“He got his Visionz from our visions.”

by Belle Waring on August 11, 2004

A strange and interesting article from the Washington Post, which highlights an urban subculture I know nothing about, despite having lived in D.C. for many years (not recently, though). The article is long, but the gist is this: there are about 30 high-end T-shirt and warm-up gear stores in D.C., each of which vies for its target audience with constantly changing styles and local spokesmen, from comedians to go-go bands. Apparently the trade started as a back-of-the-truck thing at clubs and concerts in the ‘80’s, and grew into a big enterprise. The shirts usually sell at $100 each.

Around 1995, the style changed from silkscreens to elaborately embroidered shirts. And an enterprising Korean immigrant named Jung Kang began to sell his services, first as an embroiderer with unheard of turn-around time (he would deliver the shirts back the same day), then as a T-shirt producer as well. It seems like almost all the D.C. lines were using Kang. But then he got the idea to start his own shop, and his own line, called Visionz. He hired a popular local comedian as a spokesman, and hired local designers to come up with the T-shirt designs. And then he started selling the shirts for $30.

I think you can guess what happened next.

Unity Clothing Association was hastily formed, and it immediately set about “educating” the public about Visionz’s true ownership through a flood of fliers at clubs, basketball courts and at Iverson Mall, a testament to racial sensitivities in established black neighborhoods where Asian business owners are sometimes viewed as intruders.

“There is already a carryout and liquor store in every black community run by Asians,” the fliers pleaded. “How long will we let them RAPE the Urban community? Wake Up! Don’t be Bamboozled or Hoodwinked!”

The association leaned on Kang’s two black pitchmen—Griffin and Reggie “Polo” Burwell, leader of the go-go band TCB. For those who’d already bought Visionz clothes, they offered amnesty: Customers could exchange Kang’s Visionz brand T-shirt for a black-owned line, free of charge, “just like a gun buy-back program.”

“We are hoping that Mr. Kang will just go back to making clothes,” says Ronald “Mo” Moten, the community activist and concert promoter tapped to lead the Unity Clothing Association. “He’ll realize what he did was wrong, and we can continue having a good relationship.”

“Realize what he did was wrong” seems a bit rich. Some customers have been swayed by the Unity Association:

For more than 25 years, this [the George Goodman League at Barry Farms public housing complex] has been the place where street ballers ball, and the players play on the sidelines in the latest gear. In recent weeks, Unity Clothing Association persuaded Rawls to include, between plays, public service announcements about its plight and the need to support black businesses. That’s when Kwame Stoure first heard about it. “They make a valid point,” the 34-year-old says. “If the Asian guy isn’t part of your community, they want to keep the black dollars in the black community. He took the same idea and ran away with it.”

Others…well, not so much:

A 17-year-old wearing a blue Sabiato shirt and hat doesn’t want to give his name, but says he stopped wearing Visionz after reading the fliers. When a reporter points out a plump young man wandering the sidelines in a white Visionz T-shirt, he lowers his voice and leans in close. “They make good clothes. Walk around and you’ll see a lot of people wearing it.”

Kevin Jackson, a 34-year-old car salesman from Fort Washington, has just picked up an order of fried fish outside the chain-link fence surrounding the court. “You allowing the Korean to make the stuff, right?” he asks. “So why are you mad at him? He gon’ try to make that money. . . . I think they should make their own clothes. For real, I think that it’s overpriced. And that’s why people were buying Visionz, because it’s affordable.”

What do you think? Is the Unity Association right to educate customers who may well want to direct their money to black-owned businesses (the article says that the comedian/pitchman was claiming to be part-owner of Visionz)? Are they crazy to try and bully Kang out of storefront business but still hire him to make all their shirts (as it appears they are)? Does it make any sense to be so hostile to the Korean family that runs the mini-mart on your corner? And why don’t black people run many or most of liquor stores and mini-marts in predominantly black neighborhoods anyway? Discuss.

{ 48 comments }

1

Robin Green 08.11.04 at 10:51 am

“There is already a carryout and liquor store in every black community run by Asians,” the fliers pleaded. “How long will we let them RAPE the Urban community? Wake Up! Don’t be Bamboozled or Hoodwinked!”

Sounds like racism to me. I mean, “RAPE”??

I know American political rhetoric frequently sounds like it was written by someone on crack and trying to be as inflammatory as possible, but that’s no excuse.

2

Tracy 08.11.04 at 10:58 am

Would this be acceptable if the organisers were whites trying to keep out a black business owner, or men trying to keep out a woman?

If not, then why is blacks trying to keep out Asians in any way right?

If so, how would you feel if someone tried to keep you from making an income based on an unalterable fact about yourself? Like being born on a Tuesday rather than a Wednesday?

