Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A quick blog about Trayvon Martin and racist non-sequiturs

So, I get a lot of emails from PR folks. Like, a whole lot. I was tempted, if I was stuck with nothing to do this summer, to actually attempt to respond to all of them, as a sort of absurdist writing project. Why absurdist? Because, for whatever reason, the PR folks who get my name are employed disproportionately by writers and politicians on the right-wing. This would not have been a sincere project at good journalism.

But why am I telling you this? Because this is arrived in my inbox a couple days ago, courtesy of the folks who rep Carol M. Swain, a Professor of politics and law at Vanderbilt:
"The people who are complaining about the Trayvon Martin verdict should turn their attention to the unacceptable levels of black-on-black violence that cripples urban communities. We should not be second guessing the jury. The jury examined the evidence and decided not to convict, despite the presence of a judge that seemed biased towards the prosecution. Folks, its time to move on to the real problems facing black communities. It's what we [black people] do to ourselves. It is imperative for the police to police in situations where disgruntled people are threatening violence over the not guilty verdict."

Wow. This is just... gross. Now, I'm not just using this blog to pick on Professor Swain. (Though I may want to use it to challenge the fact that the PR firm is representing her as a "race relations expert." Because no.) Because this is not the only time I've seen the black-on-black violence card played - I've seen it on Facebook, I've seen it in letters to the editor. But this blurb does make for an easy target, so there you have it. Carol Swain, you're guilty of deploying racist rhetoric, sure, but you're also guilty of being a convenient target, delivered straight to my inbox by the people who you're presumably paying.

I said this would be quick, so I'll try to keep it that way. This is why Carol Swain's little paragraph is, in a nutshell, emblematic of everything that's wrong with the response to the verdict in the Zimmerman case:

  • We should second guess juries. Of course we should. We should second-guess every decision that's made at every level of government, even those made by people who are effectively conscripted. It's how a responsible citizenry accords itself. It's why we're empowered as citizens in the first place. Because mistakes are made by everyone, at every level of government, all the time.
  • There's the implication that this case was a distraction - black people "should turn their attention", as if Trayvon Martin and raising awareness about racism wasn't worthy of it - from something more important. It's an insulting gesture, and it's in poor taste.
  • The "real problems facing black communities" bit is a complete non-sequitur. The Zimmerman case had nothing to do with black-on-black violence. At best, this illogical jump is opportunistic sleight-of-hand; at worst, it's purposely deceitful. She might as well have said that the real problem isn't men hurting men, but men hurting women. It would've made just as much sense.
  • Lastly, while Carol Swain is a black woman and this might strike some as unintuitive, I'd like to suggest that the argument she's making in that paragraph is also racist:
    • The first obvious implications is that black-on-black violence has nothing to do with white-on-black racism. Without going on at length, it does - the criminalblackman is a white supremacist myth that has, to some extent, created what it had first imagined. You can't solve that problem without first addressing the root cause, which is the internalization of hundreds of years of racial hate and white-on-black violence of all kinds.
    • The second second implication is less obvious, but still fairly clear. Swain's logic suggests that so long as black Americans don't value their own lives - after all, they can't be bothered with addressing the "real problems", right? - we shouldn't be surprised (or be outraged) when white Americans don't value them either. In essence, non-black folks get a free pass because she thinks the black community is worse. It's an idiotic line of thought. It's also surprisingly prevalent.

No comments: