Professor Joe Goldblatt
In 2007 our taxi drove past the beautiful Meadows gardens in the centre of Edinburgh to bring us to our new home in Scotland. I casually asked the driver if it would be safe for my wife to walk alone in the Meadows in the dark winter evening. He pulled over the side of the road, stopped the taxi, looked over his left shoulder and incredulously asked me “Why do you want to know?”
We had just arrived in Edinburgh following living for the past three years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the murder rate had increased year upon year and I said to the driver that in the past year almost 400 deaths by firearms had been recorded in the metropolis known worldwide as the City of Brotherly Love. The taxi driver calmly replied by saying, “I do not think we have had that many murders by firearms in the city of Edinburgh since we began keeping records.”
In fact, according to Scottish Government records, recorded violence by firearms has declined to its lowest level since current statistics were first recorded in 1980. Obviously, the nearly 400 million firearms in the USA has greatly contributed to the inequity between our two countries. However, when visiting a small town in Louisiana and the major city of New York I was shocked and horrified when I witnessed sirens blazing, red lights flashing, police running to arrest a black man just one week apart in both cities. These were scenes I had only seen on seen on television and in newspapers as police surround black men such as George Floyd for restraint, questioning and potential arrest.
Like many tourists and local citizens before me I wondered why crime has been rising again in New York City? There are a number of socio – economic excuses offered by politicians, not just in New York but also at the federal level to explain why sadly, so many black men are now incarcerated in US federal prisons. The current percentage of black males in prison or jail in the USA is nearly 40 percent where as the percentage of black males in the population is less than 14 percent.
Perhaps that is why I was sickened by the behaviour of Will Smith, the award winning actor, when he sucker punched the comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars. I watched Smith first laugh and then cringe with seething anger when Rock made fun of his wife’s hairstyle that was cause by hair loss resulting from alopecia. I deeply empathised with Smith’s anger and pain as one of his loved ones was made to feel uncomfortable. I have had this same experience, however, I used words rather than fists to defend my loved ones.
In the history of the often boring, pedantic, tedious and increasingly coarse Oscar ceremonies many comedians have made far worse comments about the celebrated members of the live audience. However, in this case it was particularly disturbing to see two generally well – respected black men locking horns publicly during a time that is traditionally reserved for light hearted barbs and over the top flattering of members of the film community. However, as Smith suddenly stormed onto the stage and cocked Rock in the face with millions watching, I wondered if the 50% drop in viewership of the Oscars would trigger even further in future years.
The dust up between these two black men sadly only reinforces the stereotype of violence in the black community in the USA and this is especially tragic since black professionals have started to finally make many great advances in the entertainment industry. For example, this year was the first time that the Oscar broadcast employed an all – black production team to design and present this prestigious programme.
The question lingers as to why my home country has for so many years been seen by others around the world as a place where violence is not only tolerated by also encouraged and not just in the black community. Recently in New York city there has been a huge increase against Asian – Americans and to combat this evil this past week hundreds of pepper spray canisters were freely distributed to Asian and Pacific Islander citizens to protect themselves. The black African American Mayor of New York city responded to this need to arm his own citizens as “An indictment of our city.”
As I viewed the nominees for best sound recording of films at the Oscars I noted that the majority of these recordings underscored dramatic scenes of crashes, explosions, gun shots, human screams, and other violent sounds whose amplified sound effects created a sense of aroused terror in the listener. Although I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech, I am concerned that there may be a correlation between the increasing violence portrayed in American media and the normalisation of this violence. Perhaps part of the cause of this uncivil behaviour is in part due to the increased acceptance of violence in what at one time was cherished as civil society in the USA.
Both America and Scotland have historical roots that stretch back to more violent times. However, in recent human history, Scotland has condemned violence and those, including myself, who support Scottish independence have largely endorsed the removal of nuclear weapons from our land. However, the USA appears to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.
During the fifteen years I have lived in Scotland I have come to appreciate more every day Robert Burns firm belief that we are brothers (and sisters) for all that. If only the City of Brotherly Love and Hollywood celebrities as well as ordinary Americans also embraced this sacred value, perhaps the USA could begin the slow healing process that will result in a more equal, fairer and safer society for future generations so that the land of my birth could begin to emulate the land of dreams, Scotland.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is currently serving as visiting professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies Jonathan M Tisch Center of Hospitality in New York City.