

In 1974, the catchy pop song, “The Night Chicago Died,” by the British group Paper Lace was No. 1 on the charts of white, mainstream radio (though it is about Al Capone, it seems to mix up imagery from his life with John Dillinger’s, but then a gangster is a gangster).

Yet if a black radio station in our time plays songs glorying urban drug dealer violence, the George F. Wills scream that liberals are encouraging social degeneration by standing by and yielding to a “culture of poverty” that keeps low income youth locked in.

The feelings unleashed by the term “gangster” are of charming Americana when it is our white lore, but precisely the opposite when it is the minority’s.

“Godfather’s Pizza” was the perfectly acceptable name of a popular chain owned by black conservative Herman Cain; the TV ad slogan was “the pizza you can’t refuse!”

Some would argue that this is not any racial double standard; that today’s real life problems naturally are a scare, whereas the violence of 90 years ago is antiquity.

Well, compare two contemporary phenomena of different racial implications.

Here is mainstream culture standard bearer George F. Will’s reaction to the notorious 1989 rape and brutal beating of the woman known to us all as the Central Park jogger: “The attackers did what they did because they are evil. Today people respond: ‘Evil? such a primitive notion – not at all useful as an explanation.’ But that response is not real sophistication, it is a form of flinching. It is a failure of nerve.”

When five young black men were the suspects of a rape, it is simple evil versus the good exemplified by a productive citizen trying to enjoy a jog on a nice day.

It was a rape case which Will and other pundits nearly unanimously said exemplified a norm of the worst of the urban underclass. Now contrast that consensus with what George F. Will said 25 years later about rapes on college campuses.

Commenting on the finding that 20 percent of college women report being sexually assaulted, Will cites American Enterprise Institute numbers from the campus of Ohio State maintaining that the rate at that huge and culturally cross-sectional college was only 2.9 percent.

George Will certainly sees the value of subjecting the dominant belief on a heated issue to a second opinion – how unfortunate that he didn’t see the need to do that in the Central Park case in 1989, when everyone was so sure this was simple evil. It turned out, the horrible rape of the white Manhattan financial district professional wasn’t committed by those five black men Will had derided as heartless, insisting in that column that they “were singing rap songs in their jail cells” in a display of confidence they would get “ludicrously light” punishment. Actually, the five youth were imprisoned unjustly for terms ranging from around seven years each for four of them and 13 years for the fifth. They had never been identified by the victim, as the severe beating left her with no memory of the frightful crime. In large part, the injustice against the Central Park Five was due to a media frenzy spearheaded by Will’s yellow journalism against them.

In 2013, after the state exonerated the five, Will wrote something of an amends column. Now calling the youth “working class” and the prosecution’s case “rickety,” he acknowledged they had not committed the crime and sympathetically described how the five and the father of one of them were manipulated in 1989 by overly aggressive detectives.

The next year, however, in that column on campus rapes, instead of characterizing doubts about guilt as “flinching,” as he indignantly had after the Central Park horrors, Will, with near rabidity, lurches in the other direction. He insists the college rape crisis is exaggerated as part of a culture on the left whereby “victimhood is a coveted status.”

Inner city males fervently presumed guilty as charged. Collegiate males called misjudged due to preexisting victimhood. The pattern is consistent – race and poverty are huge factors in assessing crisis situations.

Now on to sports, the realm which first brought multi-racialism into the living rooms of contented white suburbia.

In 1977, power forward Maurice Lucas of the defending NBA champion Portland Trailblazers was picked for a Sports Illustrated cover as typifying the physical player of the type sports media had dubbed “The Enforcers.” Those two grabber words in large type topped the magazine cover next to Lucas, an African-American graduate of Marquette University.

The expansive story featured Lucas and others talking of how they spot opponents trying to intimidate their superstar teammates — in Lucas’ case, the great 6-foot-11 center Bill Walton — and give the opponent a mean look, or physical contact if required to protect the star.

LUCAS Walton FINAL comparison

“A lot of people think I’m just one of these mean guys,” Lucas told SI. “Well, I just play rough. That’s the way you play when you’re in my game.”

Fair enough; those were Lucas’ words. The provocative cover, however, forever gave that belligerent image to Maurice Lucas, who grew up in Pittsburgh. In our sound bite, clichéd society, Lucas will always come to mind first as “The Enforcer.” Meanwhile, teammate Walton, a white man from the middle class suburbs of San Diego, has constantly been noted by media as a vegetarian – shown in 1975 on the pop culture magazine Crawdaddy as an outdoorsy advocate of meatless eating.

Well, in fact, Walton’s diet did not quite make him stand apart from the rest of the NBA the way this media dichotomy would indicate. The Sports Illustrated profile of The Enforcer does not tell fans something left obscure by sports media in general; that Maurice Lucas, Walton’s teammate and close friend, also was a vegetarian, going back many years.

Two seasons earlier, commenting on his meatless diet in the publicity guide of the Kentucky Colonels, the ABA team he played for then, Lucas said: “I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of nutrition and my diet is what I feel is best for me. Meat takes too long to digest, and I’m getting the proteins and minerals I need. Plus, I feel better.”

But in the far wider media, even though reporters knew both had the same dietary habits, and both were big and aggressive on the court, Walton is the very face of vegetarianism, whereas it will suffice to characterize Lucas as the enforcer, not also as the man who thoughtfully educates himself all about digestion and health.

