Why is a black life worth less than a white life in America? Or rather, why is that still the case in America after hundreds of years?
The refusal to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown and the refusal to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner—and remember, an indictment is only the decision to make a case to go to trial, not a conviction—is shameful, and it’s not an aberration in American society. It’s just the latest outrage, except outrage might not be the right word. How outraged can we be if we vent in a series of tweets? How large can an injustice be if you can sum it up in a 140 characters or less or in a Facebook post? And I’ll admit: a blog post is poor solace as well.
We have all reached the point of helplessness, and we’re crying out because we have no idea how to change our current situation, or, perhaps more depressingly, we don’t want to. What’s our motivation if we feel we’ve reached catharsis with something we can type out on our phones while we’re in line at the store? With all the deaths of black people gunned down by cops, shouldn’t we have been motivated by now?
This is not a recent development. This is the lives of black people in America from the moment we dragged them here and enslaved them. And when they were free from slavery, they were segregated and killed with impunity by angry mobs. And when segregation was struck down, they were economically segregated and imprisoned.
The latest development is the most insidious because there’s no clear villain. There’s no plantation owner. There’s no George Wallace. People in prominent positions of power aren’t being openly racist. They simply allow racism to exist because reforming the prison system or cracking down on crime might make you look soft and there for unelectable, and that only by punishing the black people can the world be safe. And if you’re white, you are already absolutely safe from institutionalized discrimination.
If Officer Wilson or Officer Pantaleo killed a little white girl, they would quite simply be dead. The grand jury would indict in less than 10 seconds, and they would be convicted of first degree murder in less than 20. Meanwhile, police can shoot a little black kid who was playing with a toy gun because fear and itchy trigger fingers qualify as justified self-defense. Of course, they would never kill a little white girl, because they’re not threatening. Black people, in particular black men, are inherently threatening because that’s how they’re depicted in the media.
And I don’t know how you undo fear, and I certainly don’t know how you do it in the 21st century when whining on the Internet stands in for actual protest. Watching Selma a couple weeks ago, I was reminded that people had to physically organize, go outside, and then accept that they would probably have the shit kicked out of them regardless of race because they had the audacity to try and exercise their right to vote. It helped that there were clear battle lines, and now that those lines are gone, people seem to be lost at how to fight this battle.
We know right from wrong, but we don’t know how to right this wrong. Our African-American President says we should put cameras on police vests. It’s a practical solution, but also one that in no way addresses the core problem of racism in America (I believe Obama’s best service to the African-American community is to be a source of inspiration, because he certainly hasn’t done anything tangible for them even though they pretty much voted for him unanimously). Racism has become engrained into a far more difficult sphere—poverty. How do you solve poverty? How do you stop prejudice in our judicial system? There are huge socioeconomic factors at play, and they’re difficult to unwrap. It’s telling that we’re looking to entertainers like Chris Rock and Jon Stewart to provide solace because there’s no one in actual power who can change anything, and we’ve directed our energy towards brief reprieves of commiserating on the Internet.
I’m no better. I’m shouting into the void because I’m confused, lazy, upset, and deflated. This is a blog post on a blog nobody reads. I look at the sad cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and every other black man who is gunned down by cops for the crime of being a black man, and I feel awful not only because people are getting away with murder, but because I feel powerless to stop it. I see people going out and protesting, but what are their protests seeking to change? Slavery is abolished. Segregation is gone. What do we have other than feeling guilty, words on a screen, and then going about our business because deep down we feel that there’s no way to fix this problem? And if there is a long-term solution, I doubt it will come from blogs, tweets, and posts. It’s not enough, but after 400 years of how America has treated people of color, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do enough other than be ashamed.
When the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were announced yesterday in favor of gay marriage, I was overjoyed…for about 20 minutes. I wasn’t particularly shocked since I deeply doubted that the Supreme Court would pull a Dred Scott and do something horrible. The tide of history was turning, and perhaps if this ruling had come to the court twenty years ago, it would have been against gay marriage or punted. But the possibility of this terrible outcome weighed far more heavily on the minds of gays and lesbians. Whether the Supreme Court ruled for or against gay marriage, my life would stay the same. Thankfully, the Supreme Court mostly did the right thing and provided a victory to the battle, but not the war.
