The reason the status quo is not the answer is that the status quo cannot be the answer

See update for June 4, 2020 at end of post


IMG_20200531_131906
Fig. 1. Graffiti declaring “I Love You, I Miss You” has appeared in lots of places around Pittsburgh. This is one example, captured when I didn’t have the opportunity to frame the shot better. Photograph by author, May 31, 2020.

In the wake of destructive protests that continue nationwide, including in Pittsburgh,[1] responding to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis,[2] Pittsburgh’s mayor affirmed the status quo and incremental progress:

This is a status quo that is profoundly racist[3] in a city that is profoundly racist and white supremacist,[4] and that in fact shows abolutely no sign of progress in social justice, but rather, if anything in recent decades, the reverse.[5] I have already addressed Antifa and the problem of violent revolution, a problem in which the solution reproduces the problem, separately. But as I said then,[6] and explained more thoroughly on May 29th, nonviolence is, as well, an inadequate response when progress is simply not being made and human beings are being killed.[7] So I responded to the mayor:

In Pittsburgh, you’re never far from poverty, dire poverty that has visibly gone unaddressed for decades, poverty that ought to be the shame of any so-called “progressive,” including the mayor, so I continued,

I’ve talked about gentrification in Pittsburgh too.[8] It is, for all its reliably broken promises of providing good-paying jobs to the poor, the only answer the status quo ever has for the sort of poverty that can be found in many, many more places than not in Pittsburgh. It is here what it is everywhere: Developers get richer and the poor get poorer, displaced perhaps, homeless perhaps, destitute perhaps, but still poor.

The simple fact is that the status quo is not the answer. As with so many other problems, it is incapable of being the answer.

But more than that, the status quo doesn’t even want to be the answer. The status quo is about excuses and it excuses lethal police racism by trying to single out “a few bad apples.” James Downie thinks he shouldn’t have to rebut that excuse and, of course, he’s right. He shouldn’t. And of course, as he explains, this is a systemic problem. It’s really rather obscene and, in fact, offensive that he still has to explain it.[9] But the dominant race hides behind that racism[10] and thus provides cover for the status quo.

The status quo, as I explained of functionalist conservatism in my dissertation, simply wants to protect the privileges that distinguish the wealthy and powerful from everyone else.[11] It deploys racism, along with any other differences among human beings it can find, as a means to protect elites and their position.[12] And that’s really what Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s supposedly “progressive” mayor, perhaps subconsciously, was doing. That’s what Donald Trump and Bill Barr, perhaps more consciously, were doing.[13] That’s what shows how little difference there is between them.


Update, June 4, 2020: When I saw the headline, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” on a Brookings Institute piece,[14] I immediately thought of the decrepit and rotting housing I have seen in so many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh that I referred to in my second reply to Mayor Bill Peduto (reproduced here). This housing is allowed to rot, I thought, precisely because the lives of the human beings who live in it are not valued.

To be generous, that would be an imprecise rendering of Andre Perry and Jonathan Rothwell’s point.[15] They really return to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ point, without ever mentioning redlining, about the way that devalued properties rob Blacks of wealth. They merely allude to a larger point that indeed Blacks have been systematically robbed of wealth, beginning—only beginning—with slavery.[16] That said, Perry and Rothwell advocate a series of policy recommendations meant “to restore the value that racism has extracted from them. Those who are chiding protestors should redirect their pleas to policymakers who can do such a thing.”[17]

That said, the deprivation of wealth surely affects Black property owners’ ability to maintain their housing. In effect, redlining continues as lines of credit are constrained by the values of collateral property as well as by the incomes Blacks are most often able to earn.

