“Being allowed”

J. of Silver Rights quotes a poem by Langston Hughes before getting down to the latest Michigan riots. I first read it fifteen years ago, but it’s only having reread it in J.’s entrly, I finally appreciated it. What I didn’t quite appreciate is a contradiction in J.’s own analysis. Let me quote a paragraph:

I can’t imagine a predominantly white area being allowed to have an unemployment rate that high without extraordinary steps being taken to remedy it. Yet, because second or third-rate treatment is invariably seen as good enough for African-Americans, the situation has been allowed to deteriorate to a point of near hopelessness.

All four verbs in this passage are in the passive voice. Not only does it sound unnatural, but invites questions: allowed — by whom? being taken — by whom? seen — by whom? allowed once again — by whom? One might infer from the persistence of this grammatical structure that America (Amerika?) is some rigidly centralized Communist country, the Central Committee in Washington deciding which place will and which won’t be allowed high unemployment (although, of course, officially, there will be no such evil as unemployment). Because it is not, and self-government still remains a cornerstone of the political system, one wonders why the black community of Benton Harbor, being in the majority in its town, could not produce a worthy leader to become mayor; why its leaders could not appeal to statewide black leaders for help in getting various government grants; and so on, and so forth.

I was surprised to find that, in fact, J. suggests that the residents should have taken that course, for her suggestion runs counter to her own “should not have been allowed” attitude.

Something along the lines of the residents should have organized a committee and tried to talk to the police departments in those allegedly hostile border towns. That they should have sought state and federal aid for the unemployment problem, perhaps forming coalitions with surrounding white towns. Or, maybe that it is time for Benton Harbor and one or more of its neighbors to consolidate to reduce the duplication of services segregation causes, thereby saving money.

Why didn’t it happen? Why the passivity, the hopelessness, the resignation to fate? The way I see it, that’s the question — and it applies equally to hundreds of Russian towns and townships. Slavery/serfdom may be part of the answer but it doesn’t help much; the really important question is how to awaken the people to sensible action, not rioting.

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