I will state at the outset that I generally eschew throwing around the H-word because of the terrible power it holds. Hate is a destructive thing, designed to tear things down, to blast through them like cannonball and bring that which it is leveled at down in a heap. In this particular case, I think that hate is not only warranted but appropriate:
I HATE isms.
Not only do I HATE them, but I HATE them with a passion that it is beyond my capacity to express. I especially hate racism because it stirs my passions almost more than any other ism does.
If anyone was to ask why, it has little to do with my own racial identity and almost everything to do with the fact that while sexism and ageism and size-ism and anti-gay-isms are terrible things in their own right, they are grounded at least in part in the misplaced fear of things that are not known or not understood – a sexist fears members of the opposite sex out of unfamiliarity; an ageist is may be frightened of death or decrepitude and lashes out at being reminded of their own frail morality; a homophobe feels threatened by a sexual expression that is different than their own, creating uncertainty of their own sexual identity. While this is by no means a justification for people to act like jackasses, things driven by fear are, to some extent, easier to get my head around because the emotion or condition of “FEAR” does not exist without reason. Fear, under the right circumstances, is a component of our survival toolkit – we approach the unknown with caution and exercise our cognitive faculties to determine if that fear is justified. Ism-ing is often the result of failing to correctly determine or comprehend the nature of that which is feared.
Racism, however, is an entirely different and far more savage of a beast. Rooted in stupidity, self-loathing and refusal to adapt and respond to changing conditions, its existence and perpetuation is counter-Darwinian. Requiring literally no thought or investment of brain capacity beyond being able to identify colors, its persistence through subsequent generations depends solely on the ability for the racist to tell its offspring to do the same. Stupid teaches stupid, creating a chain of hereditary meta-stupidity that flies like a gigantic flag of fuck you in the face of evolution.
Despite the fervent hope of a generally conservative and often hyper-religious sector of society, evolution isn’t optional and racists, in their vociferous denials scientific fact are, knowingly or not, are embracing the most desperate brand of futility: championing the cause of stagnation without understanding that a changeless species is doomed to extinction.
If we refuse to change in a world that changes whether we like it or not, our reward will be irrelevance.
Futility and irrelevance are at the bottom of my “Things I Want to Think About” list.
So what has inspired me to wade into a conversation about a topic that I not only hate both in general and in specific? Especially considering that I am putting my oar in the water long after the Trayvon Martin ship – arguably one of the most significant illustrations of the racial divide in this country – has sailed? Because of this:
In this video, taken of a random and quickly escalated encounter, race relations in this country are summed up in eight seconds starting at approximately 1:39. I’ll wait…
For those who didn’t catch it, at approximately 1:39, the holder of the video camera tries to explain to the officer (Security or Police is unclear) that they were filming the carts in the parking lot. At approximately 1:44 in the video, the Officer, after the individual videotaping says “I am not even a hostile”, says the following:
“Yes you are a hostile because you are being non-compliant with me”, to which the videographer rightfully replies “Non-compliant does not mean hostile. It means non-compliant”.
Rewind to a Sunday evening in Sanford, Florida when a young man coming home from buying snacks was shot and killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman who despite being armed claimed self-defense because he felt his life was in danger.
George Zimmerman thought of Trayvon Martin as “a hostile” and thought of him that way because Trayvon Martin did not comply with the demands of that George Zimmerman believed himself in a position to make. He was, after all, neighborhood watch captain (except that he wasn’t) and Trayvon had no business being there (except that he did).
In the weeks after the event, the months leading up to the trial and the aftermath of the verdict, the topic of race predictably and justifiably (though some would argue with that assertion), reared its head. Supporters of Zimmerman claimed that race was not a factor and that Trayvon’s attire and failure to comply with Zimmerman’s demands was the reason his life was cut short. Both those attached to the case and those who knew little to nothing of what actually happened started an ex post facto campaign to portray the unarmed Trayvon Martin as a thug, fully investing (or perhaps already invested) in the idea that the allegedly combative teen posed a clear and present danger to Zimmerman.
But what was the danger? Wearing a hoodie? It was raining. Carrying a weapon? Martin had a can of Arizona, a bag of Skittles and a cell phone on his person at the time of his death. Walking too slowly? There were no signs advising residents of the gated community of the recommended walking speed.
Could it be that George Zimmerman, like the officer in the video, equated Martin’s unwillingness to comply with his demands to an act of hostility? Do the people who contend that it was Trayvon Martin was at fault for his own death because they felt that his lack of compliance with Zimmerman’s demands was an act of hostility?
In other words, are there people in this country who believe that a white person has the right to demand that a black person justify his reasons for being where he is or doing what he is doing, and that the black person who chooses not comply is “a hostile”?
Let me let you in on a little secret: if you think that a person has the right to dictate to a person of a particular skin color, solely on the basis of of that skin color, that is the essence of RACISM.
You see, racism is not just the discrimination against someone based on their skin color – that is a symptom. Racism is the belief that that one is of greater importance or possessed of higher authority based on the color of their skin. Racism isn’t a series of acts that put people of a different race in a position of disadvantage, it is the expectation that that those people must ask for permission to be anywhere else other than where you think they belong.
The young men in the video did not need the officer’s permission to be where they were, just like Trayvon Martin didn’t need to get permission from George Zimmerman to be where he was.
The problem with the racism conversation in this country and, I admit, part of why I generally steer clear of it except among a select few, is that many people miss that point. To them, racism is a vapid hostility directed at people of a specific ethnicity – name calling, picking fights, shunning, active exclusion from clubs and activities and other schoolyard shenanigans torn directly from the playbook of your average 6th grade bully. The truth is that most who engage in these behaviors are less racist and more immature asshats who, generally speaking, don’t confine these behaviors to their interactions with people of a different race –they engage with anyone different from them the exact same way. It’s difficult to single out such a person as a racist when they may, in fact, just be a douchebag. Having a conversation with a douchebag about something as complex as race relations is as close to trying to teach a pig to sing as you can get without trucking on down to the barnyard.
Racism, however, is a far more complicated thing hailing back to the days of slavery and extending all the way through the early 1960’s where blacks needing permission from whites to go certain places and do certain things was very much the reality. A belief that, when challenged – by either blacks or more progressive whites-, often resulted in imprisonment, violence and, in some cases, death. And while the civil rights movement went a long way towards lifting that yoke, our society in many ways still remains under its weight – a fact attributable to the number of people in positions of power, (or in many cases, those whose self-identity rests heavily on their delusions that they are in a position of power) who are unable or, more likely, unwilling to adapt.
We are still burdened by the permission paradigm, and the George Zimmermans and Wal-Mart Security Guards of the world have no desire to change it. Why would they? As long as they cling to and act in accordance to the belief that they are one of the permission givers, they have justification to externalize theirs self-loathing and direct it towards those who they would lord over. It is no coincidence that both the men at the center of these events gravitated towards vocations that imparted authority, real or imagined. Outfitted with the trappings, their belief in their status as permission givers (or deniers) other believers in the permission paradigm buy into the delusion and convince themselves that young black men, doing harm to no one, whose only offence is a refusal to seek permission to be where they have every right to be, are deserving of harassment and death.
If a young black teenager’s non-hostile non-compliance becomes a death sentence, and we as a society silently accept this, then all is futility and irrelevance.
Futility and irrelevance are at the bottom of my “Things I Want to Think About” list. But, I would much rather talk about that, and about racism, and how to stop it, how to change things, how we can as individuals and as a society evolve beyond our nation’s past, than I would about the senseless death of another seventeen year old boy.
Because there isn’t much that I’d hate more than that.