Blow and Krugman

In “Race, College and Safe Space” Mr. Blow says there is a place for black racial sanctuaries, just as there is a right to combat racism itself.  Prof. Krugman, in “Fearing Fear Itself,” says Terrorists won’t bring down Western civilization, and the tradeoffs we make to counter it should not include giving in to the panic they hope to create.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them.

Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

All my life I have noticed black people, particularly elderly ones, subconsciously turtle down their necks between their shoulders or bubble up their personas beyond their comfort to countervail a perception, to set white folks at ease, to allay some ill-conceived fear.

The ultimate offense of it all — the contorting of body and behavior to offset the deficit in another. There is a spiritual injustice in the adjustment.

But now young black folks are refusing alteration or the mollification of conformity and are simply demanding justice.

There is now an implacable yearning for society to acknowledge anti-black racism and the oppressive forces it has generated and maintained — historical ones and present ones — and to work towards a culture in which those forces are blunted, or better, dismantled.

The time of placidity is at an end. This is a new moment, a loud, disruptive one.

Even black athletes, at least at the University of Missouri, are forcing power structures to bend to monetary pressure when moral pressure alone was not sufficient. The only question remaining is whether these emerging young activists have the endurance to stick with it until the work is done.

Urgency takes on another property, elasticity, when it is draped over time that is in no hurry, time that encompasses both the moment and the ages. Battles for social justice are more often counted in decades than days, and there are many little-noticed skirmishes before the grand battle. But a morally inviolable objective, like equality, is as deep as time is long.

There will be missteps, tactical errors, assailable symbols and an army of detractors and fickle allies ready to seize upon each and exploit them.

For instance, it was not wise or right for student protesters and a faculty supporter at Missouri to try and establish a private space, a media-free safe space, on a public one.

Indeed, public justice advocates have often used media exposure to great advantage in their struggles.

However, one must condemn the forces of anti-black oppression just as vociferously as one condemns black people’s responses to those forces, including when those responses extend beyond the boundaries of social acceptability and decorous propriety. Otherwise, one’s qualms are an overture to pacification and the propping up of the status quo.

You can’t condemn the unseemly howl and not the lash.

Furthermore, I fully understand the desire for safe spaces, for racial sanctuary, particularly in times of racial trauma. I have always had these safe spaces, not by black design, but as a byproduct of white racism.

I grew up in the rural South when racial segregation was no longer the law, but remained the norm. I have gone to predominately black schools most of my life, schools that began so or became so because of white people’s deep desire to resist racial commingling. But what was born of hate, black folks infused with pride and anointed with value.

There existed for me a virtual archipelago of racial sanctuaries, places — communities, churches, schools — where I could be insulated from the racial scarring that intimate proximity to racial hostility can produce.

That is, I assume, what these students want as well.

In Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s foreword to Harvard professor emeritus Martin Kilson’s American Book Award-winning 2014 book, Transformation of the African American Intelligentsia, 1880-2012, Gates quotes an interview that Kilson gave The Crimson in 1964. Kilson said: “I suppose we’re looking for a new Negro identity, a psychological process, which has its roots in a broader Negro community.” Kilson continued, “It’s true that Negroes, like anyone else, prize individuality. But the thing the compulsive liberal can’t understand is that we also like to swing together. You know, like we did in my good father’s church back home.”

At no time is swinging together more important than when the death threats start to come and media vultures start to circle.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like millions of people, I’ve been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It’s the natural human reaction. But let’s be clear: it’s also the reaction the terrorists want. And that’s something not everyone seems to understand.

Take, for example, Jeb Bush’s declaration that “this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” No, it isn’t. It’s an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn’t at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists’ cause.

Think, for a moment, about what France is and what it represents. It has its problems — what nation doesn’t? — but it’s a robust democracy with a deep well of popular legitimacy. Its defense budget is small compared with ours, but it nonetheless retains a powerful military, and has the resources to make that military much stronger if it chooses. (France’s economy is around 20 times the size of Syria’s.) France is not going to be conquered by ISIS, now or ever. Destroy Western civilization? Not a chance.

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.

It would certainly be a very bad thing if France or other democracies responded to terrorism with appeasement — if, for example, the French were to withdraw from the international effort against ISIS in the vain hope that jihadists would leave them alone. And I won’t say that there are no would-be appeasers out there; there are indeed some people determined to believe that Western imperialism is the root of all evil, and all would be well if we stopped meddling.

But real-world examples of mainstream politicians, let alone governments, knuckling under to terrorist demands are hard to find. Most accusations of appeasement in America seem to be aimed at liberals who don’t use what conservatives consider tough enough language.

A much bigger risk, in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat — a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it’s a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can’t set everything right. On 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld told his aides: “Sweep it up. Related and not,” and immediately suggested using the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. The result was a disastrous war that actually empowered terrorists, and set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

And let’s be clear: this wasn’t just a matter of bad judgment. Yes, Virginia, people can and do exploit terrorism for political gain, including using it to justify what they imagine will be a splendid, politically beneficial little war.

Oh, and whatever people like Ted Cruz may imagine, ending our reluctance to kill innocent civilians wouldn’t remove the limits to American power. It would, however, do wonders for terrorist recruitment.

Finally, terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.

So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.

Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn’t spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity.

Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.

Advertisements

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: