Kanye West, Donald Trump, and the Truth About Chicago

tags: Kanye West, Trump

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”

... At the Oval Office meeting on Thursday, Trump advocated for the use of stop-and-frisk in Chicago (which, to his credit, West asked him to reconsider), despite the fact that the police department there has been plagued by complaints of excessive use of force, and that, less than a week earlier, the former C.P.D. officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murderin the shooting death of the seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald. Trump’s own Attorney General has opposed the federal consent decree that was designed to address the problems in the department. For Trump, the violence in Chicago serves as the perpetual justification for these kinds of abuses. The belief that the violence is the product of a single political party is troublesome when expressed by reactionaries, but an outrageous one when expressed by a black Chicagoan who really ought to know better.

The roots of Chicago’s violence are complex and trans-partisan, but they exist in the context of a prolifically armed and exceedingly violent country. (White American violence alone would distinguish the United States from its less volatile Western industrial peers.) There is no way to segregate the six hundred and sixty-four murders that took place in Chicago last year from the more than seventeen thousand that occurred in the rest of the United States. The catalysts for violence in that city predate the “welfare state” and the rise of single-parent black households, in the nineteen-seventies. In the classic 1945 text “Black Metropolis,” the sociologists St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton detailed the ways in which discrimination in housing and employment were negatively affecting black migrants. Twenty-three years before that, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, formed after a race riot in which thirty-eight people died, found the violence to be a product of the exploding populations in the city’s Black Belt and the poor housing and employment conditions to which the growing number of African-Americans were subjected. (In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois had lamented the ways in which overcrowding, filth, and discrimination, as well as unchecked vice, had spawned violence within the emerging black communities in Philadelphia.)

To understand Chicago, we could turn to Richard Wright, whose early work documented the travails of black migrants there. Or to the photographer Gordon Parks, who began his career depicting the living conditions of African-Americans in Chicago. Or to the artist Charles White, whose early work explored similar themes. Or to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, whose work provided a window into the lives of black Chicagoans. Or to the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, whose “A Raisin in the Sun” was partly inspired by her own family’s fight against racially restrictive housing covenants in the Chicago area. At one time, it would have been possible to turn to Kanye West for insight into such matters.

But you cannot turn to Donald Trump to understand Chicago, because you would then be trading presumptions instead of ideas, and putting empty placeholders where reflection and analysis belong—a known formula for idiocy. And if, by chance, one finds oneself, like Kanye, engaged in such clownery with the President of the United States, it should be recalled that idiocy is the one exception in life where it is always better to be useless than to be damned by one’s usefulness.

Read entire article at The New Yorker

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