The US as Sal’s Pizzeria: When to ‘Do The Right Thing’ is looting
The nice thing about art, novels, and the like is that we can be mercilessly judgmental of our favourite characters and villains if we so choose, precisely because we must always try to be the total opposite for flesh-and-blood human beings. The people who confuse escapist non-reality with sensitive reality are called “actors” and “actresses”, and they are usually insufferable.
Vengeance is the Lord’s, indeed – but social justice is a human construct. This burning reality, was recently on display in the US during the rebellions over police brutality. Without a doubt many burned stores were the result of a lot of score-settling against both abusive small proprietors and impersonal corporate stores.
The only way to judge any single case properly is to know all the facts, but what does an aggrieved community do when the facts are widely known but the government refuses to act?
Answer: Sometimes with organisation (a Cultural Revolution), and sometimes with vigilante justice (like last week), community justice can finally be rendered. Many recoil at the term “vigilante justice”, but the term only definitely implies major flaws within the existing pathways to justice and not within the justice-seekers. Many American jingoists confuse losing faith in the American justice system with citizen treachery, but such are the hysterics of typical reactionaries….
Do The Right Thing, by Spike Lee, was included on my list of the greatest political movies of all time, as it’s a perfect-pitch analysis of how an urban African-American neighbourhood can get enraged into an anti-establishment rebellion. It’s amazing that such an honest movie about US racial politics could actually receive Hollywood backing, but it was not surprising that it was not even nominated for their Best Picture Oscar in 1989, which was awarded to Driving Miss Daisy – a feel-good racial healing movie about a rich Southern White woman and her bond with her chauffeur (or something like that, I have never bothered to watch such tripe). Indeed, where was Kanye West when that award was handed out?
(SPOILERS – If I recall correctly): Briefly, Do The Right Thing centers around a worker (Spike Lee) who toils for a chauvinistic Italian family who runs a pizza parlour in Brooklyn. Sal the owner is charismatic, but authoritarian, disrespectful, greedy and racist. As a result of these reactionary beliefs and practices one of his worker/sons is basically a KKK member, if only the KKK would let in Italians. Again, to be brief in this recap, a central dramatic fulcrum is the refusal of Sal to reflect his African-American clientele to allow some photos of Black leaders up on his parlour’s wall of Italian-American adoration. Sal was defending his legal right to do whatever he wanted with his property no matter whom it hurt, in that very American libertarian way. After a young Black man is murdered by cops in a choke hold, Lee launches a garbage can through the pizza parlour window, igniting a rebellion. Lee and Sal confront each other in the wreckage, with Lee importantly refusing extra wages thrown at him by Sal, as this was obviously not about mere money but issues larger than even a pizza parlour’s wall of pride in my ethnicity but not yours (i.e., capitalist-imperialist “identity politics”).
But in a key way it was not: had Sal been more embracing of his community and customers, then they would not have demanded revenge for his years of abuse and of taking them for granted. The wall of Italian-American adoration represents the way African-Americans are totally shut out of US socio-political life & success, no matter how esteemed their representatives are elsewhere around the world. Sal was not victimised by vigilante justice – he was punished by it for being an arrogant profiteer of the American system which Blacks are oppressed by.
Others will see the movie differently: the cynical, or the racist, or the politically-ignorant will say that there was no political issues at play here – it’s just an example of base criminality, greed, wrath, etc.
It is definitely worth rewatching today, as art can help us peacefully and personally clarify our ideas, but if you have kids – they must watch it. Do The Right Thing should be taught in US public schools because it is an unparalleled example of modern leftist art.
Even amid today’s rebellion, the biggest issue for African-Americans is not police brutality… but the MSM wants to limit it to that
Of course police brutality is an enormous and blisteringly personal issue for African-Americans, but it is a woeful commentary on “capitalism with American characteristics” that it is actually not their main issue. Anyone who says I am wrong clearly has no idea about modern African-American life under the modern US system of “bankocracy”. Take for example the West Side of Chicago, their third-largest city:
The arsons and theft there were not as bad as it could have been for the simple fact that there is nothing there to burn or steal. In these poor Black urban areas one finds only homes and churches – they are very nearly rural areas with huge lots sitting totally empty. There are no stores, no jobs, no community centers and few decent homes because “disinvestment” (really, “non-investment”) is an even worse issue for African-Americans than police brutality.
