The Tops Attack: where do we hide?

Sifting through the devastating impact of a terrorist act like the recent massacre in Buffalo is, at once, an occupational exercise and an impossible task.

Those who practice in some of the public occupations — journalism, education and electoral politics — are called upon to “make sense” of and explain the actions of a vicious racist punk in obvious personal crisis. They flounder because there is no sense to this kid: he’s deeply misguided, apparently awkward socially and, like most racist terrorists, very scared of a future so cloudy its contours aren’t visible. So they rely on the usual cries for justice and assurances that “this isn’t us” and pledges to “do better” or “stop this madness” or whatever.

The problem is that these people must work out of a stiff frame which avoids the “larger questions” necessary to making sense of events like this one. The Buffalo attacker isn’t alone, no matter what pundits say; he’s part of a fascist movement in this country driven by an ideology called “replacement theory”. Understanding that movement is key to understanding people like him and understanding and countering the theory is critical to resisting fascism.

What’s so frustrating about this is that replacement is not only very real but very desirable for everyone. We will all benefit greatly from the disappearance of the “white race”.

I’ve addressed this in a previous column but, just to be clear, I don’t want to kill white people. In fact, I continue to work with, be friends with and love very much many people who are considered white. I’m a race abolitionist which means I seek the end of the use of the concept of “race” in social policy. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Racial identification is a function of distress: the fear of annihilation.

But that’s another post.

I mentioned above the impossibility of sifting through the devastation of this kind of attack because it impacts so many areas of so many lives. Others have covered some of those areas but one that sticks in my mind is that the super-market where this took place is now temporarily closed and will probably forever be mired in the violence and sense of uncontrollable despair we feel when our lives are in the hands of people we don’t know or understand.

I sat watching the reports on television and, with the exception of Democracy Now (a predictable exceptions), nobody was talking about this aspect of the tradition. Yet it is, in a way, the most devastating: an act of violent cultural aggression and community dispersion.

Poor communities in this country suffer from “food insecurity”: the state of not having access to good food for all your meals. The causes are different but, in this country, the state is epidemic and has many causes including poverty itself. But in many communities, especially poor ones, even if you have money you can’t get decent food because there is none around. I remember taking my kids to school in Red Hook, a neighborhood here in Brooklyn New York with a very large population living in poverty. That neighborhood of about 11,000 people had one, that’s right one, supermarket. Only one. It was badly stocked because it had no competition and so, why spend the money on stocking diverse products?

I remember shuddering at the sight of that place and thinking about what would happen if it shut down. What would people do? What would they eat?

That’s what was evoked by this shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo. There’s been scant coverage of what that place means in the history of this community. In fact, the opening of Tops was, in some respects, a major victory for community advocacy. Some years ago, community leaders engaged in a multi-faceted campaign to bring that store into this community.

It was about getting food into households but it was about much more than that.

For much of human history, places of food commerce have been important gathering places for communities. For some, in some eras, they were the main place. Going to market was not only about assuring that your family had the necessities for the week but also seeing friends, talking with merchants who have always been among the main sources of community news (what some derisively call “gossip”) and spending a good portion of a day “socializing” with people not accessible in societies of restricted movement.

In short, throughout most of our history, food markets have been the centerpiece of community life and, today in many communities, they still are. In Puerto Rican communities, when I was growing up, the corner grocery store (the “bodega”) was the gathering place for the neighborhood. Men, women, children would go there and hang out for a while — some for all day, in fact — to talk, play dominoes and drink beer (the men), compare notes about schools or foods (the women), pick up on community news and just hang out outside (the kids).

It’s easy to understand why we’ve traditionally chosen these locations to energize ourselves. It’s about food. Food not only keeps us going today but it offers the promise of a tomorrow. If you can eat right now or tonight, you’ll survive another day or week or month or year. Food is not only a necessity; it’s a symbol of our permanence. It is, at once, a nutrient, comfort, tool for community, source of security and promise of a future.

That’s the point about communities that are food insecure. They are insecure in every way. They are missing out on all that which contributes to a sustainable community.

I’m as pained as everyone about the deaths of those innocent people, people who were just shopping, the lady stocking up for a week of family dinners or the guy buying a cake for this grand-kid…doing nothing to anyone. I’m outraged by the horrifically ignorant and insensitive response of fascist media and politicians who, incredibly, doubled down on replacement theory nonsense. Yeah, pained by loss of life and loss of logic in this right-wing thinking. Loss of the little democracy we had.

But what pains me the most was the attack on the momentary comfort and sense of security in this one place this community finally won some years back. All of that trashed by this fool. In this community that has been given next to nothing but one supermarket that might protect its residents from the pain, fear, and threats that are the hallmarks of a community in poverty, there is one question that lingers unanswered.

Where do you go to hide?

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