My Beautiful Wickedness


Follow-up on Human Ambiguity
May 14, 2007, 7:59 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Mark points out that the complicated real-estate developer/champion of the underclass that I described in this post shared a profile with every black male Congressman of the past twenty-five years….except that dude is white. I hadn’t really thought of that, but it does make sense. His dad ran an “outsider” (as in, Irish, but not the anointed machine candidate) for mayor about twenty years ago and came close to unseating the chosen successor to the guy who had been mayor for nearly 50 years. It’s my sense that this experience taught him a thing or two about how he was going to have to proceed if he wanted to get over politically. I am sure that the search for untapped political capital outside the control of the Democratic machine is an important aspect of his philanthropic efforts — but again, it’s power to what purpose? Sure, he wants to win, but what he does on the way to winning and what he does after surely counts for something. “His” (grassroots, directed in large measure it seemed to me by his wife) candidate for DA won a huge victory last year and is giving the old-boy power structure fits by going after white drug users with the same assiduity that the old DA went after blacks. (Hence the gi-normous national steroid bust that has exposed white suburban football coaches and quarterbacks as big-ass drug dealers.) It’s a canny strategy to build white support for repeal of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws that have decimated and disenfranchised New York’s black neighborhoods. Because of the “white part,” though, he’s faced with a lot of suspicion in the black community (as he probably should be). He’s not overly religious, so the ministers dislike him and feel that he’s challenging their social and moral authority. He doesn’t give speeches, he stays in the background — again, he’s part of a power couple and his wife (who was a force in her own right before they married) is really the public political face of the team.

Anyhow, some circumstances are coming to pass in my professional life where it looks like I’m going to have to decide whether to ally with him (warts and all) or go my own way. A close relationship with him means cutting off much of my support from the white community in town, so that would make me dependent on carrying out his agenda to continue receiving funding. Choose not to ally and some doors that have been opened in the activist community will swing shut and we risk winding up another idle think tank. Ally and be another progressive white person perceived as subverting black leadership development. Don’t ally and be far less effective at fixing the problems this town has.

Anyhow, that’s my dilemma.

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4 Comments so far
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Choose the path that fixes more problems and helps more people. F the establishment.

Comment by Nick Dupree

It’s not the establishment I’m worried about. I’ve been fucking the establishment for decades and in fact, I’m finding it is easier to fuck the establishment now that I am the establishment. What I’m worried about is that there are many ways to go about solving problems, from redefining them as “not problems” (a cheap expedient bureaucratic solution), silencing the problematic, patching over the symptoms without getting to the structural cause, and so forth. I am currently just mulling over whether this is another cynical patch-job that will make substantive gains for a few thousand people who play ball with this guy or whether his work (and mine, with his) can be more broadly transformative. It’s hard to argue with the resources that he’s capable of bringing down and generally, I’m on the side of doing something and serving someone rather than wringing my hands at a less-than-ideal situation and doing nothing for anyone.

However, I have historically favor working with communities to define and make progress on the problems they want to work on using the means they want to employ. It’s slower and it’s messier and often I don’t think it’s as effective in making a dent on the problems of this moment as I might be using a top-down “let me lift you up, o little brown people” approach, but I find that shit noxious on a human-to-human level. Imposed external solutions that don’t respect the whole of the situation don’t work for long; they don’t respect sovereignty, they don’t develop the human capacity for self-governance, they don’t redirect the avenues of recourse to social power. And there will always be problems to solve….so it pays to put your metaphorical (and real) money on building community infrastructure so that they can continue to respond to whatever comes up long after I’m dead and gone. It troubles me that this guy replicates the colonelismo that this town is famous for, even if the population his actions benefit can use all the help he can give. I’m pretty sure that residential desegregation is going to politically disempower black and brown voters by diluting their ability to bloc vote and carry their wards — although
for the people who move out, the houses are undeniably structurally more sound, the yards are bigger, the schools instructionally stronger, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is that his method of problem-solving also creates problems, but it doesn’t create the community-based leadership or infrastructure necessary to respond to that new set of troubles. Maybe that’s where I could be of use. Hmmm.

Comment by bridgett

I kind of expected to see more comments like the first here. Oh were it so simple. It’s things that come from the pages of a lot of the progressive blogs, and I can’t help but thinking, have any of these people actually tried to get anything done outside of blogging?

If you’re able to create long standing community based organizations (whether or not they withstand the internal community politics) that are beneficial perhaps that’s where you should go with this. Hard to say without knowing more particulars and conferring with MC Verb on the policy implications.

Comment by Mark

Oh, Nick’s got plenty of successful experience organizing in the disability movement but there, it’s often getting people to organize against some readily identified institutions to implement specific no-brainer one-apparent-solution policy. Like “this is a policy that will save money and save lives, so tell me why are you literally pulling the plug on a bunch of people?” The level of institutional idiocy is staggering — often simply shining a bright light on agencies that characteristically don’t get much attention and appealing to the common sense and human decency does get things done. But you know who you’re fighting against and it’s pretty clear who has the power to fix what’s broke — you’ve got to get the “establishment” that broke it to fix it again. And I think most of Nick’s experience has been in national and state-wide organizing, which is a different animal than local movements. See, places have histories and it’s all damned inconvenient.

This particular community to which I refer has huge fissures internally and the way is not smooth. The challenges are not limited to the following items:

1) Disenfranchisement through felon-bans and a longstanding systematic curtailment of public services and federal monies — the wards I work in are falling apart at the seams;
2) Caribbean diaspora (legal and otherwise) vs native-born;
3) Nation brothers vs storefronters vs big brick “Mother” churches vs followers of a recently jailed imam;
4) Poverty (duh) and all that goes with it;
5) Drugs (the money always goes elsewhere, the damage stays put);
6) Police harassment;
7) Under-education (fewer than 20% of black 18-year-olds here will finish high school);
8) Economic Development;
9) Industrial racism;
10) De facto segregation in the advertisement and provision of city services.

Yeah. It’s urban America, alright.

Comment by bridgett




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