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Pondering the inequities of race and background

An interesting overlap of two ethical dilemmas.  First, one of my students mentioned today that one of his friends had been murdered recently, shot 47 times in revenge for having stolen something.  As part of our conversation afterward, my students referred to the “no snitching” rule that keeps people from saying anything to the police about the incident:

But there are historical reasons as to why community residents are not talking to the police. One historical reason the no-snitch rule exists in our neighborhood is that in the past the 46th Precinct has served more as the oppressor of the community, rather than the protector. Several infamous cases of police brutality created tension and mistrust that has lasted to this day. …

The no-snitch rule is also fueled by the fear of reprisal. When I first moved to Mount Hope in the early 1990s, it was pointed out to me that another local resident was responsible for the killing of two Jamaican men who lived across the street from my building. It happened at the corner of 179th Street and Creston Avenue. Apparently they had been murdered over a drug dispute. Everyone in the neighborhood knew what had happened, yet no one told the police. The killer continued to live in the community and be involved in drug activity for years to come. Being the curious child that I was, I remember asking my family why the “bad guy” was still around. The response I got was, “Mind your own business.” I was told that if I didn’t mind my own business, then I could put my life and that of my family at risk. I never asked a silly question again.

On one hand, I’m reminded of Kitty Genovese and the bystander phenomenon, and on the other hand of the movie stereotype of the person who avoids testifying to keep themselves safe from harm.  But recognizing my position as a white middle-class man who’s never experienced anything like the conditions in these communities, it’s hard to suggest that the problem lies only in the community–the racist and classist systems of law enforcement and our happy trampling of civil rights haven’t made people any more likely to trust the police than they are now.  So what can we propose as a solution to the “no snitching” problem?

Second, a student (from that class, but also from another) gave me the link to the video below and I’m interested to see what people think.  On the one hand, it’s funny because it remediates the rap battle into something else.  On the other hand, a part of me wondered if it was racist.  The comments reflect a tide of opinion that the video isn’t racist, but rather satire.  I tend to think that the intent of the creators shapes the result significantly, but the New Critics would laugh me out of the academy for that one.  Anyhow, I decided that my own regular “nerdy white boy” self-deprication when we talk about Black culture helped that student see this as something I would think it’s funny, and I do, so here it is:

Oh, NSFW I guess.

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