March 25, 2012

Blaming Trayvon for getting killed

To My Fellow White People: An Open Letter

By Brian CubbageSome of you–not going to name names, you will figure out who you are–are saying, or thinking, that in one way or another Trayvon is at fault for his own murder. You are saying, or thinking, “He should have known that he looked suspicious with that hoodie on.” “He should have known that someone like him would come across as threatening.” “He shouldn’t have felt afraid of the large man following him and chasing after him.” You are saying, or thinking, exactly the same sort of thing that some of you say, or think, about rape victims: They should have known what a dangerous world it is for them out there and they should have dressed and carried themselves accordingly, so as not to invite bad things to happen to them.

Never mind, of course, that the people who do these bad things are responsible for what they say, think, and do, too. Never mind, of course, that the people who actually do racist, sexist things are emboldened and enabled by the way that good folks who would never, ever in a million years think of doing such things continually blame their victims and not them. No, racists and rapists are just a fact of life in your worldview, like severe weather; women and people of color have to dodge them, take cover, be on the lookout, but we certainly can’t think that there’s something we might do about them.

Some of you get angry when I talk like this. You protest that you would never do racist things or commit rape. You are just making an observation. You don’t mean to say anything racist or sexist. Then I point out to you the difference between intent and impact. You might not mean to say racist things, but the things you are saying just are racist. The very fact that you have to appeal to the purity of your intentions to cleanse your words should provide you with a hint. Neither your good intentions or mine have magical powers. If you said something that was racist, your good intentions, assuming they are good, mean at best that you need to be far more careful in what you say and think. Learn from it in all humility and try to do better next time. Trust me, I’ve been there many times.

Some of you get even angrier at being told this. How unfair, you protest! Isn’t it a free country anymore? Now I have to police what I say and think? Yes, of course you do! I was raised in rural Kentucky to believe that people are supposed to think carefully before they say things and consider the impact my words have on others. This is just what good people do. However hard it is in practice, it isn’t all that complicated a concept. Why is this somehow forgotten, though, when the others aren’t other white people? Do you really want or need me to answer that question out loud?
Comment:  For more on Trayvon Martin, see Bias Against Trayvon Martin and Obama and Tim Wise on Trayvon Martin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know what made Trayvon look suspicioius to Zimms? Well, this is normally where I would post a bunch of white celebrities, one black one, and say "One of these things is not like the others.", but I think I'll spare the right-wing some bandwidth (They don't see race, remember?) and just say Trayvon was black.