And that’s why my enthusiasm faded after about 20 minutes. First, the ruling on Prop 8 was limited to California, and it was limited on the grounds of those who opposed it (the Mormon Church instead of the State) rather than the fundamental inequality of the proposition itself. That fundamental inequality was addressed in the DOMA ruling, but DOMA can only apply to places that have passed a bill allowing gay marriage—currently 13 states plus the District of Columbia. There are 37 states left, and they have laws on the books making gay marriage illegal.
My concern is that yesterday’s victory will seem like the conclusion of the fight rather than what it is: a major victory in an ongoing conflict. I think of my gay friends in Georgia, and if they want to get married, they can’t live here. The federal benefits now allowed by the DOMA ruling will not affect them until they can be married. Their fight continues, but it continues in a red state. And every red state, especially in the South, is far from allowing it.
So how does that fight continue? Is it now every state for itself? I don’t know how national coalitions for gay and lesbian rights will proceed, but I’m afraid that there may be a divide and conquer mentality where pro-gay rights groups in deeply red states won’t have the resources to even begin mounting a serious battle against the deeply entrenched forces allied against gay marriage.
It’s important to remember that the fight is far from over, and that a new national strategy is needed because the battle now begins in the individual states. Thankfully, three more states will be on the side of equality by the end of the summer: Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
34 to go.
This morning, the country woke up to the tragic news that a gunman had opened fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and killed 12 people. The number of injured was initially reported at 38, but new reports have put it at 59. I want to say it’s “shocking”, but it’s not. It feels inevitable.
But today, social networks are in an uproar about gun control and gun violence. It’s the roar that comes every 6-12 months because it rarely takes longer than a year for another one of these massacres to occur. And then the uproar dies down, and we move on to the latest news story. It’s also a little strange that gun violence only seems to rouse people to action when it’s in a cluster. Massacres make headlines, but I don’t hear an outcry on Twitter on a daily basis. There were 12,632 gun-related homicides in 2007. What makes those gun deaths less notable than those that happened at the Aurora Century 16 theater?
The question we’ve become forced to ask ourselves is not “Why does this happen?” but “Why doesn’t this happen more often?”
There’s no political will to make it stop. If Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords getting shot in the head doesn’t spur congress to action on tougher gun control laws, then a bunch of Batman fans at a midnight screening isn’t going to register. Just like a bunch of college kids at Virginia Tech didn’t register. Just like the birthday party killings in Texas didn’t register (I didn’t even remember the one until The New Yorker mentioned it). Taking on guns is a political loser because it means wasting a lot of money fighting the NRA, and stronger gun control doesn’t get candidates elected. Americans don’t like being told what we can’t do and what we can’t have.
This post isn’t a call to ban guns, or a call for stricter gun laws. This isn’t a call for anything. It’s just an observation about how we could have had today’s discussion about guns yesterday, and we’ll probably be having this conversation a year from now. The problem of gun violence in America never dies.
In 1957, nine black students in Little Rock, Arkansas were subject to verbal abuse and vile protests because they exercised their right to attend a white school. On February 13, 2011, American Muslims attending a charity dinner in Yorba Linda, CA were subjected to the same racism and intolerance. I’ve posted videos of both events and you’ll note the striking similarities.
It’s been over 50 years, but this America still exists. The word “Muslim” has become synonymous with “terrorist” and we let that happen. We let Fox News spend months deriding the Area51 center because Muslims who were guilty of nothing wanted to have their center a few blocks away from ground zero. Because 16 evil men claiming to be Muslim killed so many on 9/11, all American Muslims must apparently now pay for that slaughter. They don’t get to Americans any more. They’re not subject to the same rights. The angry, hateful protestors at Yorba Linda scream “Go home!” even though these are American Muslims. They have the same rights as you or I and they’ve done nothing wrong.
The protest is made worse by elected officials attending and cheering on the crowd. Hatred and intolerance still works wonders at the ballot box and who cares if a minority has to be trampled on to get there? I doubt the children of Congressman Ed Royce will ever have to worry about his children being cursed at by strangers. I doubt Councilwoman Deborah Pauly will ever need to sit down with her children and explain why Americans hate them for no good reason. Forcing other families to have those conversations isn’t a concern to Mr. Royce or Ms. Pauly. There’s a group of angry Americans and the last election showed that there’s success in currying the votes of hatred.
After you watch the Yorba Linda video, I encourage you to donate to ICNA Relief USA, the group that hosted the charity benefit. Their services include women’s shelters, feeding the hungry, and disaster relief. People attending the ICNA’s charity dinner gave money to help others and their reward was to be labeled as terrorists. But you can make good come out of this evil by donating to ICNA and making the hatred of the protestors backfire. They wanted to call attention to ICNA. Well they got it, along with my $20.
The protest at Yorba Linda is a snapshot of America. I don’t believe all Americans are intolerant and that every Muslim in the world is good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any videos of American Muslims and Non-Muslims holding hands and singing Kumbaya, but I’m sure that there are more of us who get along than don’t. We have to. Hate is exhausting and as seen by the Westboro Baptist Church, it’s a full-time job. Watching the Yorba Linda video is tough, but it doesn’t make me despair for humanity. It makes me despair for those protestors.
When I tell people that I cover entertainment news, I feel compelled to add that Collider doesn’t cover celebrity gossip. I’ve always found such coverage to be incredibly perverse. Stardom breeds a familiarity that doesn’t actually exist. I’ve seen plenty of movies starring Brad Pitt, but I don’t know Brad Pitt. Brad Pitt doesn’t know me. We are strangers, and yet because of his fame, his life is now a free-for-all. There’s absolutely nothing about being a famous actors that automatically entails an invasion of privacy. And yet paparazzo are paid stalkers and publications on the checkout line and worthless TV shows and websites feel the need to tell us that Jake Gyllenhaal was seen buying a smoothie and Katie Holmes may have a tapeworm the size of Chile. When there’s a plea to leave these people alone, the nonsensical response is that “They knew what they were getting into” and it’s a “double-edged sword”, which to me seems like resentment. The greater questions is why anyone cares in the first place about a total stranger’s life.
To the best I can deduce, it comes down to schadenfreude, and we can see that clearly in the public meltdown of Charlie Sheen. Charlie Sheen is an unimportant man and none of us know him personally. And yet I have been guilty at laughing at his non-stop public implosion as he chose to speak to anyone with a microphone, a camera, and the willingness not to tell him “You sound psychotic.” I was okay laughing at his outburst because no one had invaded his privacy. No one forced him to sit down with The Today Show, refuse make-up so he would look as strung-out as humanly possible, and say things like “Don’t pick a fight with a warlock,” and “I have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.” To quote Sheen, he really thinks he’s “winning”, and as we all watch in fascination of this human train wreck hurtling towards organ failure, he actually is winning.
Sheen currently has almost 500,000 followers on Twitter on an account he started less than 6 hours ago. His mad ramblings have been parodied with a random quote generator and Family Circus comics. This man is crumbling before our eyes and we want to derive the maximum amount of comedy we can before…what? How does this end for Charlie Sheen? Does he just go away? Do people tire of his antics? What if madness becomes violent?
I don’t mean to be a spoil sport or pretend that I haven’t laughed at his antics. We can all say that he brought this on himself. He’s the son of a respected Hollywood actor, he’s gotten breaks that most people would kill for, his brother Emilio turned out fairly normal, so why should we pity this man? We shouldn’t. We shouldn’t pity him and we shouldn’t pay attention to him. Like the most odious of celebrities, Charlie Sheen is using his fame to further his fame. He’s not trying to call attention to a particular humanitarian cause and or even call attention to a particular entertainment project. And every Twitter follower, every news item, every interview only furthers the perception that Sheen is a man who’s worth our attention. Sure, he’s good for a cheap laugh, which is more than I can say for his sitcom. But after what feels like an eternity of having one famous man’s madness shoved in my face at every turn, I’ve had enough. There is so much more in this world that is worthy of our attention and our amusement.