Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thomas Roberts and Melissa Harris-Perry: To Fix a Broken Social Contract, We Need an "I Am Other" Agenda

In response to the George Zimmerman verdict, Thomas Roberts and Melissa Harris-Perry conclude that the American social contract is broken, and propose that the American media begin focusing for a change on those construed by the mainstream as threatening "others," and on letting those others have voices and tell their stories. Roberts states,

Because as we look at this we can use this as a great pivot point to talk about race relations in this country. 
But, being an "other" — whether it’s LGBT — because you’re then suspected of being a pedophile and a rabid disease carrier. 
And if you are a woman, well, you certainly don’t have a right to your own body and your own reproductive health — because if you do then you’re a slut that wants to sleep around and use abortion as birth control. 
And then, if you’re Hispanic — well you’re just a taker, you’re not a maker and you want to come here and have anchor babies, and you just want to lay off the land. 
Isn’t that the — and I want to challenge this network: we have to have an "I am other" agenda and have a forum for it, because others need to unite to talk about this and figure out where we are going as a country. 
The social contract that we have currently negotiated — that is so wrong — and how this is happening in a country where we have this huge group of people that — it’s supposed to be a melting pot — but we treat each other with such disdain it’s not even funny.

And as David Badash notes in reporting about this proposal for The New Civil Rights Movement (the link above points to his article), in response to what Roberts says, the fringe right becomes even more unhinged. Because we simply can't have all those "others" finding common ground, making common cause, and changing the current system in some fundamental way. Not when the system as it's now organized benefits us.

As an interesting footnote to this discussion, Badash also reports that 35 LGBT organizations yesterday issued an open letter to Trayvon Martin's parents, arguing that "Trayvon deserves justice." The LGBT groups say about the Martin family, "We stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for justice, civil rights and closure. And we thank everyone who has pushed and will continue to push for justice."

And as Paul Krugman notes (though he's not talking about the Zimmerman verdict, but about the recent GOP decision to award agribusiness huge subsidies while slicing food support for the poorest of the poor), what's broken in the American social contract today isn't all about race, when a majority of those benefiting from food stamps in some states are white and not black or Hispanic: 

So what’s going on here? Is it just racism? No doubt the old racist canards — like Ronald Reagan’s image of the "strapping young buck" using food stamps to buy a T-bone steak — still have some traction. But these days almost half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites; in Tennessee, home of the Bible-quoting Mr. Fincher, the number is 63 percent. So it’s not all about race. 
What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli, in the famous rant that launched the Tea Party, called "losers." If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold.

How a nation broken in this precise way gets its soul--its social contract--back is something rather murky to me. What I do know is that if that soul is to be recovered (and I personally think that its recovery is not a foregone conclusion), the process of healing has to begin with just what Thomas Roberts and Melissa Harris-Perry call for: renewed attention by the mainstream and its powerful media to the voices, and to the lives, of those who are othered by how things are now arranged.

No comments: