aNewDomain — We try to find explanations for our increasing militarization, our out-of-control murder rates, the phenomenon of mass shootings. We fail, perhaps, because we try to situate our inquiry and explanation in the individual when something larger is at work.
Chicago’s South Side is notorious for gang violence. The place doesn’t have America’s highest murder rate, but it’s close. For decades, we’ve tried to blame the people of Chicago, of that one neighborhood, for their moral failings. Not the easy availability of guns, not endemic racism and joblessness, but the fact that “they” are black.
Here’s the thing: “They” are us. We’re all Americans. And if you want proof that everyone is basically the same, you need only investigate our national landscape.
Take a look at the Trump phenomenon. Trump and Sanders in some ways capture the same electoral base: people left out of the economic recovery. Trump appeals more to the older, whiter folks whose jobs went away to be replaced with low-wage service jobs; Sanders more the young people whose college costs have skyrocketed, who can’t even get those McDonalds jobs because those have filled up with people denied long-term careers.
Trump proposes a lot of violence, and people go for it.
What about people demanding their gun rights? Are they crazy – or, like Chicago’s South Side, is it that everyone is increasingly armed to protect and defend their meager winter stores?
Racism and nationalism flourish when we’re poor, when there is not enough to share. And these trends work well for the rich: they keep us squabbling over the 7 percent or so of domestic wealth available to the 80 percent of non-wealthy Americans. They get Trumps and Reagans elected, people who keep the skew skewing, keep the fix in.
Didn’t work out so well for the Jews when Hitler came to power.
We want to situate responsibility for violence with the perpetrators of violence, with their attributes and qualities. Were they Muslim? Republican? Crazy? We refuse to take a long, hard look at economic conditions at the bottom. Persistent and endemic joblessness created the ghettos of Chicago, maintained them, turned them into pressure cookers.
Guess what? For the rest of us, the pressure is mounting. No jobs, no viable careers, even the highly educated pushed aside into part-time, contingent work, four jobs and no benefits.
Go ahead and act surprised now the violence has moved out of Chicago and into your neighborhood.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover image of the Putnam neighborhood on the south side of Chicago: msaudcolumbia.org, all rights reserved