Thursday, March 25, 2010

Marching on the Wrong Side of Racism

Day 37 of 46 c Lenten Season 2010

Roving through the streets of predominantly white Philadelphia neighborhoods, gangs of black youths have taken ownership of the latest urban gangsta trend: the flash mob.

Summoned by subversive texts on their cell phones, up to hundreds of teens gather at a location specified in text messages, and when critical mass has been achieved, they all start doing their thing: yelling, pushing and shoving, punching innocent passersby, fighting amongst themselves, and even once trashing a Macy’s department store.

Four violent flash mobs have already taken place in Philadelphia, although smaller and less-violent flash mobs have occurred in Boston, New Jersey and Brooklyn. The trend seems to have come to life this past December, and is loosely based on a 2003 phenomenon started by Bill Wasik who used websites and cell phone texting to innocuously summon a bunch of New Yorkers for a massive pillow fight.

In Philadelphia, mayor Michael Nutter has already taken a strong stance against the intimidation and violence that the flash mob youths have been perpetrating. When parents had the audacity to complain that the city isn’t providing enough after-school programs, Nutter retorted, “I don’t think people should be finding excuses for inappropriate behavior. There is no racial component to stupid behavior, and parents should not be looking to the government to provide entertainment for their children.”

When a reporter asked him why he thought flash mobs had suddenly become so popular in the City of Brotherly Love, Nutter shot back, “"I ran for mayor. I didn't run for mother… I don't know what causes someone to act like a jacka**."

Hopefully, Mayor Nutter’s non-nonsense approach to dealing with this latest spurt of aggression will help calm tensions in his notoriously violence-prone city. And maybe this trend will flame out as quickly as it was sparked, as kids realize it’s just a quick way to get arrested – or some innocent bystander they attack turns out to be the holder of a concealed handgun permit.

News Flash: Flash Mobs Set Us All Back

So far, Philadelphia's mayor, who happens to be black, and other city officials have tried to keep the racial component out of their flash mob situation. However, does a pervasive gangsta culture exist among white kids, or would having throngs of white kids in a predominantly black neighborhood instill fear in anybody?

Is it any secret that racial tensions can be perpetrated and exploited by members of the historically subjugated party? Some black youths know they can intimidate whites, and they revel in that fact. I rode an otherwise empty subway home early from a Yankees game one night with two other white friends, and a group of about 4 black teenagers tried threatening us in the subway car because we were white. We all just looked straight ahead and, fighting our instinct to look scared, tried to ignore them.

Some people say that it’s up to whites to adjust to the posturing that blacks use to express themselves. They say that it’s our fault that we get intimidated when black young people act in certain ways towards or around us. If we weren’t so racist, these kids would know they can’t incite fear in us merely by the way they talk and behave when they’re near us. Don’t be so sensitive.

To an extent, it can be easy to mis-read situations and jump to conclusions based on skewed stereotypes. But don't the kids participating in flash mobs utilize the well-known stereotypes and actually perpetuate those stereotypes against themselves, as well as people on the street just trying to shop or get home? The swaggers, language, roughhousing, and noise that accompanied the flash mobs – even without the criminal activity – is designed to intimidate. And it's successful.

Why can't we call it like it is? These kids have the ability to recognize methodologies for threatening and harassing people while using their skin color to make their actions more convincing. Its obvious their parents and families have not instilled in these kids values not only of respect for other people, but respect for one's self and the race you represent.

Dr. King Marched, Too

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to march among throngs of black people to demonstrate against bigotry. The people then who found King and his marches intimidating had good reason: the era of segregation was crumbling down around them, and about time, too. Perpetrators of racism should have been intimidated, and ashamed, particularly those who had walked in white robes against minorities in their communities. Dr. King walked on the right side of racism: to defeat it.

Some people may wonder what right a white guy has to write about this topic - all the way from Texas? They assume this is a black issue, and for whites to comment is racist. To them I’d say that to limit the discussion on this topic to just the black community actually perpetuates the very racism we’re supposed to be trying to overcome. Public activity - and flash mobs certainly fit that description - are by definition public, aren't they? Shouldn't anybody of any color be able to make a respectful contribution?

In modern-day Philadelphia, where even the rumor of a flash mob yesterday led stores to close early, the historic crowds from King’s era would be appalled at the arrogance of kids trying to use their skin color as some sort of weapon.

Intimidation does not instill respect.

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