  1. [1]David Charter, “George Floyd: US rocked by worst race riots since 1960s,” Times, June 1, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/american-cities-rocked-by-worst-race-riots-since-the-1960s-fn0x0jlmj; Ian Lovett, Erin Ailworth, and Joe Barrett, “Minnesota Bolsters Law Enforcement as Protests Roil U.S. After George Floyd’s Death,” Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/george-floyd-protests-minneapolis-11590844180; Dillon Carr and Natasha Lindstrom, “George Floyd protests in Pittsburgh: Curfew in effect; protesters turn violent; police cars torched,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 30, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/protests-underway-in-downtown-pittsburgh/; KDKA, “Pittsburgh Public Safety Has Declared ‘Unlawful Assembly’ Downtown, Urging Businesses To Close, Residents To Stay Home,” May 30, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/05/30/protest-shuts-down-streets-downtown/; Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/; Philip Rucker, “As cities burned, Trump stayed silent — other than tweeting fuel on the fire,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-cities-burned-trump-stayed-silent–other-than-tweeting-fuel-on-the-fire/2020/05/31/4fc8761a-a354-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html; Rebecca Tan et al, “Night of destruction across D.C. after protesters clash with police outside White House,” Washington Post, June 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-braces-for-third-day-of-protests-and-clashes-over-death-of-george-floyd/2020/05/31/589471a4-a33b-11ea-b473-04905b1af82b_story.html
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck arrested on murder charge,” Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-29/minnesota-george-floyd-officer-arrested
  3. [3]Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/
  4. [4]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/; David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/; David Benfell, “Pittsburgh, race, and a threat to appropriated identity,” Not Housebroken, May 17, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/17/pittsburgh-race-and-a-threat-to-appropriated-identity/; Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019, https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/10/one-year-after-tree-of-life-we-still-arent-talking.html; Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 25, 2019, https://www.cjr.org/tow_center_reports/racism-black-burnout-in-pittsburgh-journalism.php; Eric Heyl, “Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, Islamic Hate Groups Active In Pittsburgh,” Patch, August 16, 2017, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/pittsburgh/neo-nazi-white-supremacist-islamic-hate-groups-active-pittsburgh; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018, https://forward.com/scribe/413104/pittsburgh-doesnt-need-more-guns-we-need-less-white-supremacy/; Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele, and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html; Charles Thompson, “Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups last year, ranking 8th in the country: report,” PennLive, February 21, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/02/southern-poverty-law-center-counts-36-active-hate-groups-in-pennsylvania-in-2018.html
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh, race, and a threat to appropriated identity,” Not Housebroken, May 29, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/17/pittsburgh-race-and-a-threat-to-appropriated-identity/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Violence is the illegitimate authority that begets all other illegitimate authority,” Not Housebroken, July 1, 2019,
  7. [7]David Benfell, “What are ‘proper directions’ for protest when peaceful protest is for naught?” Not Housebroken, May 29, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/01/violence-is-the-illegitimate-authority-that-begets-all-other-illegitimate-authority/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh is repeating San Francisco’s mistake,” Not Housebroken, May 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/13/pittsburgh-is-repeating-san-franciscos-mistake/
  9. [9]James Downie, “Time to toss the ‘bad apples’ excuse,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/31/time-toss-bad-apples-excuse/
  10. [10]Elie Mystal, “There’s Only One Possible Conclusion: White America Likes Its Killer Cops,” Nation, May 27, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/society/white-america-cops/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  12. [12]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” Not Housebroken, March 12, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2012/03/19/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  13. [13]David Charter, “George Floyd: US rocked by worst race riots since 1960s,” Times, June 1, 2020, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/american-cities-rocked-by-worst-race-riots-since-the-1960s-fn0x0jlmj; Philip Rucker, “As cities burned, Trump stayed silent — other than tweeting fuel on the fire,” Washington Post, May 31, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-cities-burned-trump-stayed-silent–other-than-tweeting-fuel-on-the-fire/2020/05/31/4fc8761a-a354-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html
  14. [14]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/
  15. [15]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/
  16. [16]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/; Thomas M. Shapiro, ed., Great Divides, 3rd ed. (Boston: Mc Graw Hill, 2005).
  17. [17]Andre M. Perry and Jonathan Rothwell, “When Black lives are valued, property becomes worth saving,” Brookings Institute, June 3, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/06/03/when-black-lives-are-valued-property-becomes-worth-saving/

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