Even when the bulk of sports journalists are not racists, the institution is rife with racial skewing. Same for the news business.

And our finest hotels. And our pop music. And our minds.

Brian Arbenz, of Louisville, Ky., is a writer, researcher, and social justice and nonviolence advocate.


Fare Comment – Observations of a Contented Bus Rider

bus rides for BLOG

Road rage is out of my life.  Waiting in the rain is in.
Like everything else, using the bus while living without a car is a trade off. Ice on windshields early in the morning no longer has any effect on my mood. The hygiene of a total stranger seated nearby just may.
And on balance, I’ll take the bus!
Even in a city where mass transit is nominal and expanding it is nowhere on the agenda, my sole reliance on Louisville’s bus system, known as TARC (Transit Authority of River City) since selling my car three years ago has paid big benefits, and much more than just the lots of money I save.
I read during traffic tie ups, I can barely recall the tensions of hunting for parking places and I haven’t dribbled gasoline on my hands in a food mart parking lot in years.
And oh, the insights into our era I have gained during what I have decided are — The 6 Kinds of Bus Trips:

The Reality Show
If you drive a car, the combination of phones and motorized transportation means peril from texters behind the wheel. For bus riders, the blending of the most celebrated contributions of Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford lets passengers crash their privacy, not vehicles.
“Well, you can tell her the engagement’s off!” Yes, I heard a man yell that while on a TARC bus about a year ago (it was no joke; he then slammed his cell phone shut with the force of someone dumping an ex-partner’s possessions onto the curb).
Most episodes aren’t that dramatic. Some using cells gripe at their children or complain to a call center about a bill. I’ve noticed that while riding in the direction of the Hall of Justice, I hear several describe in detail why thorny legal matters to which they must attend this morning will cause them to be late to work – possibly 30 or 60 days late.

The Louisville’s Got Talent
Late on a recent weeknight, while only two passengers rode on a bus heading east out of downtown, we were treated to an a cappella version of the great Johnny Cash and June Carter song “Jackson” by the driver, inspired by his passing Jackson Street. He was good, too! His voice was dulcet and his style passionate.
His was the most enjoyable singing I’ve ever heard on a TARC bus – hint, particularly to the rider who sings the Star Spangled Banner each weekday morning on a route heading into downtown.
Yes, a man whose confidence in public far exceeded his singing ability broke into our national anthem on an early westbound Bardstown Road bus I took for the first time recently. Experienced passengers explained to me this was the gentleman’s daily contribution to patriotism, or perhaps his signal to these early morning commuters that it is time to “play ball” at their workplaces.

The Woes on Wheels
Occasionally, a trip features a comprehensive display of the miseries of our time. If you want to see the effects of recent national policies of escorting jobs out of the country while bending over backward to put tobacco, cholesterol and high carbs into neighborhoods left economically hopeless, a ride on TARC may be just the eye opener.
America’s best and brightest gave the world heart bypass surgery, MRIs and mobility chairs. Our nations’ genius also created lots of users of those innovations, because while we gushed over medical miracles, we poured research dollars into factory farming, resulting in faster, cheaper, wider distribution by the corporations whose logos sometimes beam from passengers’ fast food and supermarket bags.
Oh, and speaking of bad national priorities, “smart phone” use by riders who speak in double-negatives supports the “STEM” theory, the contention by Wendell Berry and others that an over-emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math has squeezed out genuine learning.

The Lonely Heart Club
Notice that’s not the plural “hearts.” That’s because inevitably as some rider begins trying to make time with a fetching passenger nearby, the intended recipient of the overture quickly starts checking e-mail, playing video games or taking a call – real or concocted – on their cell phone, conspicuously displaying a smile and talking in soft, affectionate tones, to indicate to the suitor that a significant other already exists in their life.
Sorry pal, you don’t even arrive at, “I have to wash my hair Friday” in this era of hand-held digital technology, aka “loser block.”

The What’s For Dinner, Grandpa?
Overwhelmingly, buses in Louisville smell okay, but there’s one line I know of which travels all day by a huge number of the metro area’s fast food places and food marts. Do the math to see why I no longer take this bus after work: if one percent of the day’s riders on this popular route break the rule against eating on TARC, by nightfall the cumulative spilled potato chips alone will overwhelm you – unless the bits of fish filets, splotches of pizza sauce and morsels of Louisville’s own 11 herbs and spices drown them out.
At least taking this line used to make for a livelier wait at the bus stop, as I would ponder what would be tonight’s entrée.

The Faith Renewed
And now: the most frequent kind of TARC ride. When I walk through the entrance of a store, entertainment spot, medical office or my workplace without bringing to the neighborhood another car, I realize I am helping keep commerce, services, cuisine and the arts there without endangering the neighborhood’s strength by swelling demand for parking lots to accommodate outsiders. I can add to the viability of existing buildings without smothering them. That’s a nice feeling which makes all the rigors of relying on bus travel well worth it.
For the opportunity to get around using a system that – whereas it needs improvements on many levels — is more economical and strengthens the aesthetics of our neighborhoods, the economic fairness of our city and the peace of our world, we should all express what I try to say to the TARC driver each time I exit a bus: “Thanks!”

This piece is adapted from Brian Arbenz’ book, “Lost And Found In Louisville: One Man’s Struggle To Find Acceptance — Or At Least His Coat.”