Inside: Can you relate?; Who do you relate to? Tribalism; Missing White Girl Syndrome
We were on a family vacation in western Massachusetts. Bear with me. This is not a “we were somewhere and they were so racist” intro.
It’s beautiful up there with a tinge of sadness because most of the mills and businesses are past tense. I went to the mall to buy new running shoes and the teenagers working there seemed bored and restless. They opined on the fact that it was the only mall in town.
We, the family, went out to dinner one night and there was a white family seated at an adjacent table. They had kids with them. One of them, a tow-headed little boy about 3 or 4 years old, looked at us with his big eyes wide open. Taking in new sights from the safe spot behind his mom’s chair.
My mother looked at him, waved to him, and said, “He’s so cute. He reminds me of Kyle.” (Kyle is nephew #2.)
Pres. Obama said that if he had a son, his son would probably have looked like Travon Martin.
Newt Gingrich said that Obama’s remarks were disgraceful. He said that the President should consider this incident a tragedy regardless of Martin’s race. Gingrich said that the President should not have brought race into it. (Newt Gingrich is also %$%$# a $#@!^ and ^%$#^! worst person to %$#@! and then &^%@%#$& that guy.)
Michelle Bachmann weighed in as well, agreeing with Gingrich. They’re trying to say — in a hyper-political way — that it’s divisive for the President to address the racial aspect of this incident. You’ll likely hear a lot of that as we learn more and as public figures get their talking points in order.]
The point the President was making is that he could strongly relate. The fact that Martin was a young, black man made it more likely that he would be construed as suspicious or out of place. In Zimmerman’s mind it somehow triggered warning bells.
Back in my high school or early college days (late 80’s/early 90’s) I was driving around with friends. I was telling them how sometimes when I rode my bike around Dundalk, Logan Village, St. Helena, Old Dundalk, Waters Edge, Berkshire, etc., people looked at me and sometimes talked to me like I didn’t belong there.
One of the guys in the car said, “Maybe you don’t.”
What the hell, damn guy! Seriously though, I was confronted, followed, threatened, slurred and even chased once just for being black in certain neighborhoods. I would love to believe that those days are behind us.]
I’m not one to jump on every social issue. Even important ones. I often don’t express what I think on my Facebook wall or Twitter feed. Believe it or not. I don’t feel compelled to join rallies.
But I remember the outrage over Michael Vick abusing and/or killing dogs. And that is an outrage, no doubt. He served 19 months after a federal conviction, if I have my facts straight. People posted all kinds of stuff. Angry and reactionary as you’d expect.
We can all relate to the innocent, loyal, cute or handsome dog. Right? So when people abuse dogs we feel that anger welling up. A kind of rage for the injustice.
When it comes to other people, we tend to relate to those that look like us. No. That’s not accurate. We tend to relate to those that look like people we care about.
When white America looked at pictures of Natalee Holloway, they could see their daughters, bffs, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, etc. In their minds, it could just as easily have been their loved one snatched out of their lives. It hurts to even think about that.
When I saw that story — me and some friends and family — I thought, that’s awful. A damn shame. Wait. They had a senior class trip to Aruba?? Where were the chaperones? They went out clubbing?
I’m not proud to admit that I then became offended by the amount of coverage the story got. It went on for weeks and months, non-stop. Shows were broadcasting live from Aruba and saying nothing new for months. It was about a year before the story faded.
Meanwhile, there were a handful of cases of missing Black and Latino girls that barely registered in the news. And the only reason they appeared at all is because some people made a stink about the disparity of news coverage.
The Lululemon murder that happened in Bethesda, MD. Tragic. Absolutely tragic and senseless. The news channels covered the hell out of that story and showed past photos of the smiling, attractive victim every chance they had.
Robyn Gardner in Aruba. Same thing.
Elizabeth Smart is still in the news every time she does something. Still!
Why? Because the media outlets have either decided or learned that the public relates to those stories and those faces. That’s what I assume. There’s probably some people or organizations with modest resources making an effort to keep those stories in the news, too. I suppose.
Hell. I saw people on social networks rallying to support Amanda Knox.
When I see these faces, I think of my relatives. My cousins. My sisters. I think of my friends and colleagues. When I see one of those tragic stories in the news, I think of the young, white women that I know who will go, like, jogging at night on isolated trails. Or through the city. Any city. By themselves with their iPods cranking.
Stay frosty out there, my friends.
But a young, black teenage boy. Unarmed. With Skittles and iced tea. Talking on a cell phone with his girlfriend. Stalked by a grown man in a truck with a gun. Confronted and accosted. Shot dead.
[Don’t forget Oscar Grant. At a BART station in Oakland. Face down on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back. Shot in the back at point blank range. You can watch it on YouTube. From at least two different angles.]
Let me be real. Nephew #1 is 16 years old. When I see pictures of Travon Martin, I see my nephew’s face.
I just … I just wish that more people could relate to that. I wish more people cared. The broader society. That they feel it as viscerally as when a young, white mom goes missing. Like this. Please do click if you have the time.
I think a lot of people would be more likely to post something touching about animals being abused or a young, missing white girl — assuming that there’s a cute photo — than about Travon Martin or a similar incident.
They will definitely post things about gay teens being bullied, which definitely deserves attention. But not about black men being murdered in racist incidents.
Not because they’re bad people. They just don’t relate. They relate to young, pretty white women. They relate to gay men and gay teens and you can watch some very moving YouTube videos on the subject. They just don’t relate to black dudes.
You know what I mean? It’s just not a part of their world that you would have to explain to your son or nephew how to behave around police officers. To always carry an ID. To avoid escalating a situation despite the sudden, powerful frustration of being falsely suspected of something. To stand down when someone baits you with insults or racial slurs. I don’t know what I’d say to my nephews if we were living in New York City where they have a stop and frisk policy.
I’m not saying that this stuff happens all the time. To be honest, I think that we Black people are racially over-sensitive. Too quick to jump straight to race when there are plenty of other more important factors involved. But you know what? This is the reason why.
Every so often … too often … one of these stories goes nation-wide and it reminds us. Don’t let down your guard.
What are We Worth?
There’s a clear hierarchy of value in our society. Black people are at the bottom. Well, maybe undocumented immigrants are in the sub-basement of value on that social scale. Photogenic young, white women and girls are at the top.
I’ve got nothing against photogenic, young, white women either. God bless ’em. Some of my best friends and some of my most poignant unrequiteds are photogenic, young white women. That doesn’t detract from the point.
This is going to sound a little radical. Watch or read just about any thriller and action movie and note who the protagonist is trying to save. Note how often minorities prove their value by being willing to sacrifice themselves for the Caucasian protagonist couple. It’s ingrained in our psyches.
If you’re foolish and/or brave you may have read comment sections beneath articles about the Martin story. If you just don’t give a crap you’ve done so on a more right-wing media outlet. Look at the things people are saying. Prepare yourself for some grade A ugly racism, though.
They assume that Travon Martin somehow deserved to die. They relate to the angry, scared man with a gun who ignored the police, saw a “suspicious other”, shot first and asked questions later. And may have gotten away with it. Like Charles Bronson in the “Death Wish” movies but with no gruesome justification for psychotic levels of revenge. To some people, that’s practically a wet dream.
And that’s the problem
There is crime. If you watch the news around the DC area you’d swear that only black guys with dreads are committing them.
If you watch the news you’ll be more scared than you should be. If you listen to talk shows you’ll be more outraged than you should be.
Let’s chill the heck out. Let’s give a smile or nod to someone we normally wouldn’t. Let’s get to know somebody maybe just a little bit out of our comfort zone.