Mayor Bloomberg probably would not get Shirley Jackson’s: “The Lottery”; or maybe he would…


“…incidentally, I think, we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little…”- NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg


From the article: “The Lottery” Letters….. By Ruth Franklin; The New Yorker Magazine

“..When Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” was first published, in the June 26, 1948, issue of this magazine, Miriam Friend was a young mother living in Roselle, New Jersey, with her husband, a chemical engineer who worked on the Manhattan Project. An exact contemporary of Jackson’s—both women were born in 1916—she had recently left her job as a corporate librarian to care for her infant son, and she was a faithful reader of The New Yorker. “I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,’ she wrote in a letter to the editor after reading the story. Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?”…


        I am still amazed at how many people, as the article writer goes on to say, were “stumped” by the “symbolic meaning” of this story. I affectionately look back to when a Brooklyn teenager who was in love with all things literary (my sanctuary from the dangerous streets of NYC being the Brooklyn Public Library); sitting back in stunned and studied reflection after reading what remains to this day, my favorite short story (my apologies to all of my favorite short story writers; i.e. Guy  De Maupassant, Chester Himes and Henry Dumas, et al.) I was and continue to be deeply moved by the power and imagery of this story.  And unlike many of my White high school classmates, the story made perfect sense to me then, and even more so, now. But race, I found, is not the only barrier to “getting” this very interesting work of fiction. I recently had a conversation with a young (20 something) African-American English teacher; who did not “particularly care” for this “strange” story. And I fully understood and appreciated why, as our world views were framed from a very different view of the world. I came of age in a time when upon reaching a certain age as a NYC adolescent ,one was prevented, without explanation from visiting family members “down-south”, as our northern integrated schooling and socializing did not provide us with the requisite southern survival skills (the Emmett Till effect). There were back then, many Trayvon Martin like incidents; only without, a national protest and cry for justice movement; without the media attention; and without the perpetrators, be they police officers or their “deputize” White citizen members going on trial. The idea (I saw in “The Lottery”); that a segment of our society was essentially “selected” as objects to be sacrificed to some blood thirsty gods, so that these gods would grant the larger lottery wining society a period of human well-being and prosperity;  made perfect sense to me. I knew, the moment I reached the end of the story (I always look for the: “who am I” in the story?) That sadly, I was a member, unlike my White high school classmates of the ill-selected group. This view, or understanding of life has essentially made a permanent state of “Two Me’s”; one, living a life like any other American, and the other constantly aware, ever conscious, on guard and fighting the unjust sanctions and restrictions placed on, and against the other, less than a full American, me. That “fighting me”, is never comfortable with the status qua; with the ‘busy-ness’ as usual; never called a truce, and never signed a peace treaty. Which is why, to paraphrase  Rudy Crew, I am forced to change jobs so often; or to quote from a poem of Harlem based poet George Edward Tait: “If I wasn’t at war I would be in love”. I am not happy with the rules of the rigged lottery system; how some people are given extra winning tickets at birth. I don’t like the lottery’s death defining, for some, system. And the intensity of my investment to its dismantling is in  great part driven by the fact that the vast majority of lottery “losers”  look a lot  like me. Recently, I am deeply troubled by the number of Black hands in  places of power, that cynically and self-servingly deal out losing tickets to their own people.                    

History has always produced Lottery winners and losers. In the Americas it was the Native American people. European countries selected their fellow humans in Africa to serve as lottery losers so that they could realize material prosperity through suffering and exploitation. The European’s star colonial pupil, would continue the Win-loss of humanity game, with the horrible system of American slavery. At a later time the Japanese would choose the Chinese in Manchuria. The Nazi’s selected the Jewish citizens of Europe… And it continues to this day, where workers (lottery losers) in Bangladesh are forced to work for pennies in factories that double as health hazards and death traps; so that the “developed” world can make huge profits, while providing its citizens with an inexpensive clothing line.

Mayor Blumberg is a Lottery winner; and that is why he does not, and will never get the problem with “stop and frisk”. At the very least (best?), his words are honestly revealing of the twisted thinking of his lottery winning class. The “lottery” system, and the result of who wins (them) and who losses (the other), makes perfect sense to them. After all, (in their mangled understanding of Calvinist principles): “Why would God make me rich, and materially successful, if I were not good and worthy?” If you are “cursed” (‘lotterized’) with a Black skin then all of the discomfort, inconvenience, unfairness, low expectations, assumptions, assignments and assessments associated with your wretched state are all fair and valid. By your own hands you picked the wrong lottery tickets; by picking Black parents.