Thursday, June 16, 2011

Of Race and Riots

I'm gonna be frank.

If the riots in Vancouver last night have taught us anything, it's probably that whites can be just as destructive and violent as blacks during these senseless urban tirades. It just takes the right sport to juice up the crowd.

Yesterday, it was hockey, which pretty much remains a white boy's game.

Watching your favorite hockey team, with 70,000 to 100,000 of your closest friends, lose the final championship game obviously would be fairly disappointing, whether you were white, black, or purple-polka-dotted. And since our North American society, including evangelicals, has pretty much embraced an alcohol culture, having a bunch of drunken young adults refusing to accept responsibility for their actions and emotions is not terribly surprising, either. But it's still disappointing, as Vancouver residents have been lamenting all over the Internet today.

In the United States, regardless of it being wrong to do, many whites almost expect blacks to riot after major sporting events in places like Detroit. But last night's mayhem didn't take place in a gritty minority-majority neighborhood, or a rust-belt downtown district. Vancouver is a glassy, ultra-modern, and urbane Canadian metropolis with political correctness oozing out of its pores. Socially tilted towards the liberal side of life, the last host city for the Winter Olympics boasts multiple modes of mass transit, bike lanes, aggressive environmental initiatives, and audible traffic signals for blind pedestrians.

It's not a hotbed of racial tension or a poverty-stricken shell of economic malaise. It's the polar opposite of Detroit in almost every way.

Yet there they were last night, white folk jumping up and down on cars they'd tipped upside-down. Smashing windows, cheering each other on, taunting police officers, and looting. Look - there are some others, posing in front of burning vehicles, displaying a bravado as though they'd conquered some hostile invader. With lots of other white folk standing by, laughing, taking photos and videos with their smartphones.

In Vancouver, Canada.

We're reminded that back in 1994, Vancouver had a similar disturbance that injured about 200 and caused over $1 million in damage, mostly in broken store windows.  Then as now, it was over losing the Stanley Cup. In addition to the two hockey riots Vancouver has hosted, some quick research reveals that a handful of other riots have taken place because of a hockey game.  There were two after each University of Minnesota hockey championships in 2002 and 2003, and 6 in Montreal and other Canadian cities dating all the way back to 1955. Czechoslovakia experienced some hockey riots in 1969, but some of that violence was rumored to have been incited by the Communist secret police.

Perhaps it's racist of me to admit that when I first looked at the photos and videos coming out of Vancouver, what struck me more than anything was all the white skin.  Some of Vancouver's civic defenders have tried to blame some of the violence on the city's minorities, but from the media I've seen, there hasn't been a black person anywhere.  Maybe some guys of Asian heritage, but no, this was a 95% white crime spree.  And it wasn't all white guys, either.  Don't you think the parents of this participant are really proud of their little baby girl now?

You know she'll want to include this photo on her resume. (photo credit: Associated Press)
Of course, this has been among the first hockey riots which have been extensively documented by the participants.  Which means the future looks very, um, bright for amateur journalism.  Since Vancouver is on the west coast, and the game was being played in Boston, it was still light enough in Vancouver when the game ended - and the rioting commenced - for the world to get crystal-clear images.  And since some photos show the darkness of the night, these hoodlums didn't just run down the block once or twice and go home; they where there for quite a while, smashing and burning to their hearts' delight.

Vancouver's police chief, desperate to save face after some have complained that his department should have anticipated trouble after 1994's riot, says that yesterday's violence was perpetrated by anarchists intent on roiling Canadian society.  But if pictures tell 1,000 words, instead of professional rioters, I see a bunch of petulant white folk not making a political statement, but letting their inhibitions run wild in a profoundly anti-social manner.

Normally I don't look at world events through a lens of racism, yet this time, isn't the lesson hard to ignore?  In the white community, it's all too easy to watch some people of color rioting and sneer at their lawlessness in a prejudicial manner.  But to the extent that human nature is bathed in sin, we need to learn that whites can be just as vile, destructive, illogical, and uncivilized as people we think are different from us.

What separates races isn't as great as we think it is.  That's the good news.  Unfortunately, it sometimes takes repugnant episodes like Vancouver's to help prove the point.
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