When governments are in situations of state failure, what is the fearful, harassed, terrorized citizen to do? The answers are numerous and well described by Albert Hirschman in 1970 as exit (leave), voice (express yourself) or loyalty (shutup and wait for something to be done).
Hirschman evidently missed a few options and the current situation in Dallas reminds us of this. Citizens could also attack the state and/or move to try to displace it. Rather than leave, talk or sit and wait, citizens can strike bank at those who are supposed to protect and serve them. They also might attempt to remove and replace the system that has so ineffectively protected and served them. We might not like these responses but we should nevertheless, as thinking and compassionate beings, understand the impulse – especially when nothing appears to be being done and the body count continues to rise (i.e., of black bodies delivered by the police as well as black bodies delivered by other black people).
Consider the mounting evidence: African Americans appear to be more likely policed (i.e., have armed individuals stuck in their places of residence), stopped, frisked, arrested, perceived as guilty, harshly sentenced as well as kept in prison and denied parole. Note, that I have left off that blacks are more likely shot because this we don’t really know with the same degree of confidence as we do with the other information above. If you add to this that blacks are more likely to die early (largely because of stress related to living in America), less likely to get a job, education, adequate health care and be employed, then the situation gets a bit clearer. In this situation, what response are you likely to take as the aggrieved population? Lets briefly consider the options.
Exit - Blacks moved out of the South after being given the opportunity following the end of slavery as well as waves of lynching. I have not seen the evidence but I imagine that there is some African American movement out of locations after other instances of anti-black violence. There is also some movement around for other reasons. But this is all inside the US. African Americans rarely travel outside of the United States. The exit option is thus underutilized.
Voice – this has been attempted and quite frequently. Blacks vote in relatively large numbers over time. African Americans have also protested a bit – increasing in the last year or so. What have these efforts yielded? We don’t seem to know. Are more blacks being killed now by the police than in the 1960s? Is black unemployment rising or declining? What is black life expectancy at the moment and what has it been? Have black reading levels increased or decreased? Are African Americans satisfied with the America that they see around them? I don’t think that anyone has assembled all this information so that we could have an informed and honest discussion about the topic. Until this has been done, however, then we cannot really understand the influence of the black voice. It just looks like it has been ineffective and looks matter.
Loyalty – As for this approach, well…. It seems as though Blacks have generally tended to follow this method. That said, loyalty looks a lot like unexpressed disappointment and disaffection. Loyalty or expressed loyalty could simply be what people have become conditioned to do – thinking that if they out-Americanized everyone else that they might not be discriminated against. As Paul Dunbar wrote a long time ago though: “We wear the mask that grins and lies”. Who knows what lies beneath? After several hundred years of existing in the US, African Americans have become adept at seeming supportive but keeping disappointment and dissatisfaction to themselves, showed only amongst those deemed safe (ala James Scott, Robin Kelley and Melissa Harris-Perry). What potentially lies beneath is a myriad of opinions about the failed state and what should be done about it.
One response was seen in Dallas. A lone African American, fed up with seeing violence being directed against his ethnic kin with seemingly no end in sight and no effective response that reassured him that he did not need to take action on his own, took action. Without an ability or interest in Exit, with seemingly no hope for Voice or Loyalty, he picked up arms and directed them against those that he believe were responsible. The historically minded will think of Mark Essex of New Orleans who in 1973 engaged in similar activities. Others will pay attention to the passing references being made to “black nationalism”, harking back to the armed resistance to police occupation offered by the Black Panther Party. But to do so would be to miss the important differences: the Panthers took up arms defensively, not offensively; they challenged the failed state as a collective not as an individual; the Panthers offered a solution or, rather, several of them not simply the emptiness of gunfire. Of all the differences, the last one for me seems to be the most pressing.
Without some well worked out idea, some vision of what the world could look like, what do we expect people to do? Exit presumes that there is some place that is better. Voice presumes that there is someone to hear you on the other end that will take action on your behalf. Loyalty presumes that someone will empathetically hear your pain. Displacement and revolution presumes that you have some idea of what you would create in the place of what exists. Only lashing out like in Dallas is left as the response to those who feel that they have no other options.
To be clear (invoking the ever-appropriate Chris Rock): I’m not saying that I agree with what happened, but I understand the impulse. To prevent Dallas, however, one of Hirschman’s other options needs to be rebuilt and I do not know how easily that can be done.
Regarding Exit: I’m sure that there are some folks out there who would be more than willing to resurrect Marcus Garvey’s idea of shipping black folk to Africa but that is not going to happen. Black folk don’t generally see this as an option and Africa is not really looking like a place that is ready to accept some old stolen property.
Regarding Voice: I’m sure that this is where the majority of active individuals will be channeled because this is what happens in America. Get people to sub-contract the resolution of their problem to some leader who will promise to resolve the situation. But, what solution can be offered in the current system that would garner support from the population?
Body cameras? This idea presumes that the individuals watching them care, will evaluate, investigate and when deemed necessary prosecute offending behavior. Perhaps I would like this idea more if all police had cameras (throughout the nation), they could not be shut off and all feeds were provided to everyone – live. Direct Democracy requires Direct Access (a true PoliceWatch in every sense of the term). This would be accompanied by DischargeWatch – where every discharge of a police weapon was geocoded in a national database that triggered an immediate investigation.
Retraining? Perhaps but I’m not sure how people are trained now nor how they could be trained to be less likely to shoot.
Moratorium (i.e., everything stops until we figure out what is going on)? I don’t even think that this is possible but it should be discussed.
Regarding Loyalty: This is an interesting one because in the Hirschman sense, individuals were to be loyal to the organization/entity that represented the collectivity – in this case, the nation-state. I would suggest, however, that loyalty be extended to the human race. And remaining loyal here might alter one’s loyalty to the specific states that humans are found within. For example, when citizens in Sudan or Rwanda are suffering at the hands of their governments (i.e., when stat failure is underway abroad), we (the international community of nations) discuss economic sanctions, military intervention and/or naming and shaming. Why are these options not discussed in the current context of urban America? Clearly, this might be over-responding (especially when we don’t really know the extent of the problem) but I think that some over-responding might actually be good to restore faith in government.
What could other countries teach us? I think that we should at least hear what they have to say. Why not have a HelpAmericaNotShootBlackPeople.com?
Regarding Alternatives: Dallas was one response but I would suggest that the resurrection of a group that I studied called the Republic of New Africa (RNA) represents another. The RNA was a black nationalist organization existing in the 1960s and 1970s which called for reparations for slavery, a plebiscite to determine what blacks wanted to do and the creation of a new black nation set within the Deep South (referred to as the Black Belt) where members of the new black nation could live and pursue happiness. Upon hearing about this group years ago, someone asked me why I did not write a book about exactly why African Americans would want to secede and create their own nation. I wrote a note down about doing that sometime later and proceeded to write the book that I did about the rise and fall of the RNA.
With discussions now about anti-black violence, black responses to the violence and what should be done, it may be time to lay that out a bit. I assure you that there is a group of black people in America right now who are trying to think about what a world should look like that does not involve black bodies dying in the streets (an earlier group like this was called the AfroFuturists). I assure you that there is a group of white, brown and every other color doing the same thing. As educators and those interested in eliminating human violence, we need to provide these groups with as much information as possible. If we don’t, then more events like Dallas might be the outcome.