These are the facts:
Michael Brown is dead and Darren Wilson, the man who shot him, has been acquitted by a jury.
The public seems to have latched onto this, interpreting the court’s decision as being not only evident of Wilson’s “innocence” but Brown’s guilt.
But guilt over what?
The past days have seen a reversal of public opinion on Michael Brown, with many online posting gifs of the alleged petty theft he committed shortly before his death. Captions have included statements like “a reminder of who Michael Brown really was” and comments as to his size and stature.
Readers, am I the only one who doesn’t think Michael Brown should be tried over how tall he was?
Look, we can talk about the looters and we can talk about the peaceful protestors the cameras didn’t show. We can talk about the legal system and we can talk about brutality, but none of that’s the point.
Michael Brown’s guilt or innocence over the robbery cannot now (and never will be) decided. His legacy, for good or ill, should not be defined by a single half hour in his eighteen year existence. Michael Brown should not be tried in the media on the grounds that he was tall, or that we was hefty, or that he was black.
Because let’s face it- that’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it?
At their most charitable, the internet and media have come out with all sorts of advice for avoiding confrontations with police. Earlier this year Don Lemon (a reprehensible CNN anchor we talked about last week) listed his “5 things black people need to start doing”. First on his list was “stop sagging”, though ” stop littering” and “stop saying the n-word” also made the list. Folks like Delores Tucker and others (both black and white) have cited that the propagation of violent and misogynistic music, valuing money and prestige, and broken families are all responsible for the seeming epidemic of young black men either dead or in jail. Bill O’Reilly (and Obama) both cite a “culture of cynicism” to blame for the “gangsta” mentality of black and poor people in general.
Readers, let me break down for you why this is such bull****.
First, each one of these statements or condescending pieces of “advice” could be challenged in and of themselves. People have been howling about violence in music since Marilyn Manson, who became the whipping boy after Alice Cooper who became the whipping boy after Dee Snider. The link between violent music and violent behavior seems just as spurious as that between violent video games, movies, or anything else society’s been howling about for the past half-century.
But that’s not even the issue.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that sagging, violent and misogynistic music, the drive for money and material riches- let’s say all of these are the root causes of violence among young black men.
Well in that case, what about me?
Yours truly listens to rap (Wu-Tang clan aint nuthin’ to **** with), rock, and heavy metal…
…like many of my peers, I enjoy violent films….
…and you’d better believe the objectification of women and material excess isn’t being shoved down our throats on a daily basis.
And hell, we’ve got the statistics to back it up. According to the FBI’s 2011 statistics, the vast majority of arrests for crimes (including but not limited to: rape, burglary, sex offenses, and drug abuse violations) were of white suspects. Murder had only a 1.7% difference between black and white arrests (black arrests being the higher), but why isn’t Bill O’Reilly lecturing me? Why isn’t the president talking about my cynicism? Why isn’t Tipper Gore trying to campaign against the music and media turning a whole generation of young white men into arsonists and serial-killers?
Because that’s how racism works, people.
Young black men are assigned an image of thuggishness from the moment they’re born, and get told by everyone that they only way to overcome that bigotry is through good behavior.
No, not good behavior- perfect behavior. Because the moment you slip up, you get painted as a hoodlum.
Michael Brown, prior to the day of his death, was reported to have been a gentle student. He had no criminal record, and still doesn’t, yet because of one slip-up, he’s being cast as an irredeemable criminal miscreant.
One mistake, people.
Let’s take a look at ourselves. Is anyone here perfect? Anyone here never once get in trouble?
I know I’m no angel, yet because of my race, I’d probably be given the benefit of the doubt. Heck, I’m a tall, skinny kid with Kaczynski-esque hair and a fondness for trench coats, yet if I were to get into some serious trouble, I’m guessing that I’d be portrayed as merely “troubled”.
How is that fair?
What makes it worse is that there’s no middle-ground. One rap song, one saggy pair of jeans, one altercation, one hoodie is all you need to get depicted as nothing but a thug.
Last time I checked, human beings were a bit more complicated than that.
Can’t a person enjoy an album that has some questionable content on it without becoming an absolute monster? Can’t a person wear whatever he or she wants to wear without it being indicative of the sum of their being? Can’t a person have even a terrible background and still have basic rights and dignity?
None of this is to say that there aren’t problems with black culture. There are. Lots of ’em. But it doesn’t seem like it’s culture that’s actually on trial here- it’s blackness itself. I could sag my pants, blast hip-hop, get aggressive with cops, and I’d probably be seen as a moron rather than a threat. But a black person doing the same thing?
I think we all know how that would be portrayed.