Thursday, August 02, 2007

Let them eat...lettuce

Why I pick lettuce for the Black Panthers | Salon Life

Thursday's my harvest day for the Black Panthers. I begin in West Oakland, Calif., at an urban garden run by the not-for-profit City Slicker Farms. The beds are chock-full of roaming squash plants, beets and collard greens. I'm here for the lettuce. I might choose the red frilly Outredgeous, or the chartreuse black-seeded Simpson, or the Bronze Arrow; whichever looks the largest and healthiest, I pick five heads. Then I bike back to my own backyard plot 20 blocks away, in a run-down area of Oakland called Ghost Town, where I pick basil, marjoram, mint, wild arugula and edible flowers (nasturtiums and borage) to add to the mix. I want the Panthers to enjoy a gourmet salad, you see.

Welcome to 1969.

Here is a rich, white chickie doing her little random kindness and senseless acts of beauty for a street gang with a PR department. Why do chickies do this sort of thing?

I suppose the cute little charities are part of the training: girls specialize in niceness and charm, give whimsical inexpensive presents wrapped in newsprint, chit-chat at parties to entertain their guests and draw out those who are shy or socially inept, provide the ornament and filigree, the cute little extras. It's not hard to see why women are trained to do this job: without power or expertise, and without a lot of money in their control, women can't accomplish anything of significant value so they're trained to do these the labor-intensive, time-intensive creative niceties that don't take much money, power, or expertise. Men will pay for it.

The fascination with big, bad, underclass dudes is harder to understand.

When most people think of the Panthers, they think of black men wearing leather jackets and carrying guns, or the famous photo of founder Huey Newton sitting in a wicker throne with a spear in one hand, a shotgun in the other. What have been forgotten are the free medical clinics, the bus service for visiting prisons, the breakfast programs for kids and the thousands of bags of food handed out to needy folks.

Like Hezbollah, or any of the other gangs of lower-class thugs in the Third World who've astutely rebranded themselves as political revolutionaries, the Black Panthers were astute enough to make a show of little charities to win over silly lefty chicks and maintain control over their turf. Turf control by criminal gangs is an old story--from the Mafia to Mungiki: in failed states and slums the cops have written off as no-go areas, where random violence is rife, organized crime protects the populace from disorganized crime and dispenses patronage. Unlike the US government, war lords understand the importance of exercising soft power.

It's more mysterious why rich chickies hook up (socially or sexually) with these lower-class thugs. I suppose it's largely for the novelty of it, an expression of individuality or rebellion. Brought up in literate, liberal, egalitarian households under the auspices of ambitious parents who expect them to be corporate lawyers, girls take up with inarticulate, lower-class males who trash them and beat them up. Back in 1969 both girls and boys were keen on emulating the lower-classes. Boys went on the road, did odd jobs, and played redneck. Girls played Lady Madonna, waitressing for them, cooking for them, birthing their babies and getting trashed. The bolder girls took up with real lower-class males, picked up big, bad dudes who were only too happy to add them to their stables for additional prestige. Most boys and girls got bored living in shit after a few years and got back on track, though some achieved authentic, permanent downward mobility.

Women who weren't white or rich or privileged always knew better. There was one remarkable comedy monologue on In Living Color years ago in which a black woman got it down perfectly. It went something like this: "I'm a liberated Black Women, and when mah man he come home from his other gal he beat the crap out of me and dat is FREE-DOM!"

I suppose chickies who bike to the slums with their garden produce are harmless (I wonder if the author wears cute striped socks and floppy hats when she delivers her gourmet salads). Still, there's something obscene about this flakey chickie, in the spirit of high self-congratuation, doing business with brutal, misogynistic thugs and dispensing fancy veg to poor kids who live in dangerous neighborhoods, go to crappy schools and, realistically, have little chance of getting out. I'd love to beat her face in.

I'm not even sure exactly why. I suppose that even though I detest the lower classes and their garbage culture, that brutal world where women breed and men fight, I empathize. "You can shove that lettuce up your ass, bitch. Get on your cute bicycle and peddle home--you don't belong here. If you want to do me a real favor, get me the hell out of this shit!"

3 comments:

Dean said...

Wow for someone who is claiming himself a part of the Enlightenment Project you sure are bigoted. You revel in your male white middle class-ness not as a shameless self affirmation(which is fine)but as a fairly obvious usage of "contempt as self fortification". But hey racism was merely filtered by the Enlightenment rather than reformed, and you are a perfect example of that. Maybe if you've ever been traumatised, victimised or oppressed you may actually find the limits of your so called "Harvard" style rationalism. Doubt you would be any different than Eldridge Cleaver. I imagine you may even be worse, because you don't exactly glow with compassion regardless of your useage of the word "empathise".

H. E. said...

Oh those counterfactuals!

If I were male I'm quite sure that I would be like Eldridge Cleaver--it's a tribute to the male of the species that more aren't. I've often wondered what it would be like to grow up male, first a kid and then, over a few months have a growth spurt, develop big muscles, discover that people are scared of me and that I can beat people up. It must be like winning the lottery: suddenly you have power. It's heartening that most men who acquire that advantage, even at a young age, are sufficiently prudent and decent not to take up crime and violence.

As for the other counterfactual, if I were poor and oppressed I would be deeply offended by having rich, privileged, self-contratulatory bien pensants come to my neighborhood dispensing cute little goodies that don't substantively improve my quality of life. "I'm living in a lousy situation with few real opportunities to get out, and you give me--lettuce?!!?" It's not hard to understand why Marie Antoinette got the chop. "And to add insult to injury you assume that you're doing a good thing coming into my neighborhood, being friendly and telling the world what great people we are. You're an intruder. You're so confident of your own superiority that it's never even occurred to you that we have no interest in your approval and don't particularly want you here. What makes you think that we feel any differently about you than your rich, white, privileged neighbors would feel about us if we biked up to your neighborhood to be friendly?"

IMHO we need less compassion and more empathy--the ability to walk in other people's moccasins.

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