May 09, 2013 - Issue 516 Meme Dimensional Confusion in a Black World - Nafsi ya Jamii - By Wilson Riles - BC Columnist

On Sunday’s CNN Newsroom, Don Johnson (the anchor) (black and out-gay) had on two other folks who – for whatever reason – seemed to embrace some “rivulets” of black-cultural presence to talk about black youth deaths and terrorism (?) in urban “hoods.” These neighborhoods are otherwise known as “neighborhoods near where white people want to live.” Those where black youth die and no white people are around are never heard of except in the same seemingly inexplicable rising and falling annual statistics. This show is as black culturally as any minute of commercial TV time any where ever gets. I have to say that it was pleasing to see three handsome, healthy black faces on the screen all at one time – for a long time. After catching everyone’s eye with a quick interview of Michelle (MO) – in a garden setting – Don brought out Rasheda Ali (female boxer and daughter of Mohammed Ali) and L. Z. Granderson (CNN Contributor) with his collarbone length Dred locks.

I was rather rapidly shocked back from a pleasant “dream state” to this much skewed reality that was being presented when Don and his guests began to speak. It started innocently enough with the First Lady saying “Every day (children in Chicago) wake up…everyone of them…wake up and wonder whether they are going to get to school alive…millions living in these circumstances and we have to embrace these kids.”

Rasheda, next, talked about her program to get youth from “the hood” into boxing and karate classes to learn civil behaviors [which is noble but wrong, more later] and then astounded me by referring positively to something she admitted to know nothing about, the Los Angeles Comprehensive Gang Strategy. Don followed this by stating that he and L. Z. felt that these violent groups of African American teenagers and young adults needed to be treated as if they were terrorists because they are terrorizing the community. I am now at the apex of my shock! I do not think that I have ever heard such meme confusion in my life which contributed so disruptively to clear understanding of the obvious nature of violence. And coming out of the mouths of beautiful people with authentic claims on blackness was too much!

The First Lady’s word was embrace “these kids.” There is a powerful feminine meme encapsulated in that word. Don Johnson flashed her interview-presence past us as if he was spreading holy incense for a people who have only noses that include olfactory glands and which do not connect to their brains. It was a “we are in a caring zone” mood he wanted. From then on the First Lady was ignored.

Ms. Ali seemed to have linked to a deeper, older “idle hands” meme; she deeply personalized and concentrated it into what had kept her and many person’s – particularly young men’s – hands and moments busy: with boxing and karate. She truly believed that expressions of violence can be sufficiently channeled into a relatively benign activity such as boxing (the gloves are padded and sometimes the heads too). Since not everyone goes professional even though that is held out to be desirable, boxing can be considered benign. I know that professionals have died in the ring. Self involvement and this mission seem to have blinded Ms. Ali to the violence and death that emanates from all sectors and all educated and socioeconomic levels of Western society. So her answer is totally self training to keep the violence acceptable. Organized groups in this Western culture often engage in disciplined “keep hands from being idle” behavior and have elements that exhibit increased lethality and subtlety as one looks up the socioeconomic levels. Applying the “idle hands” meme has rarely made more than a marginal, temporary impact on youth violence or any violence and the impact that arises is dependent on the current juvenile popularity of the activity and its degree of effortless availability.

Although she didn’t specify the part, Rasheda stated that she agreed with part of what both Don and L. Z. said. I hope it was that the community was being terrorized. She stated emphatically that she did NOT agree that using antiterrorism tactics was the way to proceed with the young black men in Chicago. For her, such was a misuse of the term, terrorism. In other words she must have been saying that “terror” applies in terms of its impacts but not in terms of source-agency. “American” “blind spots” are tricky; Ms. Ali refused to give these young black men much agency in their behavior. Yet she, Don, and L. Z. attributed “foreign” young men who face similar waves of societal impingement at the same time of their juvenile growth much personal agency. Also, national U.S. source-agency in committing and furthering terrorism was on no one’s table in this discussion; barely voiced were the forces, or the lack of them, in urban areas that result in lethally harmful behavior.