3

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 11:30 am

I might have some sympathy if this was about an outsider who had come in and pretended to set up a black-owned business with deep roots in the community. But I don’t see much evidence of that being the real problem.

No, what I see is a lot of local businesses who talk about “keep[ing] the black dollars in the black community”, but were perfectly happy to pick a Korean business over a black-owned business as a supplier. Authenticity starts at home. If they hadn’t been so eager to use Kang as a supplier, I’d be a lot more sympathetic. As far as I can tell, this is more about middle men complaining that a key supplier is competing with them than about black owned businesses.

4

Greg Hunter 08.11.04 at 12:04 pm

Scott M. may have the correct answer in this case, but I think Belle was asking about a more general case of non-blacks operating more small businesses within the black community. This is always a tough question to answer.

In my community, the black owned businesses were more prevalent prior to the civil rights act, when virtual apartheid ruled. Once the act was enforced, the Black Businesses closed due to competition. The Black Community probably shopped in the white owned stores to prove they could, not recognizing the impact this would have on their own economic security.

The next question, is if the Black Community realizes that Black owned businesses are the key to the future, why aren’t black businesses reopening in black communities, instead of recent immigrants?

The recent immigrants appear to have a strong family approach to business and believe in the American dream? Is the belief in owning a business, not a dream of the black community?

Is it the fracturing of the Black Community through residue of slavery or the high percentage of adult males incarcerated?

Is the black community conditioned not to play the “white man’s game.”? And if so does this lead to envy in the black community, when someone attempts to play?

The combinations of these factors appear to be the reasons why recent immigrants take to the American Dream with more gusto.

As a side review, take a look at the different arguments posed by Barak Obama and Alan Keyes. One is talking about the future and positive things; the other is comparing positions to “slaveholder mentality”.

Man, Why can’t we all just get along?

5

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 12:30 pm

Greg, the paradox you highlight is something of a favourite of black Republicans. I first heard it from Thomas Sowell talking about how much better an education folks used to get at segregated schools than they do in integrated ones. His figures weren’t quite right, but his examples – lists of “coloured” schools that had produced Congressmen, businessmen and military heros – indicated what he was really getting at. What was really happening was that in the age of segregation there were elite black schools and they have all but vanished without enforced segregation.

There used to be a black entrepreneurial class that owned local businesses. I remember reading a sociology paper – don’t have the URL in this computer though, but it seems to me the author had an Indian name, “Vijay” something maybe – which suggested that the illegal drug industry is ample evidence that black entrepreneurship is alive and well. He even proposed an “African American model of the firm.” I’m a little closer to the Asian immigrant community than I am to the black community, and I assure you that it is not the American Dream that motivates them. It’s the “Asian” dream – if I may dare to put forward such a stereotype – the notion that self-worth comes from community recognition of your accomplishments, and that status buys security. That sounds a lot more like the stereotype of the black kid looking to earn respect by being tough than it sounds like the American Dream.

I’m not sure that having more black billionaires or businessmen is really any more the answer than black athletes and performers were. Reproducing the class relationships that exist in the larger world within the black community just doesn’t seem like a very good answer. I suppose there’s something to be said for being exploited by your own than by others. But it seems like such a phyrric victory, one hardly wants to celebrate the notion.

6

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 12:37 pm

I found the name, it’s Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, and the paper is An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances. You can download it here. (http://www.streetgangs.com/academic/gangfinance.pdf)

7

dsquared 08.11.04 at 12:49 pm

I’d just caution all commenters that if you move into a market where the product is selling at $100 and bring out a line at $30, then you will almost always expect the incumbents to start hitting back at you, and that it is usually the best way to bet that they will not play fair. It isn’t really necessary to make too much of the racial angle to explain what happened here; and it’s worth noting that the black consumers don’t appear to agree at all with the well-funded producer lobby groups.

8

Tom T. 08.11.04 at 1:18 pm

The article online omits the reproductions of the racist fliers, apparently distibuted in the target community, that appeared in the physical newspaper. One of them features a stereotypical Asian man saying something like “we took your dry cleaners, groceries, and nail salons, and now we’ll take your clothing stores.” Certainly, the motivations of the rival producers are primarily their personal economics, but the tools they are using strike me as flat-out racist.

