Monday, June 5, 2017

How a book on Mumbai is helping me understand white supremacy

A couple of years ago, I picked up $1 copy of a book called Maximum City by Suketu Mehta that I'd read about online. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2004 and is a journalist's experience of Bombay/Mumbai. He was a kid there, moved to New York, and then took his family back there for a few years to see what it would be like to return home. The book is fascinating and very well written  and presents a whole world of human experiences that are foreign to me.

I happened to pick the book up a few weeks ago. After the recent tragic deaths of two Good Samaritans on Portland's mass transit, like many of us I've been thinking about how someone comes to have so much hate and violence at the ready. Curiously,  Mehta's book has offered me some real insights. One of his chapters concerns gang warfare in Bombay and includes these ideas:
  • The oppressed want nothing more than to become the oppressor. 
  • Most young men (15-25) are wired with a love of strife, of fighting, of proving themselves. Young men in a minority are even more inclined in this direction.
  • When no one loves you growing up, you find some other group to belong to. 
It's not hard to imagine that young white men, like young black men, feel oppressed in our culture today. Jobs are hard to come by, money is hard to come by, acceptance and respect are hard to come by. The oppressed want nothing more than to become the oppressor, which is just what the young white man on the Max train did.

Our culture of war counts on young men being wired with a love of strife and proving themselves. Not all young men experience this, of course, but lots do. Violence is this energy sent in the wrong direction.

Jeremy Joseph Christian (the irony is not lost on any of us) is not a slick, handsome Ted Bundy. This is an overweight, unattractive young man with most likely limited resources. While it's possible he grew up in a loving home where women and animals were well treated, I doubt it. This is someone with not much left to loe who was seeking acceptance and found it in a group that espouses hatred. They took him in.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking to excuse anything he did. But Mehta's book helps me understand a little more how we all play a part in this. How do we provide something different for these young people in our schools and communities? How do we make up for what they most likely don't get at home? 




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