Monday, January 09, 2017

Crime and some inappropriate spin

Anti-racist mural, Jones Avenue Toronto, By Beatrice Murch via Wikimedia Commons
By Beatrice Murch
via Wikimedia Commons
Consider three propositions:
  1. People with black skin are people. 
  2. People, by nature, have moral freedom, which means we can choose to behave well or badly, and it follows that given the choice, some people will choose badly.
  3. Since people with black skin are people, the second proposition applies.
I don't like to think anyone finds these propositions difficult or controversial, but it seems some writers choke over the implications.

Last week, two young women and two young men, all African American, kidnapped a twenty year old (white) schizophrenic man and abused him. They made a video showing themselves cutting off part of the victim's hair and cutting his scalp in the process, cutting his clothes, and forcing his head into a toilet bowl. They accompanied all of this with taunts about "white people" and Donald Trump.

Just as some people with low melanin levels dislike people with higher melanin levels, some people with high melanin levels dislike people with lower melanin levels. Whenever people dislike others, particularly when the dislike has no rational basis, some people will express it with violence. That should surprise nobody.

Why, then, did Salon take such pains to insist the issue was "about people with disabilities"? Why did the New York Times mention the racially prejudiced sentiments expressed only in passing? The victim's disability undoubtedly made him vulnerable, but his attackers didn't just express contempt for people with disabilities, they expressed contempt for white people and the sense of a white identity they saw reflected in Donald Trump's election. Disabled people do face hate and contempt every day; it doesn't do to conflate that with a different prejudice. Obscuring facts nobody seriously disputes gives undeserved credibility to the claim progressives have something to hide. Bringing up violence against disabled people as a means to avoid confronting the other specific prejudice shown in this incident is deeply offensive; it indicates a willingness to deal with the violence disabled people face only when some other issue, one that really matters, comes up. It also reinforces "respectability politics", by failing to confront the claim the rights of Black people anywhere depend on the good behaviour of Black people everywhere.

Perhaps worst of all, the refusal to face the facts of this case amounts to an infuriating missed opportunity for education. Yes, four young African Americans tormented a disabled person while shouting racial slurs. Predictably, the American racist movements rushed to use the issue to attack Black Lives Matter. The progressive media had an opportunity to stand up, loudly and clearly, and speak the truth: this cowardly attack has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, nothing to do with the entitlement of African Americans to justice and fair treatment.

The expression of prejudice by African Americans, any prejudice, does not cancel out the pervasive system of economic exploitation and political terrorism we call racism. As the New York Times points out, acts of violence against disabled people go on all the time. This incident differs mainly because the accused, having very foolishly recorded the offence and posted it on Facebook, will probably pay for their crime. In the "white" supremacy system, by contrast, acts of terror, rape, and robbery without number have gone unpunished, approved by explicitly discriminatory laws or
else  by the malfeasance of law enforcement.

All that could have been said. All that clearly needs saying, because too many people pay attention to people such as Richard Spencer. We need to keep refuting racism until people finally stop believing in it.

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