Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Exactly like a prophecy

Sarah Kendzior is actively peddling the classic right-wing line blaming conflict with authorities on "outside agitators". This is transparently gross and dumb for reasons Richard Seymour points out, and for reasons that anyone who has ever fought for solidarity instantly understands. That's why Kendzior is trying to trade on her status as some kind of native insider to give her monstrous position some kind of minimal credibility.

The simple response is to point out that Kendzior herself has almost nothing in common with the protesters in Ferguson. Contrary to the implication of constant third-person references to "white people", for example, it turns out that Kendzior is white. She lives in a majority-white area of St. Louis. She has had the luxury of a prestige career in academia and journalism and has famously enjoyed a lifestyle of travel that privileged folks take for granted but that is basically unprecedented in the history of the world. Not only does Kendzior have little in common with the average oppressed, impoverished black resident of Ferguson - as a matter of basic statistics, she almost certainly has less in common with them than the average "outside agitator".

A second point worth making here. Lest anyone forget that Kendzior is a native insider, she has retweeted some odd praise known creeper Joshua Foust posted about one of her articles:

This is flattering, but uh did Sarah Kendzior actually prophesy anything even remotely resembling what is happening in Ferguson? Presumably that would mean:
  1. Predicting that a black person would be shot by the police
  2. Predicting that the black community would respond to this with mass protests
  3. Predicting that the police would react with grossly disproportionate force
Now let's go through the article and see what she actually writes. Paragraph-by-paragraph summary:
  • St. Louis is less prosperous than it used to be.
  • In St. Louis, "art is for everyone".
  • St. Louis features contrasts of wealth and poverty.
  • Evocative trivia about St. Louis and an anecdote about an African-American man who was totally polite.
  • St. Louis is like many urban areas in the US that people ignore until something like the Ariel Castro kidnappings happen.
  • St. Louis is a great place to live but outsiders just don't understand.
  • St. Louis has an interesting and somewhat troubled history that includes both hamburgers and racism, much like other cities.
  • St. Louis is a city where people endure poverty.
  • You notice poverty when you live in St. Louis.
  • St. Louis's iconic arch is part of a complex where the Dred Scott case was settled.
  • Black residents of St. Louis live in poverty and are dehumanized.
  • St. Louis participated in the global fast food strikes.
  • St. Louis can be thought of as a symbol of past glory and decay.
  • Maybe things will get better!
So what exactly is the prophecy here? There are general observations about racism, poverty and urban decay - but nothing that can't be said about nearly any city in the United States. Her example of civil unrest involved a strike that was taking place all around the world, particularly outside of the United States.

In other words, Foust is right: this is as prophetic as every prophecy ever. To the extent that it is at all relevant to Ferguson, it is so general as to be relevant to everything. To the extent that it's specific, it makes no mention of police shooting someone, no mention of mass protests in response and no mention of a violent, retaliatory police crackdown.

It's easy enough to point out that our liberal Twitter personalities are not in fact psychics with some kind of mystical insight into the future of St. Louis. But the telling thing here is that what Kendzior promotes as "prophetic" barely even qualifies as observation; her idea of an insightful essay involves an anecdote about how a black man was nice to her even though he has gold teeth (!).

Two more notes before I finish complaining about this:
  • If you're going to make a point in your essay about how poor black residents of St. Louis aren't treated like human beings, you probably should not end it with the line "St Louis is no longer a city where you come to be somebody."
  • I know that this sort of banal portrait-of-a-city gloomy essay is supposed to end with a glimmer of hope, but if the prediction here is that "St. Louis might be the [city] to rise up" then Kendzior is almost certainly wrong. Here is your prediction, which barely even qualifies as a prediction because it's how this always works: the protests will die out with little-to-no substantive change.