9

Russell Arben Fox 08.11.04 at 1:46 pm

Scott, I’m hardly a fan of Sowell, but you’re reading his complaint about the quality and connections of African-American economic and social leadership (a concern which is shared by many who definitely aren’t “black Republicans”–try calling Randall Robinson that!) in an unfair way. The costs of desegregation were not visited merely upon black elites, who admittedly after the 1950s and 60s could no longer indirectly shelter themselves and their position in society from the more powerful white elites in the U.S. There is also the larger and more important question of preserving the social contexts within which such elites could be acknowledged as such. In other words, producing local “heroes,” as it were. Think about it in sociological, communitarian terms: a self-sustaining (i.e., bounded) community will have a connection to, and reciprocal ties with, hometown people who make good (even if there is, as presumably there often will be, resentment and exploitation involved). Remove the structure of self-depedence, and you undermine the possibility of collective feeling in those individuals who accomplish much. You don’t have to be an apologist for “class relationships” to recognize that the principle here involves a lot more than simply “being exploited by your own than by others.” This isn’t to say that the age of segregation is to be mourned, nor is it to say that any “elite” tactic or organization thought necessary to preserving and distributing the remaining social and economic access and opportunity within a particular community is to be applauded. You may very well be right (as Daniel implies) that this really is just a bunch of local monopolists suddenly feeling threatened. But no one-size-fits-all liberal solution (competition is necessary to a free market, individual choice is the deciding factor, race-based appeals are always illegitimate, etc.), however reasonable, is going to be able to do justice to all the dynamics here.

10

Greg Hunter 08.11.04 at 1:47 pm

Comments –

I chose not to recognize the entrepreneurial spirit of the Drug culture, but it appears to be a factor. In my community, the ability to make significant cash in the black community is rapidly dwindling. The loss of manufacturing jobs coupled with inadequate public education leaves very little pathways to make cake. Then the community chooses to reward this entrepreneurial class by putting them in prison. We chose to further exacerbate the situation by financing white flight from these blight areas by constructing more highways and cardboard communities.

I think this is now defined as “Institutional Racism.”

DSQUARED – I agree that some in the Black Community will try to enhance their position by playing the race card for an economic end. I have worked for such individuals. In my experience those that play the race card in the Black Community tend not to live in the community or care much about it; They are using it to enhance their own wealth.

11

Greg Hunter 08.11.04 at 2:14 pm

Scot M.

I looked at the pdf link you reference and its conclusions allow me to go slightly off topic. The link between financing terrorists/drug lords and supply and demand in the illegal drug trade. In order to reduce harm in the current mechanism, the best way to stop the flow of financing would be too legalize the importation of the organic raw product used in drug production whether it is poppies or coca leaves and then regulate the processors through taxes and regulations.

The poppy and coca farmers still farm, but the criminal middlemen (drug lords, prisons, DOD, terrorists) lose. Besides, maybe people will start chewing coca and poppies instead of processing them into the high-test stuff. Same with marijuana. Maybe more people would cook with it instead of smoke it.

12

Doug Turnbull 08.11.04 at 2:22 pm

I’d think the $30 shirts would do OK but not great. Because (I’d assume) part of the point of the $100 shirts is that they, in fact, cost $100. If everyone could buy them for cheap, they wouldn’t be status symbols.

This is why college students will spend $80 for a sweatshirt that is simply a $10 Wal-Mart sweatshirt with the words “Abercrombie and Fitch” added to it. The fact that it costs more is a big part of what makes the product worth more.

13

digamma 08.11.04 at 2:31 pm

The charming flyers they’re handing out also refer to Visionz as “the shrimp fried rice of clothing”.

14

Joel 08.11.04 at 2:50 pm

Tom T. is absolutely correct. The print edition features reproductions of two fliers one fairly benign (a kind of call to unity), and one unequivocally racist w/a caricature of an Asian man that is a direct descendent of the kind of imagery used to depict the Japanese in WWII (and Asians in general throughout US history). At the base of the flier it says something to the effect of “Chicken Fried Rice clothing”. While I don’t think the use of racist imagery should have been the primary focus of the story, I was a little startled to read the story w/ the accompanying fliers and see that aspect almost entirely ignored.

15

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 3:32 pm

Russell, I’m not proposing a one-size-fits-all liberal solution. Does that sound even vaguely like me?

I am, however, reticent to think that the solution to black poverty in America is to replace white bosses who pay miserable wages with black ones who pay miserable wages and tell you that it’s good for the black community. Where I want very much to sympathise with ghetto residents who shop at overpriced Asian-owned groceries and liquor stores, the economics of small businesses in the slums doesn’t give me any reason to think that black-owned shops would be able to offer significantly different prices or terms to their customers. Walmart or Safeway might, but they aren’t black-owned and won’t set up shop in the ghettos anyway. I would probably be receptive to an argument that black owned businesses hire black employees and spend their money at other black businesses, but there is very little history of this actually happening, and this story in WaPo is representative of what really happens instead.

D^2 is right to point out that once big money is in play, people don’t fight fair. I’m uninclined to see the use of racism against a competing business as a sign of some social trend in black America. But it does serve as lesson that black people are just as capable of being exploitive as white folk, and for that reason I have difficulty thinking that building up a black elite is a real answer. To the extent that The Man actually exists and keeps the poor and the minorities down, he does so by convincing some of the people that everything will be right if they are led by their own elites and made to understand that some other group of poor and disposessed is their true enemy. The history of revolutionary nationalism since 1776 has been a history of replacing one elite with another in the hopes that that will improve things slightly. Results have been at best mixed.

If I were to recommend a one-size-fits-all solution, it would be a return to the age when unskilled and semi-skilled work was easy to find, well unionised and well paid. I would like to be able to tell black people that there are plenty of jobs for them, that those jobs are secure and well paid and will enable them to buy homes and cars and send their kids to college, even if those jobs are offered by white bosses at white owned firms. I think this would do far more for racial equality and far more to raise real prospects for the future than telling them to shop at black-owned businesses instead of businesses owned by other people. Asian small businessmen are not the problem or the enemy.

Greg, my point is not to praise drug dealers – although I think placing them in an economic context does much to dispel the notion that drugs are caused by moral shortcomings in black communities – but rather to suggest that if there aren’t many black businesses, lack of entrepreneurial spirit may not be the reason. Simpler matters like access to capital may be to blame. A drug dealing enterprise is primarily a matter of human capital: connections to suppliers, people to deal on the streets, enforcers, and a carrot and stick approach to business security. A legitimate business involves premises, credit, stock, complex accounting practices and a knowledge of relevant laws. The first requires you to know the right people and know how to make them do what you want. The second requires the kind of money you usually have to ask a bank for and the kind of knowledge you need to have gone to a post-secondary school for. Lacking the second, some young black men capitalise on their possession of the first. Given access to more traditional forms of capital, or a chance to capitalise on the assets they have in more socially acceptable and profitable ways, I would expect them to show business acumen comparable to other demographic segments.

16

Russell Arben Fox 08.11.04 at 4:44 pm

Scott, I don’t mean to imply that you’re presenting a simplistic liberal answer. I just thought you were being a little too quick to file away all acts of economic/social/racial “protectionism” (broadly construed) as invariably the exact some sort of acts committed by all economic elites. I think I just see the history of acts of collective self-maintainence somewhat differently than you; I really do think that, even if the acts under consideration aren’t absolutely “authentic” to the group from the ground up, (i.e., “black owned businesses hir[ing] black employees and spend[ing] their money at other black businesses”), there’s still something more to the context of such boundary-creation and preservation than simple self-interest. It’s not entirely meaningless to say “we made these t-shirts” even if the money to open up the shop came from a white-owned bank and the fabric was produced by exploited textile workers in Mexico. All I’m saying is that the unfortunate fact of economic and social elitism doesn’t make all talk about identity and “the neighborhood” mere empty rhetoric.

As for your solution (“a return to the age when unskilled and semi-skilled work was easy to find, well unionised and well paid”), I couldn’t agree more. However, I would also suggest that unionization and economic security in general is, to a greater degree than most liberals are comfortable admitting, dependent upon social stability, which means a certain degree of communal trust and identity. Just as no nationalism is purely civic (there’s always culture lurking in their somewhere), so could no egalitarian system be entirely free of the requirements of local familiarity and trust. So, on some level or another, your solution (which I embrace) would have to include local elites enlisting “their people” in a common project from the bottom up; you’re not going to be able to recreate a world wherein employers don’t up and depart for other pastures, leaving upwardly mobile workers behind, unless they feel like they share something special with those workers (something that, by definition, they don’t quite share with folks in those otherwise enticing other pastures).

17

a different chris 08.11.04 at 4:47 pm

The racism is really, really ugly and disturbing.

But that said, all’s fair in love, war and marketing. Classical economists get the vapors when we question what sense there is in the way people, especially in the US, spend much of their money. It’s all good, they say. Fine. So:

People pay premium prices for clothes for stupid reasons, it’s up to you to find and exploit whatever you can come up with that makes them want to buy your stuff. Considering that *all* these clothes are basically about self-identification, then telling a black person that this shirt was supplied by somebody “like you” whilst the other one is supplied by somebody “not like you” is not only an obvious, if regrettable outcome, but the business guy literally wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t give it a shot to move merchandise.

Again, the actual tactics are way ugly, but the strategy is textbook marketing.

It’s up to society to erase these type of lines, not business.