Terrorism is always, ultimately, left “in the eye” of the target. “You know it because you experience it.” Having been a part of a family who lost a promising black male to street violence, Ms. Ali knows terror well. Yet she would not go all the way with the two CNN employees: that a young black man in the “hood” is a suspected terrorist and/or they and their associates should be treated like terrorists or as members of terrorists’ cells. What she is unfortunately not aware of is that such is exactly how the Los Angeles Comprehensive (evidenced-based) Gang Strategy treats young black and brown men and their associates! The truth is that the U.S. army attempted to use handheld computers in Iraq that were first designed with software programs for gang surveillance and identification in Los Angeles.

From the prospective of members of target communities where so-called terrorists are relatively un-camouflaged members, the view is significantly different. The solutions offered by the community are also often very different. They frequently include a heavy dose of feminine, maternal embrace. They almost always have some positive impact and they never are an element of further or additional harmful behavior. These methods’ limitations are primarily shaped by who is considered to be included in the embrace of the general society. The more that the social psychological health of one’s more narrowly familial, ethnic, geographical, linguistic, and religious community is weak, weakened, and suppressed, the more significant general society inclusion does make a difference. The availability of positive alternatives and real opportunities is immensely efficacious. This is how real embrace is actualized.

The militarism meme, whether applied domestically or foreign policy-wise, contains a dominating element of no alternative and therefore best alternative. The efficacy of violence as the means to peace is a deeply held belief – deeper than religious belief systems which all vainly attempt to cling to the efficacy of peace. The unquestioned belief in violence is held DESPITE the facts being exactly the opposite from the point of view of everybody but the people committing the most violence. “American” violence is justified without question and no other is justifiable; that is completely irrational.

The question of who is included in the First Lady’s embrace is critical and it applies differentially on a contemporary and horizontal dimensional view of meme application versus a vertical (through historical time) view. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a practicing boxer in Boston, yet he was not apparently embraced nor distracted from hurtful violent acts through filling “idle hands” in this way. Neither Don, nor L.Z., nor Rasheda mentioned this glaring fact; Ms. Ali’s arguments were left hanging with a glaring stain that no one spoke about. However, Tamerlan’s focus remained less local geographical and contemporary because he had insufficient depth of inclusion in local Boston society. Without social inclusion, boxing is just exercise.

Like almost everything else we do in Western capitalist culture, the ability to easily target violence towards a group of people is held as sacrosanct (ultimate justice) and is defined and refined by the degree of subtly and target definition at other beyond-embraceable-communities. Those distinctions get extended by geographical, ethnic, religious, and other perceived boundaries. They are also extended or concentrated by how we engage history and hereditary relations on the vertical time scale.

If we go as deep as hereditary science can take us, we not only embrace all of humanity, we embrace all of life. This is akin to what we lost – as an African American people cut off from the African understanding that is ancestor worship – and all that that meme means. Like so much that white Europeans did not understand, they demonized it as a mysterious, dark thing that rivaled their religious beliefs to be imposed on us. They took away our ancestors and gave us their Book. A military stance – and rapacious, thieving, enslaving stance – against all African Christian and non-Christian-believers then became appropriate. These meme-replicating, recycling, relational, historical understandings erupt into the presence attaching to the behaviors and implements available. They are glommed onto by disparate maturing juveniles attempting to exercise their hero stories and find community acceptance.

These confused tangled memes that are the instigators of this stupid, extinction-causing behavior must be exposed and uprooted, not endorsed! More species-saving memes like embrace can be honed and applied both domestically and internationally and more supportive, furthering institutions can be constructed around these memes. Unfortunately, neither Resheda Ali nor First Lady Michelle Obama (MO) will carry that message deep or wide. The First Lady has not yet challenged urban militaristic police tactics to any degree of which I am aware. And Obama’s hero model is too individual, too vilified, and still to inaccessible to ghetto youth. There is meme dimensional confusion in the black world. Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.