Wednesday, April 29, 2015

black lives matter. except when they are flawed. in any way.

black lives matter, roars the voice of a movement.

large portions of white america respond: no they don't!

not if they were wearing the wrong article of clothing (trayvon martin's hooded sweatshirt), had a previous rap sheet (freddie gray), a warrant for child support payment delinquency (walter scott), had ever smoked pot, was walking in the street, had been suspended from school, was taller and bigger than average (automatically incriminating evidence to many white people of a generalized guiltiness), was selling loose cigarettes, was running away, was disrespectful, was carrying a toy gun, was the sister of a kid carrying a toy gun (yes, tamir rice's 14 year old sister was tackled by police after her little brother was gunned down). and on and on.

in short, the message is: unless the dead man was a paragon of virtue who never so much as spit bubble gum onto the sidewalk, even in rough neighborhoods where looking like a nice kid is to invite victimization, their life was not worth much.

surely not worth the trouble to figure out a different way to approach the situation than aggressively attacking. not worth thinking about a better way to do things. apparently, if one is black and has ever made any mistakes, small or large, one forfeits one's right to being treated as a human.

the movement hears these responses loud and clear. and rather than shutting down the movement, they only confirm what the movement is saying. which is that to most of america, black lives do not matter. all that digging for dirt to spread over the dead man's name is simply a thin attempt to justify the violence done to them.

but if white americans found that being suspended for school, talking back to a police officer, walking in the street, not paying for child support, wearing suspicious clothing, etc etc, was sufficient to be gunned down (or, as with gray, deliberately given a 'rough ride' while cuffed and without seat belts), i predict everyone would join the movement.

so far, since white people rarely have to face such brutality, it is 'better you than me.' being black means deserving a nasty end, since living in rough neighborhoods, there is always some dirt, some scrape, some skeletons to be dug up to justify the end of murder.

but even pot smokers, jay walkers, ex-cons, cigarette peddlers, men too big and tall and scary, and suspended students are loved. by someone.

i'm white. but i'm part of the movement. because no american should have to live in a police state. i wouldn't want it. so why wish it on anyone else? i don't care if they smoked pot or walked in the street or made me feel nervous because they were big. they are humans, and they should have the right to be treated as such.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

electric wave

last week i got an email from the school (shandong u, my employer) announcing yet another official 'scholarly conference,' and inviting papers for submission. the topic: 'the legacy and innovation of qilu culture.'  qilu is the province's nickname, taken from the names of two ancient kingdoms. rather than deleting the email right away, as i usually do when confronted with such officialistic hot air, i paused. could i find some way to plug my pet cause, tiny electric cars, at this conference?

i have researched traffic and how people negotiate the streets and sidewalks here. maybe i could find a plausible angle leading from that to my pet cause, and turn this propagandistic 'scholarly conference' into something interesting, even useful. . . my family and i have driven a little 3 wheeler for more than a year, logging almost 7000 kilometers so far. it is of crappy quality. the door hinges rusted to the point that a 3 year old pulled one of them off. but it is so handy, so practical, that i watch people here clog the narrow streets with SUVs with disbelief. they are chasing a 1950s American dream -- big cars, wide highways -- in the ever-more perilous, crowded, 21st century. and it just doesn't work well. sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, any empty space, is jammed with cars parked pell mell. and a minority of households own cars. these tiny cars are 1/3 the size, or less, of regular cars, yet can carry up to 6 people. and some of them -- not ours -- are solid quality.

the inspiration was an article on huffingtonpost last week which laid out the view of some american transportation experts that the future of city-center transportation is tiny electrical cars, someday driverless and not privately owned. apparently people will be able to 'call' one over, and tell it where to go, pay electronically somehow, and that is it. i thought: the city and provincial government are constantly threatening to 'do something' about the menace of these tiny cars, which are blamed for creating all sorts of problems. (a shortage of taxis makes these cars a sort of gypsy cab for the poor unemployed or retired, and they cluster near bus stations and such plaecs). but this nascent industry, which has shown impressive improvements in quality and function, could become a world leader away from the obsolete pomposity of the 1950s American dream.

so today while waiting for toby at his school, i typed away and completed almost 1500 characters. the target is 5000 or so. i will need someone to polish it, of course. my written chinese is 'rough' at best. but when i ranted on the topic in my urban anthropology class on monday (our topic was the development of the american suburbs in the 1950s), they got it! with a laugh. these little cars are ridiculous. and surely face-deflating. but they are fun and practical. you can park underneath a UPS van, practically.

so, while i doubt i will be lucky enough to present my paper to just the right official, or even anyone paying much attention, at the very least i may be able to meet some academics or officials interested in this issue. and know that i have done something to advance the electric wave.

if only i could find some time to research the topic more deeply . . . no. not going to happen. not with two small kids.

so it's settled: a paper presented at a windy, propagandistic conference on the eternal glories of confucian culture will have to do.