By WAYNE LUSVARDI
The headline in the local newspaper declares “Pasadena to Push Back Against Racist Graffiti” recently found on cars at the Kings Village public housing project and scribbled on mailboxes inside the U.S. Post Office on the corner of Lincoln and Orange Grove Avenues in Pasadena. http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_18704945
Reportedly, the content of the graffiti was racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic.
No group, gang, or anonymous individual has claimed responsibility for the graffiti nor are the police reporting it has the signature style or wording of a known gang. It is highly unlikely that some “white” person would venture into Kings Village and risk spray painting cars or going into the lobby of the post office and painting mailboxes where there might be surveillance cameras. Neither the newspaper nor the police have indicated whether the post office had a surveillance camera and if not, why not? That seems to be a curious missing part of the newspaper coverage thus far.
There is no indication that this graffiti is anything more than adolescent misbehavior. But the social context probably tells us more about what this graffiti means.
There is sociological theory called Symbolic Interaction that says that groups often communicate with one another indirectly through symbols. Symbolic meaning derives from group social interaction.
It is probably not coincidental that Congress is concurrently convening a bi-partisan Supercommittee to determine cuts in the Federal budget to avert an unpredictable debt crisis that could lead to depreciation of the U.S. dollar to the point it might became worthless. Thus, continued Federal funding for public housing programs like Kings Villages is threatened.
Parents and kids at Kings Villages must see the images on television about the looming cutbacks and perceive that this will affect them. The kids pick up on their parent’s anxieties and indirectly send a message via graffiti.
But they do this in the way they have been culturally scripted to do: by depicting themselves as victims of “racism, hatred against gays, and anti-Semitism.” As sociologist James Davison Hunter points out in his book “To Change the World” American culture has a tendency toward victimization. It follows that those in public housing would likely work hard to gain victim status and thus gain political and legal power to protect themselves against any budget cuts.
If this is the case what is needed is a new term to describe suspected self-inflicted hate crimes: “reverse hate crimes” is a term that comes to mind.
This might explain why a community meeting on these hate crimes was being held at the Pasadena Rose Bowl for widespread media coverage rather than at a local church, the multi-purpose room of the Jackie Robinson Center, or other venues.
In 2004, Claremont College psychology professor Kerri Dunn infamously claimed her car was vandalized and spray-painted with racist messages after she spoke at a forum on racism. It was later found that it was a hoax perpetrated by the so-called victim. Dunn was later convicted of insurance fraud and filing a false police report and sentenced to one year in jail. http://articles.latimes.com/2004/aug/19/local/me-dunn19
What was at stake in the Kerri Dunn case were racial, gender and ethnic quotas for professors at the Claremont Colleges. Prof. Dunn was trying to get special job protections for minority teachers by claiming that they were victims of racism. http://www.claremontconservative.com/2010/03/where-kerri-dunn-is-six-years-later-and.html
I sense that most people with social intuition, including those in the Kings Village neighborhood, understand that something like this is the message being sent by the graffiti incidents but want everyone to go along with the social fiction about racist hate crimes. The newspaper press takes the racial hate crime story at face value and asks everyone to go along with the social fiction.
Next will come the outrage for writing that this incident is likely a phony hate crime with a hidden agenda to protect public housing from any contemplated Federal public housing cutbacks. But the public discussion that needs to be held should not be about a highly suspicious hate crime but about the sustainability of public housing in Pasadena. If this article is able to facilitate such a discussion maybe it is all for the better.
Those in the Democratic Party correctly perceive that what is forthcoming is the end or unraveling of the welfare state in the U.S. for sheer lack of money, not hate. This is why there is so much psychological projection of animosity on to those in the Tea Party who welfare recipients perceive want to take their benefits away.
But if the Tea Party were not there the reality would not go away.
Those in the middle class, such as the Tea Party, had $9 trillion in equity in their homes wiped out in the Mortgage Crisis of 2008 after the ill-fated policy to provide affordable housing to nearly everyone. That is twelve times the cost of the Iraq War up to September 2010. The unintended consequence of the Community Reinvestment Act, sub-prime loans and securitized housing bonds was the debasing of the value of the U.S. currency triggering a bank panic.
If we’re going to prevent London-style riots and property crimes aimed at the middle class or capitalist businesses and increasing social class polarization we’re going to have to have brutally honest discussions about the viability of the welfare state, not forums about phony hate crimes and projection of hate onto the middle class, business and the Tea Party. Symbolic extortion will not lead to saving the welfare state when there no longer is any money.
Riots worked in the 1960’s and 1970’s but we should not listen to those activists who provoke class hatred or demean those who happen live in public housing. London riots, flash mobs, and so-called hate crimes won’t save the welfare state but might lead to a backlash against it.
Conversely, the claims of conservatives that “flash mobs” and riots are not the problem of too few subsidies but too many must also be questioned even If there is some truth to it. The question should be how much of a welfare state can we continue to afford and/or how can be make programs like public housing self-sustaining? Can the City of Pasadena continue to provide luxury public goods and services such as open space, luxury inclusionary housing in upscale mixed use developments, loans to restaurant incubators, and urgent care centers in a city with private urgent care clinics while leaving public housing in a lurch?
I am skeptical of any attempts at social resolution on such contentious issues as the ramping down of the welfare state by either "the System" or "the Horde" of rioters and activists. Government cloned non-profit agencies also offer not much hope beyond activism and threats of social unrest that will backfire because it will alienate middle class taxpayers.
But conflicting groups apparently don’t want direct communication about tough issues and thus prefer symbolic interaction. I will take symbolic crimes over violence or property crimes any day. But let’s cut through the social and media fictions and redirect the public rage into something more productive. The outcome of our city and our civilization may depend on it.