Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Suits and betrayal in Chinatown

"It's so hurtful, it's just wrong!" said a Chinatown community "leader" to another Chinatown non profit director. They exchange mutual gestures of dismay.

Were they deploring restaurant management stealing hard-working waiters' tips? Complaining about a landlord allowing illegal conditions in his building so he could call the Dept of Buildings and evict all the renters overnight without any due process? Or the proposed legislation to exact punishing fines on street vendors for setting up in an illegal space instead of merely having the police ask them to move?

None of those moral crimes. They were deploring a labor organization calling a councilmember "racist." That's what upsets the suits in Chinatown.

White collar crime doesn't receive this kind of shock and dismay. A restaurant manager, donning a suit of clean and pristine pride for a photo op, stands next to a councilmember also in a suit, endorsed by the legitimacy of politics, governance and "leadership." They each lend the other its public display of respectability, shaking hands. Owning and controlling, they have nothing to complain or howl about, nothing ugly to say, nothing to taint the picture, nothing but smiles. And all the suits around are pleased.

But stealing tips -- stealing from low-wage workers who have no alternatives -- is nothing to smile about. It's vastly worse than calling a councilmember "racist."

The suit, like the semiotic neighborhood, is all about selling itself and selling out. It prides itself on its success at whoring itself, as if this were the only game worth playing.

There is no recognition among the respectable that labor stands at the bottom of the social scale, with little support, funding or clout. They have their voices and their unity, and that's just about all. To be heard, they've got to be more than loud in quantity of decibells. They've got to be loud in quality -- shocking, offensive, disturbing and disruptive, otherwise they are invisible. The cry of "racist!" whether true or not, is an honest, sincere, genuine and authentic cry about true management abuses and real living needs.

Forgive me for ranting on this, but I'm disgusted -- and I want those leaders to know that I'm disgusted -- by such displays of shock and dismay over labor tactics. In your comfortable easy chair, imagine yourself lying on the third level of a bunk bed, your only living room. Then imagine who respects your voice. Then, when you next hear "racist" yelled by labor, maybe, true or not, you'll cheer them for simply being heard.

Suits purport to be smart; suits purport to be educated. Then suits should know well the deep disparities of this world and should expect labor tactics to be loud and ugly. Here's how the game is played, and everyone knows it: power, in its echo chamber, will not listen to the disempowered unless the disempowered offend them. Then power deplores the disempowered for being offensive. I have no respect for anyone who deplores labor tactics.

I don't practice labor tactics -- I don't have the courage for it. But I recognize that, truthful or not, it gets justice. There would never have been a Chinatown Working Group were it not for the protests of Chinatown labor which included a lot of name-calling.

It's a shame, though no surprise, that in this upside-down and morally corrupt world, justice should have to be pitted against truth. But truth is merely information; justice is lived. Justice first, then truth will arrive in time. Without justice, truth will remain dressed in suits.

See also in this series:
Semiotic neighborhoods vs the authentic and anti-fragile: prestige and its deceptions and betrayals
Prestige and distortion in Chinatown
The Mobility Dilemma and the Clearinghouse Effect
Authenticity in the East Village

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