18

seth edenbaum 08.11.04 at 5:03 pm

It’s nice to see something other than one size fits all liberalism. That in itself is close to the sort of market theory that I truly despise. Both maintain the illusion that people are more intelligent than they’ve ever been shown to be. How can you defend freedom and democracy if you assume they aren’t?
Just watch me:

There is a moral difference between what some want to call black ‘racism’ and white racism. There’s a moral difference between the anger of the italian and polish peasants -and that’s what they are- in brooklyn and the manhattanites who are displacing them by buying them out. There is no ‘equality’ between the powerful and the weak. Accepting that, Kang’s problems are his own.
He didn’t go for acceptance. He should have put billboards with his face on them, but he didn’t, he hid. If he had had the guts to put his smiling asian face out front and center he’d be a star.
If you come into someone’s house you show respect. People aren’t that smart but they know when they’ve been insulted.

19

dsquared 08.11.04 at 5:10 pm

Seth and Chris: I see the point you’re making (that the identity, including the racial identity, of the manufacturer is part of the value-added in the product, and that if Kang was trying to pass of his t-shirts as having been made by brothers from the hood, this was a minor consumer fraud), but

a) we don’t give Abercrombie & Fitch a free pass when it comes to using racist caricatures in their marketing material

b) it really does appear from the article that all the “rage” was coming from rival producers rather than from consumers, which makes the whole thing look really suspect

I’d tentatively add

c) encouraging anyone to regard the provenance of a piece of clothing as part of its value added is a silly and destructive marketing tactic always and everywhere and should be discouraged

but wouldn’t push a point.

20

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 6:05 pm

Yeah, as someone who has on occasion defended “traditional origin” protections – with regard to Parma ham IIRC – I’m willing to grant some legitimacy to the notion that part of the value added to something is the notion that the money is going to support certain people, places and practices. It’s just that I don’t think that’s particularly relevant in this case and I do expect the purchase of such a product to actually go to the support of the people, places and practices I expect it to go to. I would be more sympathetic if this Kang guy hadn’t already been supplying these clothes to the final vendors.

The article doesn’t mention it, but I have to ask, imagine that Kang is hiring local black artists to come up with the designs and to sell them in his shop. He seems willing to hire locally to promote the product, so it seems not to be an unreasonable supposition. If the difference between buying his $30 shirts and the same shirts for $100 is that some of the difference is going to black middlemen, I don’t see any immediate cause for concern.

Russell, while I suspect that you maybe right about the final inevitability of establishing some sort of black elite if the community prospers, I do tend to think such outcomes are better understood as consequences of community empowerment more than as preconditions. The elite does not necessarily help to raise the median, even when raising the median raises the elite. I don’t see much of a victory in community empowerment when the individual is disempowered in the process. While the converse – empowering the community’s members as individuals – often has the effect of empowering the community’s collective institutions.

But I have biases on this, as you know well.

21

Scott Martens 08.11.04 at 6:05 pm

Yeah, as someone who has on occasion defended “traditional origin” protections – with regard to Parma ham IIRC – I’m willing to grant some legitimacy to the notion that part of the value added to something is the notion that the money is going to support certain people, places and practices. It’s just that I don’t think that’s particularly relevant in this case and I do expect the purchase of such a product to actually go to the support of the people, places and practices I expect it to go to. I would be more sympathetic if this Kang guy hadn’t already been supplying these clothes to the final vendors.

The article doesn’t mention it, but I have to ask, imagine that Kang is hiring local black artists to come up with the designs and to sell them in his shop. He seems willing to hire locally to promote the product, so it seems not to be an unreasonable supposition. If the difference between buying his $30 shirts and the same shirts for $100 is that some of the difference is going to black middlemen, I don’t see any immediate cause for concern.

Russell, while I suspect that you maybe right about the final inevitability of establishing some sort of black elite if the community prospers, I do tend to think such outcomes are better understood as consequences of community empowerment more than as preconditions. The elite does not necessarily help to raise the median, even when raising the median raises the elite. I don’t see much of a victory in community empowerment when the individual is disempowered in the process. While the converse – empowering the community’s members as individuals – often has the effect of empowering the community’s collective institutions.

But I have biases on this, as you know well.

22

joe 08.11.04 at 6:28 pm

Seth writes: _There is a moral difference between what some want to call black ‘racism’ and white racism._

No, there is not. If you hadn’t said “moral” you might have had an argument, but morality is the same for everybody.

There is an economic (not moral) difference between the motivations of small business owners in a disadvantaged local market race-baiting their competitors, and a large corporation like Abercrombie & Fitch doing it. Sensible policy will recognize this and try to address the marginality of these small business owners. I think this is what Seth is trying to say. And if he thinks a certain sub-culture has artistic social value and should be protected from crass economic disruption by outsiders, that’s ok too, let’s get that goal out on the table and figure out how best to achieve it.

But the racism of these small business owners is inexcusable, on universal moral grounds, period. Is it so hard to keep these different factors straight?