In the US bankocratic system private bank investment rules completely – as opposed centrally-planned government economic intervention, which is rejected by neoliberalism – and US banks refuse to invest a dime in poor Black areas.
The homes are falling down or abandoned because in American bankocracy it has been decided that these homes are so shoddy and that the land so worthless that no loans can be diffused there. However, investing money is OBVIOUSLY the only way to EVER create value – but the US system could care less about Blacks…and it’s not just their cops. For ever $1 loaned to White Chicagoans (or 68% of all home purchase lending) from 2012-2017 Back Chicagoans got just $0.12 (or just 8% of all such lending). When the “government bank” is non-existent and the “co-op model” is suspiciously viewed as socialism – there can be no future. This is bigger than police brutality.
One finds no stores in these areas – a ubiquitous sight is people walking with both hands carrying plastic bags of goods, as they have to walk long distances to find a shop (further adding to the impression that one is in a rural area where stores are far away). As should have been predicted, because the PPP Small Business Program is using private banks to diffuse public money (instead of (non-existent) government banks) this very long-awaited first round of “People’s QE” is bypassing 90% of all non-White businesses. Of course it is: these businesses are in areas which have been deemed for decades to be irredeemably unprofitable to banks, and the US mentality forbids government intervention – thus, perpetual non-investment. This is bigger than police brutality.
One certainly finds no banks – only the disgustingly usurious check cashing shops, with interest rates from 400-800%. What a shame that modern computers make their records of debt-slavery non-perishable….
One also finds no churches. Well, that is not true: African-Americans have Jesus but they have no “church”: The potential strength of the African-American religious community is fragmented – in that American Protestant way – into countless tiny churches with Jesus as their own, personal Saviour. Indeed, besides the occasional school all there are in these areas are churches. Yes, these areas will have a big Baptist church, for example, but they also have plenty of very poor denominations operating out of someone’s home or tiny storefronts. Poor Latino communities in Chicago fared much better during the lootings and I attribute that partially to the fact that they have stronger community organisation because they have just one church – Roman Catholic. As if proving my point, seemingly the only march in Chicago yesterday was a Mothers’ march organised by the Roman Catholic churches of the Black and Latino communities. This fragmentation, individualism and “religious creativity” would not at all be a problem in a modern socialist nation (such as religiously diverse Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, Cuba), but I bring it up because it presents rather another huge obstacle to collective Black action to counteract a US capitalist-imperialist-bankocratic system which already presents them with so many other obstacles. Indeed, it is only anti-socialism combined with hypocritical Western secularism which stops the US government from investing in Black religious establishments in order to immediately improve those communities: one just has to look at Iran to see how religion and socialism can intertwine in lasting and productive economic redistribution. So, is this bigger than police brutality? Yes and no.… Regardless of the comparison: Religious unity would go a long way in providing structures to overcome the perpetual non-investment; direct government aid for African-American religious groups would go a very a long way in community improvement – both ideas appear equally impossible in the US, sadly.
But none of these issues are the eye-grabbing “if it bleeds, it leads” hyper-emotional US news; all of these issues cut so directly to the intractable core problems of “capitalism with American characteristics”; all of these issues reflect the centuries of ingrained biases against African-American institutions and for White ones; all of this surely requires years of Cultural Revolution to reeducate an entire US public so very propagandised against modern socialist ideals. This all explains why police brutality gets MSM airtime – these other larger issues are so, so, SO daunting for those who insist on staying within the confines of the Western liberal democratic/aristocratic system of their Founding SlaveFathers.
There are solutions, but only found in post-1917 societies
Want to prevent Covid-19 from killing African-Americans at rates 2 to 3 times normal? Shut down those urban/at-risk areas immediately – but you’re going to need to be like China and have a bureaucratic, grassroots organisation already in place to bring them food. America has neither the organisation nor even the cultural will, sadly.
Want to create stores, jobs and cheap goods in poor African-American neighborhoods? You’re going to need to be like Iran and create something like the Basij, which operates countless cooperative stores in (formerly) poor neighborhoods (and regardless of ethnic composition). America has neither the organisation nor the cultural will.
Want to provide security when the police force feels overwhelmed? Then you’ll need a Cuban Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (or a Basij) to already be in place and be willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater community. America has neither the organisation nor the cultural will.
Want to have SOME option other than private banks to reverse non-investment? You’re going to have to be like Iran and create what I called the “1B Sector” ( 1 is public, 2 is private) charity organisations (bonyads)/cooperatives – be prepared to have them constantly assailed as “inefficient” by the same people who say investing in African-American communities is “inefficient”. America has neither the organisation nor the cultural will.
