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Friday, August 22, 2014

Permanent Perplexity

Permanent Recycling of Perplexity




The international and intranational pressures of violence, capitalism, progress, and terrorism is a powerful sex machine.  It has deflowered the world’s population without respect for gender, ethnic identity, or class.  It is on the prowl for unborn victims. The machine refuses to bear a name. Being neither a way with words nor a benign metaphor, the machine has materiality and agency in destroying its parents and everyone else.  Goodness, beauty, and truth reside in a cosmic graveyard, waiting for something to come that never will.  People live. Their eyes do not watch a Supreme Being. People watch and hear what they most dread about themselves.

Tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri are different in kind and degree from the horrors of kidnapping young females in Nigeria, beheading an American journalist in the nascent Islamic State, the practice of torture in Asian nations or the infamy of 9/11. Simple counts of the number of people destroyed are available.  We describe parameters, historical dimensions, and assign names to discriminate one tragedy from another. No instruments exist to measure the suffering of one family or the psychological devastation for groups of people. The sense of limits informs anger and revenge.

For Americans, the death of Michael Brown is one of many signs of where we are.  Until August 9, 2014, Brown was an 18-year-old American citizen at liberty to pursue the happiness of becoming a college freshman. He was an indivisible member of the American body politic. A police officer transformed a human being into two words, MICHAEL and BROWN.  People in Ferguson, Missouri and everywhere else in the United States use those two words in constructing images of themselves. And how mass media has chosen to distort and recontextualize those two words is an intimate part of the tragic plot. We have a hellish struggle to remember that MICHAEL and BROWN were, less than a month ago, words to address a human being rather than words to be used in permanent recycling of perplexity and the manufacturing of confusions.

A typical example of what obtains in the United States is Campbell Robertson’s article “Among Whites, Protests Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity” (New York Times, August 22, 2014, page A15). Are Americans of the color white somehow unique in having emotions and the capability of being perplexed? Are Americans who possess Asian, indigenous, African, and Spanish-infused colors “excused” from the experience of anxiety?  A wack reading of Robertson’s headline takes us down that path.

Two photographs amplify the text of Robertson’s article.  There a photo of a person alleged to be “Mark Johnston, a 61-year-old white merchandiser in Mehlville, the mostly white and working-class” area of St. Louis County.  The caption under the photo is: “Mark Johnston expressed sympathy for Michael Brown’s family, but as for the turmoil: ‘I think it’s a crock of stuff, myself ’.” Should one tell Johnston that he is inside the crock?

The second photo, shot in the affluent county seat of Clayton, transmits the image of three people of the color white seated on a bench and one person of the color African walking with a sign.  It bears the caption: “ ‘As far as justice and peace, we need to have it,’ said Arlene Rosengarten, seated right. But, she called protests ‘a bad precedent’. “ Use your literary to figure out what shade of white Ms. Rosengarten might be, because your eyes will deceive you.  There is social artistry (or perhaps engineering) in how a newspaper uses images and words.

Clayton is where Michael Brown’s grieving mother works (or worked) at a gourmet grocer according to Robertson’s text.  Such rich material for future cultural anthropology as the words MICHAEL and BROWN dim in memory to be replaced with words associated with the next, inevitable persons who will be killed by militarized policemen. The future anthropologist will rewrite Robertson’s headline: “Among Blacks, Reports of Death Stir a Range of Emotions and a Lot of Perplexity.”

What occurs in American journalism is not a random accident; it is the deliberate making of new Towers of Babel, new sites to ensure that systemic racism will not lose its identity as systemic injustice. All the President’s horses and all the Attorney General’s men shall never put Ferguson back together again. Nor shall the superior military power of the United States of America transform the dystopia we inhabit into Eden before The Fall.  The rage of the grassroots, the little people of this world, the truly wretched will always be with us, because they know that the languages of hope, optimism, and promise live in a universal crock of stuff and that human arms are much too short to grasp the abstractions of justice and peace.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.      August 22, 2014

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