23

seth edenbaum 08.11.04 at 7:17 pm

One thing more, since I was at work and in a hurry (I don’t usually have computer access on my job)
I’m not defending the worst of the responses, I’m saying they were predictable. But having said that, I have no patience with cheap moralism. The yuppie schmucks who are moving into my neighborhood will all vote for Kerry. They’re all Deaniacs and members of Move On. And the local whites who hate them- for good reason- will have another reason to vote for Bush. The Puerto Ricans are the only ones who get the fucking joke.
It’s not about intelligence it about power.

I’m not blowing off steam at R. Fox or Scott Martens, their thoughtfulness is not feigned, but the tone of the post was condescending, and I thought someone should return the favor.

24

dsquared 08.11.04 at 7:39 pm

Just out of interest, what is that good reason?

25

s e 08.11.04 at 7:51 pm

I’m still on my lunch break and I just read the responses, all of which I think miss one point I made. The black community has always been open to crossover [my childhood is a good example]If Kang had been smarter he’d be fine. That’s not an argument about morality or social engineering but about judgement and awareness.
Everyone is talking about ‘fixing’ problems. I’m describing how this problem could have been avoided.
That’s a very different sort of argument.

DS:
“encouraging anyone to regard the provenance of a piece of clothing as part of its value added is a silly and destructive marketing tactic always and everywhere and should be discouraged”

And I once heard a famous and respected idiot who called herself a Marxist whine that she didn’t understand why fashion designers considered their work to be artistic. And christianity shouldn’t have been a selling point for frescos?

Art is the added value to any idea.
What else is there to life, really?

Joe: Sorry dude

26

se 08.11.04 at 8:05 pm

DS.
because people are being thrown out of their homes. Because the new neighbors are hiring the old neighbors to clean the sink and mop the floor. Because the new neighbors are rude and disrespectful. Because they stare and gawk at the local color. Because the slackers just by being slackers are an affront to people who will work every day of their lives for crap. Do you know what it’s like to be a servant in the city, to be told to ride the god damn freight elevator even when you’re well dressed and aren’t carrying a tool bag? Do you know what it’s like to be condescended to by assholes who think you’re an idiot because you’re there to work for them?
And now those assholes move in next door?!!
I’ve been a field nigger most of my adult life. I’m a college boy I’ve but I’ve got asbestos, and sheetrock dust, and fiberglass in my lungs. I’ve fallen far enough in my life and I may fall farther yet.
And when my ex who lived the first 30 years of her life in north brooklyn talks about blowing up the fucking L train I understand.
(Don’t worry she won’t do it, she left the neighborhood)

27

RBH 08.11.04 at 8:35 pm

Seth would like to return to the “age when unskilled and semi-skilled work was easy to find, well unionised and well paid.” Can anyone tell me when that was? What age was that?

Thanks.

28

seth edenbaum 08.11.04 at 9:29 pm

I’m sorry about the tone of my responses. It’s not as if I’m offering solutions to every problem, and I’d certainly never claim to be able to ‘design’ one, but that’s precisely my point: a design will never match the complexity of the problem its attempting to solve. It’s not design that separates Europe from the US, it’s the things that produce the designs. You can’t just offer up a new theoretical superstructure and assume the substructure will change -that’s modernism and liberalism in a nutshell- it won’t work.
But such discussions- of generalities- are all I’m hearing.
My response is different and specific.
Kang fucked up. He blew his chance. The next guy should be smarter. I’ve already explained why. That’s the only viable ‘solution’ to the problem: the application not of a program but of a sort of ‘awareness’ to a given situation.
And as far as college punks and yuppies go, a certain awareness- an awareness that D2 seems to lack, whatever his decent intentions- would go a long way.

29

dsquared 08.11.04 at 10:26 pm

Oh great, now I’m being lectured on “awareness” by a “field nigger” called Seth Edenbaum. For Pete’s sake.

30

Russell Arben Fox 08.11.04 at 10:46 pm

RBH,

“Seth would like to return to the ‘age when unskilled and semi-skilled work was easy to find, well unionised and well paid.’ Can anyone tell me when that was? What age was that?”

While some years were obviously a lot better than others for the working class, I would say, on the whole, pretty much anytime in between 1940 and 1975. A bad era for a lot of people, but probably the best era the average lower-class worker (black or white) in America has yet ever seen.

31

seth edenbaum 08.11.04 at 10:48 pm

I’m a jewish carpenter. You think we all work on wall street?
You asked a stupid question. Don’t compound it

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seth edenbaum 08.11.04 at 11:19 pm

And RBH. Are you quoting me? If so from where?
The neighborhood I live in was dying. Now it’s not. But also it’s no longer a ‘neighborhood’ but a place of transience. The hardware store has been replced by a boutique called ‘Brooklyn Industries’ where you can buy $60 t shirts.

