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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.

 

Yankee_Stadium_1928-1936

Not one for keeping track of the pot of gold behind every sports’ team in the Western world, I surprised myself when looking at a friend’s holiday shots of New York City, and almost vomited in disgust at an apparently innocuous photo of the new Yankee Stadium. Shocked at my own reaction, after some thought, the penny dropped, as I recalled a previous conversation with a wise owl in the family, regarding the price New Yorkers had paid for such a photo. It was all I could do to withold the vein in my forehead and my passionate stance from my wide-eyed, innocent tourist friend, bless her; her pupils had been dilated for a week, it was her first time in America.

It is transparent even to the most sport-shy that this is a time where government expenditure on sports ventures has surpassed the burnt hole in the pocket of the public. Conditioned as we are to reading about the now customary financial ‘sport within a sport’ in European football (insert soccer), in the wake of the “celebration” of Cristiano Ronaldo’s cool £80 million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid,  you would be hard pressed to believe that this was where the controversy ends with all sports worldwide -NFL included. No, one of the worst outrages pervading the baseball game since 1980 has not been simply about unmerited six figure sums exchanged for players. Venue construction costs have long been the source of discord in government budget meetings both in Britain and America, so it comes as no surprise that the much heralded Yankees stadium was at the helm of one such public mayoral spat for the last two decades.

After suffering the aggressive, exhausting renovation petition of the 80’s, infamously wielded by George “The Boss” Steinbrenner, New Yorkers will remember the subsequential outpouring of disgust at mayor Giuliani’s ludicrous $1.6 billion “tentative” proposal scheme for the Yankees and the Mets’ stadiums respectively. In comparison to the investment that original owners Huston and Ruppert forked out for on the first 1923 Yankee stadium, this made the original $2.5 million look like small change. NYS had accounted for the approximated $160 million 1974-75 renovation of the stadium in The Bronx, five years before the traumatic 1981 recession hit the United States. Irony has it, that while successive mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly redefined the terms on which the new ballpark would be built, construction was already underway just as this recent recession had begun to explode across world markets. My thoughts are that this has less to do with the Castignoli curse -thankfully since removed- than it has to do with government budgeting foresight; building began in 2006 (of which a horrifying $320 million went towards garage parking, of which $70 million was taxpayer-funded) and no less than 2 years later an impending recession had leaked its way out of the NYSE to the rest of the world. More than anyone else, my thoughts go towards communities in The Bronx; what it must feel like, to live across the street from a building that is valued over seven times more than the rest of property in South Bronx. You have to wonder if Bloomberg did at all much but reshuffle the cards Giuliani had cut for himself.

Londoners like myself can read this and wonder if there was a conspiracy going on in 2007 between then-mayor Livingstone and Mr Bloomberg; every Londoner remembers the incredulous £798 million spent doing EXACTLY the same thing with Wembley Stadium. After London taxpayers were burnt for a project that hardly needed complete reconstruction, the boast we have for this, is that the new Wembley Stadium is now the largest stadium in the world. Myself now living in baseball city, I have also grown accustomed to the groans of St Louisans who clink glasses with both New York and London regarding their new Busch stadium. The $365 million construction cost of demolishing the old stadium to bring in the new stadium plus the surrounding ‘Ballpark Village’, has hardly generated the revenue St Louis City had hoped to use rebuilding it’s dilapidated downtown image. As most of us cry out, what sort of nutcases are we paying our taxes to?

But as long as sport and fan loyalty thrives, our governments know they can get away with stubborn financial decisions like these, for people will continue to show up to games, matches and tournaments, begrudgingly paying inflated prices for tickets, hotdogs and beer. For every hattrick scored, every penalty shoot-out won or lost, for every home run we celebrate or concede, on the merry return home with face-paint, friends, chants and songs, the house always wins.

042265mUnsurprisingly, after months and weeks of ushering away this national problem, I finally find my attentions turned towards one of the most controversial topics still alive in the United States today. Aside from the death penalty and other humanitarian issues like abortion, race discrimination continues to be one of the most pressing issues in current American society. At ground level, particularly in a city like St Louis, there is very clear evidence of deep, insitutionalised thinking on race that exists in many pockets within cities. It drags it’s heels, wanting to latch on to as many generations as it can, supplying oxygen to the central issues explored in the film Driving Miss Daisy; something that comes as much of a surprise and an abhorrence to myself as it does to many other Europeans. While Europe has it’s quota of discrimination issues regarding race and ethnicity, the manner in which these issues are handled psychologically and socially are completely and utterly different. With all the dubious opinions that the US holds on EU policies and the rights of our governing bodies, the historical curve to leave for dead the era of slavery, has been turned a long time ago.

Thanks to rapid globalisation, the world and it’s socio-political structures affect a greater demographic of people because the world as we know it, has become a smaller place. Nowhere else is this more apparent than my hometown of London, England. Famous for being the melting pot of multiculturalism, it has in recent years come to beat even New York’s claim for cultural diversity with a stick. Albeit controversially and to the fury of many natives, a large proportion of this 8 million people do what foreigners have always done in London, and that is, to bring with them a stubbornness to leave behind any of their culture. What this means is that London, over the course of many years, has repeatedly had several cultures living side by side over the centuries. Unlike that which is found in America, these cultures are in no way adapted, in no way Anglicised, in no way integrated. Many of you would stand up at this point and declare that this is exactly the downfall of the Judeo-Christian values Britain was built on, and I won’t argue with you on that. However, the point that I wish to make of this, is that to a degree Britain’s subcultures have gradually become more and more colour-blind; the chances being, that you are, in all probability, an immigrant yourself and have no room to talk anymore. There still remain problems with racial tolerance in few pockets of a diverse and liberal city like London, but nothing, nothing to the scale of what is found in America. Why?

I was speaking with an American relative recently who has practiced law for many years. Of all the things that piqued my interest, she made one statement that stuck with me. America is an aggressive country. At many levels, it is evident that American thinking and ideas present themselves in quite an aggressive manner; often found in marketing, advertising, petitioning and media, and this is no longer a quality unique just to the American market. But this aggression can be found both commercially in a positive light and sociologically, quite negatively. It is here that we find a different strain of racial tension than found in other parts of the world, one involving particularly latin, black and white enclaves. This is one which engulfs whole communities with a climate of hostility, making a feature of knowing looks, aversion, fear, aggravation, confrontation, avoidance and ultimately, the curse of unforgiveness. A lot of investments are made with the race factor taken into consideration, whether it is employment or property and real estate. This only heightens the tension that years of history have already allowed limescale to build over. You only have to flip over to a Tyra Banks’ talk show and listen awhile, to see that racial tension, overtly aggressive or passive-aggressive, especially amongst these three groups, is still a deep rooted issue in today’s society in this country. It is sad, it is ugly; yet what are people doing to eradicate the barriers that have been built up around these communities and caused segregation for an excessively long time? Not enough it seems.

There may have been a breakthrough moment in having a black president in power, I do not discount that for a moment. But aside from coming to your house, knocking on the door and dragging your entire family out to the “other” side of town to shake hands, kiss and make up, I cannot honestly see how the President of the United States can be expected to repair the damage racism has done to every single community in the entire country. That is plainly the responsibility of the people who perpetuated this stinking thinking in the first place. If it has become the NORM in Europe that black, white, brown, purple and blue people can overcome a dark past, sit on a bus together, be the best of friends and consider each other equal, America seriously needs to play catch up for the sake of the generation being handed the keys to the future of their country.