I saw the movie Detroit last night. I squirmed. The beatings. The murders. I looked up the Algiers Motel incident when I came home. I squirmed some more.
And then I decided to look around in the NYT and see what was being reported around the time Detroit was experiencing its revolution and reaction.
In the summer of 1967, there was a riot in Newark, a riot in Syracuse, a riot in Tokyo, a riot in Cambridge Maryland, student riots in Brazil, a riot in Cincinnati, a riot in Manchuria, a riot in Clearwater Florida, a riot in Nashville, a riot in Houston, a riot in the Roxbury section of Boston, etc. In Philadelphia, the Mayor, riding the white rage wave, accused a group of “revolutionary” negroes of planning a mass poisoning of whites. Arlen Spector, then Philadelphia’s D.A., held a news conference to announce the charges.
The NYT times helpfully labeled these Negro Riots. As in the headline: “Milwaukee Calm after Negro Riot.” Whites, apparently, only responded to the riot. When the police beat peeps in the street, that wasn’t rioting, but anti-rioting. In this way, a riot is unlike a dance, in which both partners are described as dancing.
1967 was an interesting year in the racial geography of the U.S. Small news stories indicate larger phenomena. Take Cheshire Connecticut. Cheshire was an upscale suburb north of New Haven. One of its selectmen, name of William E.Kennedy, Jr., thought it would be a good idea to officially pass a resolution welcoming Negro homeowners. This roused the town from its dogmatic slumbers, apparently, and the select board found itself confronted by angy – but non-rioting – affluent suburbanites who, in the words of one of them, didn’t want to be “forced to welcome anyone.” Anyone is a nice disguise. It is used today whenever black lives matter is mentioned. Don’t all lives matter? The suburbanite from Cheshire would recognize the world of Trump’s America as her own. In the event, Kennedy’s resolution was altered to a welcome to anyone.
I’m not a fan of all the sixties shit, but I am astonished at how unsettled things were in America, how rapidly things moved. The period from 1945 to around 1980 featuring an explosion of civil rights activity, as well as an anti-colonialist revolution, of which the Detroit riot was a part.
The rupture created in this period was re-interpreted, and the liberatory impulses lost, in the neoliberal era, which extends from the 80s until now.
Neo-liberalism, too, was initiated in a call to arms against the state – a call to arms for the wealthy. In the mix, national governments are supposedly undermined – which I take to be a surface phenomenon of a more profound shift to wealth inequality. The call for shrinking the gov is easily reversed, as it was in 2008-9, when the fortunes of the top of the wealth scale are threatened. In the Anglo countries, unsurprisingly, great inequality went hand in hand with mass incarceration, and an astonishing absolute loss in the assets held by communities that were gaining power in the 45-80 period. Here I guess the African-American experience is exemplary. Now I wouldn’t want to say that this pushback effected all marginalised groups. Groups that are represented in the wealthiest class due, simply, to the way that class is composed of human beings – white women and white gays – have benefited from the end effects of previous civil rights movements. This is to the good. My feeling, though, is that the choice to mobilize the productive sectors of the nations with more developed economies in a great global game of musical chairs identified the gains made by these two groups with “globalisation” – instead of the liberation movements of the epoch before – and this price has been onerous and increasing. This is the hocus pocus that gives us an image of the racist white working class while the racism is all led by the white wealthy, an upper class that, in the U.S. for instance, is 96 percent white. A liberatory globalisation movement still has not arisen. When it does – when a general strike in China, say, is mirrored by one in the US – then I would say globalisation has turned, as it was turning in the sixties. We live in the pause. The old globalization was one of urban guerillas, condemned by NYT editorial and FBI director alike.