Friday, September 30, 2011

It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand...

You ever have one of those months? I've been in a funk lately, but I am getting the feeling that the funk might be over soon. We'll see...

I wanted to talk a little about Troy Davis, and what the events surrounding his execution made me think about. If you don't know who Troy Davis is, I would invite you to click on that link. I would also like to take this opportunity to chastise you (nicely, of course,) for not being more involved in the goings on of the world around you. Things are happening every day. And it might not seem like they have any effect on your day-to-day life, but I can assure you they do. It would probably be best to stay up on the happenings.

Ok, so a little while after Troy Davis was executed, one of the brands that I follow on Facebook made a status update that said something like, "Another black man dies at the hands of the criminal justice system. RIP Troy Davis" Then, the first comment after that was from a white person who said something like, "The death penalty affects white people too, this is a universal issue that affects all of us."

My first thought was like the segment on SNL when Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers were hosting where they just go "Really? Really." a bunch of times.

I totally get what the guy was saying. I understand that the death penalty affects people of all races. But I also understand that it affects black people disproportionately, and so it makes sense to talk about Mr. Davis' death in the larger context of black men and how they are treated in the criminal justice system.

I think a big part of my annoyance with this person's comment was the timing. It wasn't very long after the execution, and his was the first comment after the post, which leads me to believe that this his first reaction to the posting was "Let's not make this a racial issue."

It's like, why can't this be a racial issue? Why do we always have to show how problems affect everyone before people start to give a shit? What if the death penalty was only applied to people of color? Would that make killing an innocent person any less wrong? It's like the new trend in diversity training: Let's show how sexism hurts men, let's show how racism hurts white people, let's show how homophobia hurts straight people. On the one hand, I get it. But on the other hand, I'm thinking to myself, "Why can't we care about things before someone shows how they directly affect us?"

That person's comment got me thinking about the more general practice of one marginalized group co-opting another marginalized groups strategies/tactics/slogans/etc. Here are a few examples:

One time I was at a protest where the protestors just started shouting "¡Si se puede!"

In keeping with the "N-word", now we have the "R-word" and the "F-word." I guess it's actually "the other F-word," because the original F-word is not the word I am referring to.

Have you heard that quotation about, "First they came for the ______'s, but I didn't do anything because I wasn't a ______" ? I heard it applied recently to dog owners, to protest a pit bull ban. "First they came for the pit bulls, but I didn't do anything because I don't have a pit bull."

Is banning a breed of dog really the same as the killing of millions of innocent people?

I'll just go ahead and answer that one: No, no it's not.

Which leads me to my point: When you co-opt another group's struggle, it does more harm than good. It makes you look insensitive, which is ironic because you are asking other people to be more sensitive towards you. Plus, it's lazy. It's like, make up your own thing. The original thing was invented because it fit that particular cause, find your own catchy thing to associate with your issue. You tread on unstable ground when you attempt to link two struggles together; especially when you care/know a lot more about one issue than the other.

The tone of this post would appear to show that I am still in my funk. That is okay, people aren't meant to be happy all the time. If you have a thought or comment you'd like to share, leave it.


  1. This comes at an intersting time. I became involved in (what turned out to be a heated) discussion about putting the r word and the n word as equal issues. Now we do not use the r word in our home, nor are we okay with others using it as a slang term to make fun of others.
    I adamently stated that as a mother of a daughter who could be labled both that they are NOT the same. A woman e-mailed me to tell me that I was everything wrong in the world today (who knew?). I kindly replied to her that if I were to walk into one of my daughter's doctors appointment and see the words 'developmentally retarded' on her chart that I might wonder why the doctor didn't say delayed. If I walked into an office and saw the n word...well...anywhere we would be out of there.
    She never responded.
    It's really easy for people who have not experienced the injustice to argue against it. But when you watch it first hand it gets harder and harder to tolerate the 'yeah but' people.


  2. I am so with you on this.

  3. Anonymous8:37 PM

    First, a comment on your main point: it's a good one, and I know I've been guilty of this sometimes. Thank you for the reminder.

    Second, I wanted to mention that the history of the death penalty in Illinois is a good illustration of the bias that exists in the system. A number of death penalty convictions were overturned (due partly to the research of a Northwestern University professor and students). I don't know how many of those cases involved black men who were wrongly accused, but I know a number of them did. You can read about it here:
    The death penalty was abolished in Illinois earlier this year.


  4. I like you in your funk.


    p.s. and, good points.

  5. Anonymous9:19 AM

    It is, of COURSE a racial issue, I guess I would say it's just MORE than a racial issue. When I hear about executions, I see an unjust state. I guess for me it's a moral issue first and a racial issue second. But maybe that's because I'm white.

    I often hear my high school students use the word "fag" very casually. "Oh, that's so gay" or "He's such a fag." I try to explain to them that when an adult hears that, it sounds VERY derogatory. I ask them if they would ever call someone a "nigger" and they are SHOCKED to hear that word come out of my mouth. It generally proves my point about language, though (well, for the 10 minutes that a 9th grader remembers anything.)

    I guess I just tend to see all sorts of discrimination as birds of a feather, whether it's racisim, sexism, classism etc. It's people of power abusing it. The state executing is the ultimate abuse of power in my mind.

  6. Mali Lorenz10:19 AM

    Thank you for saying all this and making space for discussion! from a small town awkward white girl wanting to learn.

  7. when you say on the other post that they are more likely to be executed - where are you pulling that from? at the moment i'm not disagreeing. i found information that says since 1976 56% of those put to death are white and 35% are black

    and according to the source documentation from the naacp the same percentage of whites and blacks are on death row so that would seem to indicate that they are less likely to be put to death (which frankly would shock the poop right out of me)

    that there are a disproportion number of blacks in jail is not even up for discussion. but this was a question i never asked and i'm looking for the information.

    my gut reaction to this is that the anti-death penalty movement are nearly religious about it and feel it is a human struggle. but i have to sit on it and ask myself if i'm playing bingo i guess.