Friday, November 26, 2004

Been thinking a lot over the past few weeks,

about the city's ongoing debate about the wisdom or lack thereof of allowing the Pt. Molate site to be used for the development of a world class resort-open space-retail- and- Indian gaming operation. It's been fraught with drama, lawsuits threatened and real, backroom discussions, lively community meetings, and the pitting of environmentalists vs. industrialists vs. developers vs family interests vs. Indian sovereignty. California is being bombarded with "invasions" from Indian Casinos from one side and WalMart's Superstores on the other. People are coming together in strange configurations with unlikely partnerships being formed and old enmitties freshening between the oil giant, Chevron-Texaco and the city; between the conservationists and the unionists. It's been wild!

For reasons unknown, and after a long period of knowing precisely where I stood on the issue of gaming (evil stuff!); after listening to arguments from all sides; and, after finally allowing myself to admit that there really are many sides to those arguments, a scene out of an earlier time played itself out behind my eyes and I did a complete turnabout :

We were still living in the suburbs. Bob was in his early teens (14 maybe?) and had gotten himself into some kind of difficulty. Mel was passionately offering some fatherly counseling. It was the usual, "...why don't you ever listen to me! I've been through all that stuff. I could save you a lot of grief if you'd just open your ears and listen!" Bob, even at that young age -- wise beyond measure responded with, "...then what do I tell my kids -- Grandpa did for all of us? I have to live my own mistakes!"

How does this fit? Easy.

Not sure that I can do my argument justice, but there is a relationship. It has to do with paternalism. It has to do with white privilege. It has to do with having to have some things in order to know you don't need them. And, it sounds crazy.

White privilege -- having enjoyed relative dominance over the known world for centuries with the freedom to choose the best of education, jobs, political power, property ownership, etc., means that there has been ample opportunity to sift through all that there is and eliminate many elements as non-essential to the living of a good life and a healthful planet. Those so privileged have lived out the full spectrum of possibilities -- so far as humanly possible -- and can tell the rest of us where the ruts in the road are and describe the environmental pitfalls, and save us from ourselves in the race to save the planet.

White privilegers, to their credit, have a front row seat on the tragic drama being played out and know that there is no way for the world to accommodate every last African, South American, or Asian to own and drive a Hummer or eat the last lobster in the ocean. They've learned the folly in over-consumption and the plundering of the earth's resources for personal and/or corporate gain. They're Mel being father. "We've lived that and can save you traveling the road to oblivion."

On the other hand, non-whites are only now beginning to climb up the economic ladder despite inadequate educations and lack of opportunity. That being so, the casino development (for example) offers jobs to a city with no economic base save the oil refinery and related chemical industries. To the non-white population, the possibility of employment far outweighs the fears of the social ills associated with the gaming industry. We've seen worse from our seats in the upper balcony. Except for a small part of the church community, gambling is not frowned upon in quite the same way as in the white community. Nor do we enjoy the long view enjoyed by white futurists with the luxury of foresight created by a broader world view. For those with little chance of overcoming, the bright lights of Reno have always offered hope where little exists elsewhere. The vast majority of the citizens of this small working class city of Richmond will probably not be particularly interested in participating in such activity, but will enthusiastically embrace the chance to be gainfully employed. Those who gather at the gaming tables and slot machines will come mostly from outside the area, anyway, to be served by workers who have had little opportunity to gain economic independence any other way. Or so we'll tell ourselves. Most have been unable to peer into the future any further than the next paycheck -- if ... .

It occurred to me while working for members of the state assembly that I could get few to hear me when I warned that when the subject of environmentalism came up -- if those in the meeting were White we talked recreation, open space, clean water and air. When the attendees were Black, the word had an entirely different meaning; we talked asthma, brownfields, ground contamination, chemical leaks -- environmental justice. I'm not at all sure that the homeless people I saw gathered 'roun the Thanksgiving tables yesterday could be convinced of the benefits of sleeping under the stars and foregoing indoor plumbing, whatever their skin color. From where I sat in my staff position, the environmental movement was made up of hikers and kyakers for the most part, and all others were simply considered naive and/or simply uninformed.

We're the "Bobs". We're steadfastly demanding the right to make our own mistakes for the sake of the need to attain maturity on our own terms. So what if the planet can't hold on that long? Not sure what the answer is for that, but it suggests that we need to find some way to reach across the polarity toward some middle ground where our human dignity can be maintained while we try to catch up with those further up the spiral of life. Internationally we must reach some accord or none of us will make it, I suppose. Sadly, many of the world's peoples -- held at a level of ignorance for whatever reasons -- are unable to fathom the concepts of cause and effect, and will stand innocent of our roles in any ecological catastrophe.

Meanwhile, like a father who lives by the dictum "do as I say and not as I do," many of the privileged march along conducting earth-destroying wars and contaminating the environment through the continuing use of fossil fuels that have been proven to destroy the earth's protective cover and hasten global warming. Fishing industries continue to plunder the seas, guaranteeing a worsening of the world's food supply for our progeny. How on earth can we possibly place blame? How will we ever come together enough to think with one mind or speak with one voice? Until we have some common ground upon which to stand, we're surely doomed to self-destruct.

Maybe what we all need is the chance to have all those things that we don't yet have with the experience to know that we don't need. The paternalistic attitude that tells us that others have done it for us all -- and that we should pay heed to those reports and dire warnings now coming back to the ears of the unwashed from those who've enjoyed the bounty of modern science and technology. It'll take a little while, but we'll get there eventually, if eventually doesn't come too soon, that is.

This may sound simplistic. It's subtle and hard to pin on any one person or group. I don't think that we even know we're feeling such things. The best way that I can explain it to myself is to see it through the eyes of memory and the common sense of my 14 year-old now in his mid-years.

I know that I've done a complete about face over several months. I now embrace the development of Pt. Molate as proposed by Upstream Development. Until now I've held my silence. Reason? Though the addiction of Mel's gambling robbed our family of everything at one point in our lives, it no longer frightens me. The addiction to alcohol that took Rick's life was his way of ending an impossible existence and does not indict all young gay men or doom them to self-destruction. For reasons I'm not certain makes sense without further consideration, what has happened to us is relative and not necessarily predictive of what will happen in the lives of others. It has to do with choices, and so long as choices are so tragically limited for some and not for others, the imbalance will continue to be our undoing. It appears to me that the sooner we even the odds for opportunities for all, the sooner more of us will be ready to assume the responsibility for saving the planet. We will have had in order to learn what we don't need.

Is this simply another of the unexplored faces of racism?

And, by the way, the first time I heard the phrase about "needing to have some things in order to know that you don't need 'em" came from Papa George on the occasion of his separation from his third wife!

1 comment:

answer-man said...

ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.