I’m not trying to romanticize the past, the past is gone; and I don’t like nostalgia. But I’m not much for hypocrisy either.

I have two ex girlfriend’s I’m still close to. One is the daughter of a billionaire, one’s the daughter of a cop. You can guess which one I mentioned before.
The cop’s daughter will go off on the new schmucks who bring their underwear to the laundromat to have it washed by someone else. ‘But I don’t have time” she mimics the whine.
My other ex, who hasn’t lived around here for a long time has someone else do the laundry and someone else clean the house.
“So what!” she says “I can afford it.”

They’re both honest. And they both know it.
That’s what I try to be.

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dsquared 08.12.04 at 12:02 am

I’m a jewish carpenter.

So was Jesus Christ, and a lot of people found him a bit preachy too.

You think we all work on wall street?

Nope, just gently trying to indicate that you might want to be “aware” that there are some other people out there who tend to object to folks chucking around the word “nigger” when they aren’t, in the strictest sense, niggers.

Fucking put a sock in it, Seth. As a Jewish yuppie called Fred Engels, a Jewish academic called Karl Marx and a rich Hispanic lawyer and plantation-owner’s son called Fidel Castro have all pointed out, the game that you are playing is called “divide and rule” and is one of the principal reasons why working class politics has never got anywhere.

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seth edenbaum 08.12.04 at 12:34 am

“I’m a Jewish Carpenter”
I’ve always wanted an excuse to use that line.

And I’m not playing ‘divide and rule’
I’m being a bitter smart ass. But perhaps you missed my last comment.
When responding to complexity you have a choice: you can either contradict yourself or contradict yourself and lie about it.

Your question was silly and I responded to it as such.

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Brian 08.12.04 at 12:40 am

If people won’t pay up for “identity and neighbourhood” frankly they don’t want it badly enough. And who can blame them when there are so many other pressing demands on our income? If the black store owners find it hard to remain profitable given Kang’s activities they can raise the price of black authenticity to sustain their businesses. And sustain they will if there is any semblance between sensibilities as they are and the indiscriminate projection of bourgeois (“identity and neighbourhood”) sensibilities onto blacks.

As for pining for an era when semi-skilled work is available, that age is now! I’m not saying that the jobs are easy to find, but those jobs have never left us, existentially speaking. Geographically, there is a difference as those jobs are in Asia. Millions are being lifted from real poverty – not the pretentious poverty that plagues America. There is also real poverty in America, obviously, but you realize most of it is the pretentious variety when you look around the world.

Establishing more semi-skilled work in America might be good for social harmony but most of us are too cheap to care. Until disharmony leads to instability, people will be too cheap to care.

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Brian 08.12.04 at 2:31 am

R.A.Fox wrote: While some years were obviously a lot better than others for the working class, I would say, on the whole, pretty much anytime in between 1940 and 1975. A bad era for a lot of people, but probably the best era the average lower-class worker (black or white) in America has yet ever seen.

Actually that “golden era” perception is a myth.

http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/histinc/ie1.html

Using 2001 dollars we see that the mean household of the lowest quintile improved it’s lot from $7303 in 1967 to $10136 by 2001. Growing inequality in America means that people in the higher quintiles did even better. Hurray for inequality, I guess.

Over the years households have decreased in size so each person within the household is probably better off than these numbers would indicate.

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dsquared 08.12.04 at 2:37 am

Care to have a look at hours worked, Brian?

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dsquared 08.12.04 at 2:46 am

Also note that, of the $2833 increase in income per head between 1967 and 2001 that Brian is talking about, three quarters of it ($2107) was in place by 1978.

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Brian 08.12.04 at 3:22 am

Also note the $726 increase since 1978. It has been getting easier yet, to bury the myth.

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dsquared 08.12.04 at 3:49 am

yep, lower quintile income increased on average $31 (2001) per year between 1978 and 2001. That’s almost a latte a month, you ungrateful bastards.

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brian 08.12.04 at 4:28 am

That’s gall dsquared. I showed that Fox was wrong. That should be enough to make my point.

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brian 08.12.04 at 4:42 am

I guess it makes you uncomfortable to have your prejudices shattered.

You’re free to search for data going as far back as 1940 but I’m pretty sure the numbers will be lower than 2001 and even lower than 1967.

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Scott Martens 08.12.04 at 10:07 am

Brian, compare those household income statistics to household hours worked and to average hourly wages and a very different picture emerges. Or, you might take a look at Jacob Hacker’s latest (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml%3Fi=20040816&s=hacker081604) at The New Republic.

