You’ve probably heard by now of the disturbing trend known as the Knockout Game. Featuring a group of teenagers, one of whom is chosen to sucker punch an unsuspecting passerby in the hopes of knocking him or her out, the motivation behind the Knockout Game remains unclear. Well, besides showing that you are badass enough to hit a grandma in the back of the head (which is not very badass at all). Now that the Knockout Game has gained some attention in the media, some people are freaking out over the prospect of random violence, and I’ve even received several well-meaning Facebook messages this week asking me to watch out and be safe out there.
In cases like this, it can be tempting to let fear overcome you, exacerbating tensions rather than appeasing them. But I think everyone should pause for a moment and maybe consider the following points before falling into utter panic, barricading themselves in their basement and re-stocking on assault rifles and hand grenades.
First, let’s be careful when using the word “trend.” Just because an article keeps popping up on your twitter feed doesn’t mean that it depicts an actual trend. The article itself might be trending, but there is a distinction. Similarly, having several instances of “knockouts” compiled into a single video does not mean that they all happened at the same time. Now in the case of the “knockout game,” it is not clear whether the phenomenon really has been gaining momentum, or whether it just happens to have been picked up by social media as this week’s new buzz.
In addition, we must remember that some members of the media have a way of overplaying and polarizing any issue that has to do with insecurity—especially when there’s a racial component. It is perhaps then not so surprising that inflammatory, bigoted articles such as Colin Flaherty’s “Surprise! The media finally woke up to the knockout game” would surface.
This sort of article might be easy for some to dismiss as hilarious in how absurd it is, but it can be immensely destructive because of how it touches upon a vital psychological issue: fear of the other. Not only does Mr Flaherty play on this to emotionally string along his reader, he effectively exacerbates it, while simultaneously plugging his book, “White Girl Bleed a Lot,” in which he denounces “black mob violence” in America.
Unfortunately, we have all seen this kind of bigoted argumentation have actual political repercussions. And it’s not just here in America, one only needs to take a quick glance at the other side of the Atlantic. In my native France, gratuitous violence has been a growing epidemic over the past decade. And, in true 21st-century fashion, people in France are blaming immigration.
Now, it is one thing to acknowledge that the problem of this type of violence is linked to immigration, and a very different one to simply blame violence on immigrants. In fact, the failure of assimilation in France is largely a result of short-sighted policies, rather than of individual migrants’ incapacity to integrate. But that doesn’t seem to matter too much, and expressions such as “zero tolerance” have been occupying much of the political landscape these past few years.
The French media, in turn, have largely been exploiting the public’s fascination with images of hoodied young men of color burning and breaking stuff. Consequently, the political answer has mostly been one of repression and enforcement, based on a framing of the problem in terms of “us” versus “them.” A popular example is that of Nicolas Sarkozy telling journalists that he would “clean out” the French suburbs with a “Karcher” in 2005. (He was France’s Minister of Interior at the time.)
So far, there have been few tangible results in France: violence is still on the rise, with an estimated 2.9% increase in “gratuitous” violence between 2012 and 2013. The other thing that is on the rise is the Front National (FN), France’s very own extreme right wing political party. The party, with its hard anti-immigration, anti-Europe, pro-traditional French values (whatever that means) stance, has long been perceived as fascist, its ideology often bordering on the neo-Nazis’. But in 2012, party leader Marine Le Pen received an alarming 18% of the vote in the Presidential elections. And suddenly, the FN became a serious political contender, just as racist talk began slowly making its way back into mainstream discourse.
What it comes down to is this, think twice before giving in to the easy temptation of interpreting events through your own prejudice. Blaming violence on race, without looking at the underlying causes, will only make things worse. The only ones who really benefit are people like Le Pen in France, or right-wing reactionary politicians in America for whom more violence and less integration makes an ideal political platform to run on. Or people like Flaherty, who is probably selling a lot of books right now, and who might consider going for it in 2016.