Michael Bloomberg and the Benevolent White Daddy Syndrome

Bloomberg and his crew have elevated themselves as the benevolent parents, empowered to restrict soda, discipline, and punish if necessary.
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Hypocrisy is nothing new for America's politicians. It is one of the few postures that remains bipartisan.

This is certainly evident as Michael Bloomberg pushes forward his assault on big sodas alongside his assault on constitutional rights and human dignity with his harmful stop and frisk policy. "For someone who wants to make sure people don't smoke, waste energy, shoot each other with military-style firearms, or eat a bagel that's way too big, you don't express similar urgency when it comes to black and latino youth being violated on the streets of New York City," writes Michael Arceneaux.

Stop and frisk "has done absolutely nothing to make the city's streets safer, and instead, fuels the fires of the already tense relationship between people of color and the police? Why focus on all off that when you can walk around telling people what not to eat and drink? Meanwhile, the heads of minority youth are buried into the concrete," Acreneaux continues.

When defending big soda bans or cigarette concealment Bloomberg consistently notes health and safety, yet as Arceneaux notes, where is the concern for health, safety, dignity, life, and humanity with stop and frisk. Hypocrisy indeed.

Yet, on another level the soda ban and stop and frisk policy operate through the same racist ideologies: white paternalism. In both instances, Bloomberg and others claim discipline and punishment as necessary for the sake of safety, order, and protecting. They both are thought to be "preventative;" they are considered as policies thought to protect the law-abiding from poor choices, from dangerous values, and harmful things. They are considered interventions for bodies of color who obviously need to be controlled by the state.

Bloomberg defends his march on soda by invoking the kids, "I've got to defend my children, and yours, and do what's right to save lives... Obesity kills. There's no question--it kills...We believe that the judge's decision was clearly in error, and we believe we will win on appeal."

Given soda industries targeting of black and latino youth, and the lack of concern for the turnstile refills at America's finest restaurants, Bloomberg's crusade against cola is wrapped up in the logics of race and class. You have to look no further than the exemption of coffee drinks; a massive mocha offers a whopping 360 calories, 19 g of fat, and more than a little bit of sugar. A blended version nets almost 500 calories, yet because it has milk, not to worry, all is supposedly good. The hipsters of Williamsburg have little to worry about as Bloomsberg's Pepsi police are on the case at 7-11, making sure that sugar + coffee + milk remains the breakfast of (Wall Street) champions.

Bloomsberg's class and race-based logic of paternalism and protection, of saving black and brown youth from purported pathologies and dangers isn't reserved for the soda fountain but also guides his policing policy.

"We are not going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives," noted Mayor Bloomberg. He went on to say, "At the same time, we owe it to New Yorkers to ensure that stops are properly conducted and carried out in a respectful way."

Scoffing at suggestions that stops should mirror population numbers in the city, he added, "If we stopped people based on census numbers, we would stop many fewer criminals, recover many fewer weapons and allow many more violent crimes to take place. We will not do that. We will not bury our heads in the sand."

As with the city's soda ban, the policies of stop and frisk are imagined as a necessary intervention against the dangerous behavior that pollutes black and latino communities. From obesity to gun violence, from packets of sugar to dime bags of marijuana, the threat to public safety is located in the choices and behaviors of black and brown bodies, particularly poor youth of color. As the benevolent white father, Mayor Bloomberg refashions a ban on soda and draconian racial profiling as a necessary tool of safety, as a mechanism of disciplinarity.

Michel Foucault describes the dialectic between state institutionalized power and calls/demands for discipline in the following way: "Discipline produces subjected and practiced, 'docile' bodies. Discipline increases the force of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminished these same forces of the body (in political terms of obedience)" (Quoted in Parenti 2001, p 136).

The systemic effort to discipline bodies imagined as deviant and pathological, to shame through policy, abusive policing, or billboards, sits at the core of the Bloomberg administration. In fact, the constant efforts to imagine black youth as destructive, as drug using, hip-hop listening, soda drinking, teen-sex having, no future having pollutants facilitates practices of profiling and stop-and-frisk.

If we think about NYC's public shaming of single mothers, we can understand the shared racial logic that guides the Bloomberg administration: in the absence of "desired" and "productive" parents, Bloomberg and his crew have elevated themselves as the benevolent parents, empowered to restrict soda, discipline, and punish if necessary.

Originally published at NewBlackMan (In Exile)

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