Hubris squared

Sometime in May or June of 2008, I stumbled across an absolutely unbelievable podcast that explained the burgeoning housing crisis and soon-to-be catastrophic turmoil on Wall Street. The Giant Pool of Money (parts 1 and 2) talked about well… a giant pool of money, and why this might be a concern for all of us.

We’re all well familiar with the hubris of the financial industry and Wall Street in particular by now. And, whilst many lives were changed and the fall-out from the 2008 global financial collapse is a bit better understood now, we’ve seemingly moved on. Fines were levied against banks and their CEOs and directors. Much money was pumped into an industry that created an unimaginable mess all in the name of greed. Yet, no one was really held to account for creating economic calamity for millions. At least no one in the US.

As Main Street called for ‘heads to roll’, no real consequences befell those who orchestrated the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Enter the single attempt to prosecute those ‘responsible’. And, enter hubris of an entirely different sort.

Ultimately, Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Manhattan was found not guilty (quite rightly). But, why was it the target of prosecution for acting precisely as it should once employees acting against the law were discovered and following established risk procedures? Yet, still, the larger, more powerful banks that instituted predatory lending practices, whose CEOs earned billions whilst their banks nearly failed, remain untouched and unscathed?

Perhaps Ralph Nader was right: only the super-rich can save us all. I’m not holding my breath, but I will cheer for and applaud institutions like Abacus.

The stories we miss

I’m not quite sure how I managed to miss the case of James Byrd. But, I did. Last night, we watched the brilliant and chilling documentary, Two Towns of Jasper.

My sleep was more than a little disturbed.

 

Despite a lynching that took place nearly 20 years ago, this film and the reality of events surrounding James Byrd’s slaughter remain relevant today. I suspect this is why PBS’s POV chose an encore airing in August of this real-life horror story.

We need look no further than Charlottesville and the public boastings of folks like David Duke and Richard Spencer to understand that far too many individuals would welcome such ‘opportunities’.

But, perhaps the more troubling aspect of towns like Jasper are the words of those interviewed in Two Towns. A white man relaying that he doesn’t understand what changed, whereby ‘nigger’ is now considered a derogatory or unacceptable term for a black individual. By his own account, there’s nothing wrong with that word, as those sitting around the same table nod in agreement. A white woman at that same table makes claims that ‘James Byrd was no model citizen of Jasper’, to collective, murmured agreement. The implication is clear: maybe his death was brutal, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have it coming to him.

Perhaps the worst moments in this film were not related to the trials of those accused or the outcomes for those miserable humans who carried out a truly gruesome attack on another human being. The worst moment for me was when the local school board decided to adjust the academic calendar, and render Martin Luther King Jr Day as a make up day for days lost during the school year. They rendered MLK Day expendable, whilst the Jasper rodeo remained a day off from school. A fucking rodeo.

The board reinstated the holiday, but only after significant opposition. Reverend Ray Charles Lewis says it best: ‘It’s easier for whites to forget,’ he noted.

My family is from a town very much like Jasper. And, I grew up listening and being outraged by some of the same comments and reflections made around various tables as those made by the white residents of Jasper. Sadly, those conversations or ideas are nothing new to me, I suppose.

But, that doesn’t make it right and nothing will change unless those of us with power speak up when we hear / bear witness to such archaic notions and prejudices. Whilst everyone may have prejudices, as yet another white Jasperian claims, we don’t have to accept them as honourable or acceptable. Particularly not today.

We all have a responsibility to stand up and stop an injustice when we see it happen. We all have a duty to our fellow humans to call out those who feel justified in using derogatory and demeaning labels to characterise others. We all must stand up and defend those being beaten and thrashed, whether by words or fists, for simple being different.

Most of all, we all must speak up, particularly when our voices shake the most. Because that’s when it matters most.