The best hope on June 6, 2020 is that QE finally goes to the people and not still to the 1% – this would provide much needed money, but the US still lacks the necessary organisation, structure and culture to efficiently use it. Still – demand People’s QE and build from there.
But is this the fault of Sal’s Pizzeria? How can you claim to properly judge?
In Dongping Han’s The Unknown Cultural Revolution the anti-Red China West finally got a book from someone on the ground back then and who systematically, statistically, theoretically and fairly described that Chinese leftist era. It took until 2008. There is still no such book for Iran’s Cultural Revolution – maybe in 20 years there will be enough distance from those events to give some US university the confidence to dare to publish my new book on Iranian Islamic Socialism? Mr. Han was kind enough to write the forward to my book on China, but his book is so urgently important during this Yellow Vest era that I wrote an 8-part series dedicated to it last year.
Han was from a rural area, and his book describes scenes of community justice. What Han points out is that the judgment of the community against the local landlord, mill owner, Communist Party official… was usually right and fair. This absolutely, absolutely passes the smell test: yes Han was in a rural area but all politics are local – people in a community know the true character and historical actions of their local shop owner, alderman or pizzeria owner. Justice for Sal was initiated by his own worker, Spike Lee, just as Chinese peasants demanded justice from their local boss.
Attacks on Wal-Marts and other corporations must be viewed as having as much political validity as Yellow Vest attacks on corporate symbols of French importance. The major difference between the Yellow Vests and the US rebellions are the absolute poverty created by asphyxiating disinvestment suffered by the latter – this can make political actions harder to comprehend:
There are countless video scenes of African-American women (likely many mothers) lining up at a supermarket to get some looted food – this is not greedy looting but a reflection of unforgivable structural poverty; this is just one step up from the homeless person on the West Side of Chicago who asks you for a quarter – $0.25 – an infinitesimally useless sum in 2020 but rather a lot to the homeless person totally abandoned by the US state. Because France has a some state intervention in their economy, this type of absolute poverty does not exist there in anything close to the numbers in the US. If there was – there would be similar looting, and many in France would properly insist that their looting be viewed in this political manner.
Are there innocent proprietors who suffered unjustly during the recent US rebellions? I’m sure there are but that can only be judged on a case-by-case method, and it is the community who is the most able judge and not the US aristocrat-favouring and anti-Black legal system. These proprietors are not “guilty until proven innocent”, but neither should “looters” be condemned as “guilty until proven innocent” either. The looting in the US is thus quite, quite complicated – as a result of their terrible economic and cultural systems – and thus defies easy moralising.
One thing, however, is certain: for African-Americans there is no stable recourse to justice of an incredible number of sorts, thus there are occasionally violent outbursts. This is testified to in Do The Right Thing and across the country last week. Police brutality is an issue, but I do indeed hope to shock people into reality with this article by reminding that the biggest issue African-Americans sadly face is actually not police brutality.
And it is certainly not looting.
On the day before George Floyd was murdered every American should have already known that their poor Black areas never recovered from the 1968 rebellions after the death of Martin Luther King – that’s what makes these rebellions rather tragic, righteous or not: In the US bankocracy there is no historical foundation to hope that investment will suddenly begin in 2020. African-American politicians are right now begging for businesses and basic goods-corporations to stay, just as they had to beg them to finally arrive. Nothing else could better illustrate the victory of neoliberalism, as well as the undiscussed domestic neo-imperialism aspect of neoliberalism….
Indeed, we can fairly say that always-unchecked police brutality is a sort of American 1%er collusion to ensure explosions which help ensure the continued (debt) slavery of the African-American class. The civil rights movement of the 1960s did much to end African-American disenfranchisement – the goal of ending African-American disinvestment looks much harder to achieve in US capitalist-imperialist culture.
These are indeed depressing assessments, but they should go some way in explaining last week’s events, and America has always been very depressing in countless ways beneath their shiny surface appeal.
Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis.
A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020
If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020
Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism – April 14, 2020
Coronavirus – Macron’s savior. A ‘united Europe’ – France’s murderer – April 22, 2020
The end of globalisation won’t be televised, despite the hopes of the Western 99% (2/2) – April 27, 2020
Why do Westerners assume all African-Americans are leftists? – June 5, 2020
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the NEW ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.