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americaneedshelp

 

Left to fester at the bottom of the American conscience, a monumental issue finally resurfaced this year, and almost no-one doesn’t know the facts. August 9, 2014 marks the day a fatal shooting took place in Ferguson, MO, where Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer shot Michael Brown, an 18 year old black resident of Ferguson. The verdict produced by the grand jury who investigated the disputed circumstances, caused wide scale uproar nationwide. The night of the verdict, riots took place in Ferguson. Isolated retaliatory attacks began popping up around the country. America literally turned against itself overnight. Protests were held across several American cities, which spilled overseas and gave birth to a passionate, sweeping discussion about America’s unresolved race relations which have coloured the latter part of 2014. Initial talk began at the polar ends of the spectrum. But what began to pour forth as the dialogue sifted to the unthinking masses, was an awakening to several different versions of what Americans call ‘truth’. The Michael Brown tragedy began to point to other cases around the country bearing the same issues, most notably, synonymous with the names Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. Whistleblowing began online and translated to the streets. No nation is without fault, but it is here that the apparently lush and plentiful veneer of modern living has taken a beating; where many realities are exposed, where one old wound gives way to many others, until we are left with a map of creviced ground upon which the New World was built.

These complicated social issues spring from the way in which the initial injuries have been forced to heal. In a country which prides itself on entrepreneurialism, brokenness is considered an undesirable state to be in. Ironically, enforcing such a high initiative upon an entire nation means that for a huge majority, brokenness is an unavoidable circumstance. The competitive, gold rush mentality has transcended every generation in the United States, but when the casualties begin to outweigh the success stories, it no longer becomes about which side of the coin someone sees and more about how we live together on the edge of the knife. To ask how people live in the US, is to truly ask how they live together. A stark and very different America exists with regard to social cohesiveness. This became self-evident after the Michael Brown case when the loudest voices came from huge pockets of communities, clustered by race, all around the country. Besides a handful of multicultural cities, the wide majority of the United States is a composition of thousands of suburban landscapes. The few dense urban geysers speak from their cohesiveness, using their clout to encourage the rest of the country to diversify for the better. This produces an uncomfortable self-reflection for smaller cities; who attempt to build themselves with different tools.

It is here that there is a foundational disconnect between the old and new way. St Louis in particular, has worked to build its modern facade without changing much of its social thinking. A rebranding of the city’s image has been in the works for the last 6 years; more startup businesses, more arts funding, broader retail opportunities, a denser events calendar. There have been great successes to elevate St Louis as a growing environment, to widen its appeal. But as this Michael Brown case sliced through the mind of the city, it revealed how so much of St Louis’ thinking has yet to reform. And this is the point that so few St Louisans will concede. Often, the refusal to cave to a mass overhaul is a result of wanting to preserve a city’s history. But when that history is so tainted with the social mistakes that produced oppressive thinking, why on earth would anybody wish to cleave to that when you could be making your own history to leave behind?

I have lived all my life in London. I now happen to live 20 minutes from Ferguson. I find especially abhorrent the way in which many residents of St Louis and its surrounding counties, are unable to distinguish between riots and protests. Where I am from, London is a city constantly protesting every single day about some wider social issue, either locally or internationally. There is a clear distinction between rioting and protesting, largely because urban landscapes are made up of vocal people who understand the consequences of their actions before they take to the streets. There is a medium for everyone to speak. When I have explained this to St Louisans, some pine to afford such diversity, but the negative attitude I have gotten from many people in St Louis is astounding. The “Well that’s there, and this is here” discussion is precisely what keeps social progression from happening in America. And whether this is justified or not, the Michael Brown case means that St Louis is now unable to escape the outside scrutiny of being viewed as a microcosm of Middle America. With its convenient geography and untapped resources, it’s time St Louis changed the colour of its thoughts as an example of how America can begin to dress its wounds with proper care.

 

9-11

They litter the internet like millions of tiny squares of shredded paper flying through the air. Nobody wants to read yet another blog, article, opinion on the events of 9/11 anymore. But have you ever asked yourself why, exactly, do people feel this way now?

Whenever there is a catastrophe as cataclysmic as the events that marked the 11th September 2001, the aftermath is coloured by an immense humanitarian grace period for mourning. Humanity reflects, absorbs, contemplates, compartmentalises and compresses the impact it has made on the human consciousness. In this lifetime we have witnessed, over the last 100 years, some of the most unthinkable disasters known in history; two world wars, tsunamis, terrorist attacks….we’ve all read the news. And somehow, these things have become part of our personal history despite a large number of us being “non-participants”; everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 happened. We allow each other a period of grieving, some respite from the personal suffering that has inflicted many generations. In this way society is able to move on, having designated a resting place for the trauma in our memories whether or not we have found a way of comprehending what has taken place.

But let’s go a few sentences back to observe the way in which some people respond in retrospect….”we’ve all read the news”. I’m a great supporter of sifting the chaff from the wheat when it comes to information consumption. It appears that the longer we are alive, the greater the hill of instantly disposable information there is being made available to us. Rather a lot of it is, in essence, a garbling mess of inane drivel decorated and embroidered with soundbytes, tags and other such selling points. What we are living in today is a society driven to cynicism, thanks to the energy wasted in the disposing of millions of debates and discussions that are flung our way daily. Living on the Continent, I found this was a problem that few orators were unveiling before the sunken masses. This disaffection is explained by the majority as not “having the time” to contemplate empathizing with a lot of these stories. Why is that? When the family dog dies, empathizing immediately becomes second nature. Its personal impact makes us, human, again. Our “e-culture”, as I choose to refer to it these days, has usurped the organic mechanism we use to develop a personal response to hearing about something. The allegorical grapevine, once the speculation of small communities, is now a manically pulsating network of intertwined live wires, talking, talking, talking, 24 hours a day. When we no longer see the need to form our own opinions based on our own contemplations, we stop thinking for ourselves. And when we stop thinking for ourselves, respect is the first thing to leave the room.

I don’t really need to ask how many of us, when faced with tragic news in the world, turn the page, turn the corner, change the channel or, erm, refresh Facebook. Of course we live in evil times, which you’d only be unaware of if your house was built in zero gravity. But does taking a moment to care about a country other than your own, really equate to re-opening an entire wound to woefully grieve all over again? Is that what a moment of respect -honestly- asks for? Let us think about that for a moment. It is a tragic admission I make, when I count myself in the number of European people who skip past an entire evening’s documentary on survivors of 9/11, or the cause of the trouble in Darfur. This afternoon I did what I’ve heard some Britons say they do because “it’s good for you sometimes.” I challenged myself to watch an entire episode of ‘Inside 9/11’ on the Nat Geo channel, which documented the experiences of ordinary city workers inside the twin towers that morning. And viewing such material in America for the first time, I was left understanding what that “good for you” factor was pointing to. It gave me a fresh understanding of how this catastrophe affected the entire country I was now living in. That yes, there was every right that this affected every living American in the world. When we take a moment to care, to pay respect, we count other humans as our brothers. And it is this factor that releases us into being the conscientious individuals we used to be, back when the world still meant something to us.

Back in 2006 I met up with some old friends in New York’s Manhattan police force after London’s 7/7 terrorist bombing. When I explained the severity of what had happened in my home city, I was shocked to hear the response, “7/7? Ah, everyone wants their own 9/11 these days.” Needless to say, that was the last time I saw them again. Perhaps I have since forgiven these guys for their foolish, thoughtless comments. But if this little story incurs your wrath, your passion, I challenge you to stop and ask yourselves, how desensitized have I become to my own neighbour’s plight? For a few days, filter out the endless stream of opinion and allow yourself to show concern and respect for another country’s affliction. It really isn’t asking for blood. But it might just make you feel human again.