Household income has grown – slowly and irregularly – but hours worked have risen far more quickly. Fifty years ago, single income families where the breadwinner was only semi-skilled owned homes and cars. Nowadays, single income families in America are poor. Manufacturing jobs in unionised firms were once the norm for a large segment of American society. Now they are rare. Income security has nearly vanished.

Compare that $700 difference household income in 1978 to the price of housing – which is a more important cost at the low end of the income distribution than at the middle and is therefore not adequately accounted for in inflation correction statistics. A very different picture emerges, one that correlates a great deal better to what you actually see in poor neighbourhoods in the US. The combination of increased risk and higher costs makes saving much, much harder. Increased income risks make it harder to get a home or business loan. And the very small income gains over that period are not nearly enough to make up for it.

People really ought to learn to look at statistics more critically. I might suspect, Brian, that you should examine your own prejudices by looking beyond a single set of numbers.

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brian 08.12.04 at 4:43 pm

Scott, the increase in hours worked per household is due to more second and third incomes, which often are part-time and often in the higher quintiles. Economists say that part-time jobs became a bigger part of the supply and demand of jobs. This forms demand for luxuries like Washington’s $100 t-shirts sold next to Kang’s $30 version. In this context, the increase in work hours per household is not worrisome.

As for Jacob Hacker’s article I am troubled that a professor of political science is offering economic advice.

Secondly, your and Hacker’s point is well taken that there is more to well-being than income when it comes to Fox’s “best era for lower working-class people”. The insecurity, if it is indeed rising, is something people “want” in that people want to shop at Wal-Mart even if it means jobs will shift to China. We want science and technology to make some jobs and industries obsolete. People want rapid change because those able to cope with it through education will be better off. I don’t have anything against insurance in principle. Unfortunately, countries that insure heavily through government programs are also poorer than the US, measured at the mean and median. Of course we can ignore the mean and median and use the lowest quintile in all our thinking, but you know we will not being doing that.

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joe 08.12.04 at 5:55 pm

“And as far as college punks and yuppies go, a certain awareness- an awareness that D2 seems to lack, whatever his decent intentions- would go a long way.”

I don’t want to put words in Seth’s mouth but I’m more sympathetic to him as the thread has continued. For most of the commenters here their lifestyle is fungible, they could live here or there and participate in this or that community or follow this or that career path. But members of communities comprised mostly of members of the “lowest economic quintile”, including even the $100/shirt entrepreneurs themselves, do not have anything like that sense of options. If their community or neighborhood changes in any significant way it’s not like they can say “oh well I guess I’ll just go to law school” or “I’ll take that job/go to school in the Detroit area”. Any force for change in the community is therefore a legitimately serious issue threatening quality of life in a very profound way, and seeming overreactions must be understood in this context. Not to mention the obvious fact that the material costs of change are invariably forced onto the most marginalized members of the community.

For someone who has experienced and understands poverty not as low income (which most people here have experienced as students) but rather as this lack of fungibility, it is unbelievably infuriating to listen to well-meaning and highly educated people try to discuss policies and principles when it seems clear they can’t identify with this fundamental aspect of the situation.

(That said, I pretty much agree with all D2’s substantive remarks in the thread!)

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seth edenbaum 08.12.04 at 7:13 pm

A willingness to offer technical solutions to problems of behavior does not absolve one from more personal and immediate social obligations.

Is that a call for perfection, or merely a statement of fact?

I admit it: I’m a bourgeois socialist (as were Marx and Engels) but that’s a far cry from being able on the one hand to talk sympathetically about policy and other people’s behavior, and on the other to then turn and mock them for their anger. (I don’t remember either of them doing that).

I’m not a moralist, but I am more interested in sensibility than policy. I made a few practical observations about human behavior and explained how Kang could have avoided trouble. I did so precisely because I DO NOT expect perfection from anybody, and therefore I have little right to sound superior. Others imagine they do and I have fun proving them wrong

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cw 08.13.04 at 5:13 am

Seth,

You sound like middle class kids I used to know that moved to Oakland. They were all “socialists” or whatever and wanted to live in a certain kind od environment, one that matched their romantic notions of themselves.

Gentrification is a difficult problem but I don’t have much sympathy for posers upset over losing their backdrops.

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seth edenbaum 08.13.04 at 12:59 pm

You miss the point kid. Cultural capital doesn’t pay my health insurance, and neither does my ex.
And there’s a diference between gentrification per se, and gentrification by those who assuage their guilt by thinking good abstract thoughts. The neighborhood I live in is being transformed as well by new and aggressively upwardly moblie immigrants. They crush and remake everything in their path. They’re greedy, and impressive. They’re interesting people.

Read more carefully son, or shut up.

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