COMMENTARY | You may have now heard about the Huntington Beach Riot, where violence broke out Sunday after a surfing competition. Yes, a surfing competition. The dramatic footage shows men pushing over portable toilets, smashing shop windows, and police in riot gear.
As I said, dramatic.
But do not consider your coverage complete without the satirical piece from Chris Hayes at MSNBC. In a brilliantly somber interview with Gawker’s Cord Jefferson, a man who can only be described as “easy on the peepers,” the two lament the seemingly unsolvable problem of violent “white culture,” and the scourge of white-on-white crime.
Questioned about his own possible satirical racism, Jefferson assured Hayes, as is tradition, that his best friend is white. I won’t say more, because you should watch the video yourself. And don’t worry about being incensed by it, it says right up front that it is a work of satire.
It’s biting satire. But it’s satire.
Until I watched that piece, I really never thought about how accepting we are about the notion of a “black-on-black” crime problem, how easily it works its way into discourse, how much the idea of it is given an air of legitimacy. And that’s from a person knowledgeable about both race issues and crime statistics.
The reality is you are far more likely to be a victim of violence from someone you know than stranger, and, along with that, offenders and victims are, the vast majority of the time, of the same race. So why don’t we talk about “white-on-white” crime? Why has it taken days for a full-scale riot – which, reports CNN, took hours to break up and led to eight arrests – to become national news?
The answer is simple but painful, and was elegantly skewered in the Hayes interview. When a group of apparently enraged or celebratory surfing fans decide to cause havoc, smash shop windows and try to take the contents, their behavior is not seen as indicative of the behavior of anyone who shares their hue. Their actions are not inextricably tied to the level of melanin present in their skin.
No, it’s just a group of surfing, umm, “fans,” who got out of control. It’s not given the cultural weight or universal meaning that gave rise to the concept of “violence” in “black culture.”
No one claims it’s an inevitable consequence of the culture around surfing. No one implies that white kids are always right there on the edge of a riot at any time, in any place. People act as though surprise is merited.
Sometimes it takes humor to see the truth, to shift the lens enough to see the wires that were always there. Just like with Hayes’ piece, that small change can bathe everything in a whole new light.