Summer has officially begun. This means, of course, vacations, barbecues, long days, and, perhaps, a rise in crime rates in certain places, including Chicago, a city that has become (unfairly) a poster child for violence in urban America. The numbers have started to pour in already. The day after Father’s Day, news outlets reported that at least 27 people had been shot in the city over the holiday weekend, with two people losing their lives. As has become custom, a compendium of who was killed and where filled such articles, and as anyone with some knowledge of the city’s layout understands, the violence is mostly located on the city’s south and west sides, where much of the population is black. Indeed, it may be a harrowing summer for many.
The city, it seems, is grasping at straws. During any given commercial break, WGCI or V103 or some other radio station will remind listeners to put the guns down in a way an automated voice might remind you of a doctor’s appointment or a hotel wakeup call. There’s no pleading, really. Just a friendly reminder. This effort, it seems, presumes that the disembodied voice of a DJ is persuasive enough to give one second thoughts. Oh, hey, I was about to take my gun out and shoot somebody, but now that you mention it, I think I’ll just put it back in the safe. It’s an absurd campaign, really, whose potential effectiveness can only be properly explored in an Onion article.
Then again, we cannot blame the DJs. After all, on a much grander scale we see efforts that connote a similar response in me. Exhibit A: the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. MBK is a program endeavoring to help any young male of color “willing to do the hard work to get ahead.” The Administration hopes to connect these hard working young men with mentoring and to assist them in getting the skills they need in order to succeed. However, MBK relies on philanthropic efforts and the altruism of private corporations to help do this work. Although the directive comes from the government, as other people have noted, the effort has no policy. Put crudely, it relies upon the goodness of corporations and non-profits to help steer these young men willing to work hard, thereby reinvigorating the argument that the reason why these young men don’t get ahead is because, well, they don’t want to put in the work. Of course, part of the response to the MBK initiative is some sort of remix to the retorts regarding the Million Man March. Which is to say that folks are spending plenty of time talking about how there is no sisterly arm to MBK. In other words, the POTUS has focused on young men of color, while leaving young girls of color to fend for themselves.
The complaint is noted, but I think misguided, and reminds me of the clamor after Pharrell released his album, G.I.R.L. If you recall, black women were upset that they weren’t represented on the cover of the album in white robes flanking Mr. Happy. There just wasn’t anyone dark enough in Pharrell’s harem, and they wanted him to know that they didn’t appreciate not being invited. It seems that none of them wanted to think more about what they were upset about, or what they were fighting to be a part of. In a similar, but albeit much less silly way, the argument for young sisters to have their own Obama-approved initiative makes a similar claim. They want to be a part of something that has no systemic teeth. MBK is characterized by an argument steeped in the same respectability that pathologizes black folks and relies on the kind-hearts of capitalism to help out. It does nothing to change or impact policy or seismically shift the structures which create such inequality. On a macro level, this might prove to be as effective as DJ announcements.
As we report and speculate on the correlation between rises in temperature and the crime rate, it might also be the season to revisit these paltry efforts to make summer less frightening for some. Instead of asking young folks to put down the guns between Rick Ross and Drake songs, instead of trolling Black America yet again, perhaps we think more about why such actions are essentially ineffective–and absurd. If the request is to put down the guns, then the reply is, quite simply, “and pick up what”? A decent education? A job with a livable wage? A chisel to help dismantle policies that assure the ineffectiveness of presidential and blaaaazing hip hop and R&B efforts? Any related question, rhetorical or not, would prove more beneficial than measly request and anemic White House efforts that do nothing prevent summer from being so cruel.