One of the biggest news items recently in Chicago is the increase of "flash mobs," or groups of young people who supposedly use social media to suddenly overtake and mug 1 or 2 victims. If you read the news reports online (here is an example), the comments make me think we haven't progressed at all in the last fifty years. Why do I continue to subject myself to reading comments on news websites, and why do I feel the need to respond? Well, I think that these comments tend to reflect a lot of people's beliefs about our society, so I often feel compelled to respond when I feel they are based on misconceptions and ignorance.
These flash mob incidents happen downtown or on the north side, and if you're not familiar with Chicago, these areas are generally more affluent and are populated by fewer African-Americans than the south side. The suspicion is that black teens from the south side are coming up north to "prey on" white people with iPhones. Most of the comment sections devolve into meta-critiques of the state of poorer neighborhoods with high crime rates who receive government assistance. Many commenters reference the belief that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to better their environment so they don't have to resort to criminal activity.
Predictably, these same critics point out that they themselves didn't accept anything from the government, and ended up successful with no help.
Give me a break. These kinds of comments display complete ignorance of the structural forces that have kept entire groups from success for decades. A quick example: I recently researched negative covenants for work, and a common restriction in deeds in certain areas was that no black people could reside in the property. The discrimination was/is systematic and widespread.
I don't mean that there is no room for personal responsibility in this debate, but it astounds me that successful middle- and upper-class people think that they "made it" based on their sheer will and personal responsibility alone. About three years ago I linked to a little story from a progressive radio program, but I find it remains very relevant today: Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican.
Guess what? You didn't die from cholera because government regulations ensure we have clean water.
You had access to vaccines as a child, because the government has taken public health seriously.
You have vacation time, medical insurance, and workman's comp because liberals have lobbied for worker protection.
You can deposit your wads of hard-earned cash in a bank and trust that the FDIC will shut down the bank if things go awry.
And, probably what was a huge contributor to your success, your education was made possible thanks to below-market student loans, again thanks to the government.
No, you did not become successful on your own, with your iPad and your trendy Lakeview condo. You are not inherently more moral or hardworking than southside Chicagoans. Please stop calling these young people "rodents," "scum," and "freeloaders."
I will admit, as I'm downtown two nights a week and walk alone after 9 pm to my train, this coverage has made me think it will be just a matter of time before I'm a victim. But too often we forget that these incidents have been happening long before they became a media fad. Why does it become a "big deal" when the violence occurs a few miles north, with lighter-skinned victims? Unfortunately, the hysteria has completely ignored these structural, broader questions.