Friday, November 15, 2013

"She Killed Herself": Renisha McBride and the Racial Politics of Blaming the Victim

Renisha McBride's killer now has a name. Theodore Wafer has been charged with murder for shooting Renisha McBride in the face with a shotgun. His arrest was long overdue.

As I wrote here, black folks do not have the luxury of being strangers in America who seek help in a time of crisis.

Black Americans are also subjected to extremely high standards of perfection, "personal responsibility", behavior, and comportment in all areas of life. White privilege is a license for white mediocrity and bad behavior because a given white person's behavior is not taken as being representative of the group as a whole. By definition, "bad" white people are outliers and exceptions because Whiteness imagines itself as benign, neutral, natural, and "normal". Black and brown folks are judged by the "least" of us, the latter is taken as representative of the whole until we/us prove otherwise.

Post civil rights "colorblind" racism uses a set of rhetorical tactics and tropes to justify white supremacy. There are common deflections which are used to mask and excuse away racism--one of my favorites is the always popular "one of my best friends is black/Hispanic/Asian". Modern white racism uses humor as well, "I didn't mean it, I was only kidding. Minorities are too sensitive". It also deploys the tactic of distraction through absurdity, "what about reverse racism! white people are victims of anti-white racism in America!"

Colorblind racism, drawing on its roots in old fashioned dominative and aversive racism, also tries to rob people of color of basic human rights by deeming them not worthy of empathy. Modern racism also blames the victims of white supremacy, structural and personal, for their own circumstances.

When the issue becomes one of race, guns, and crime, this chain of reasoning and logic is amplified. Black folks who were lynched by the thousands somehow "provoked" white people or otherwise "had it coming" because they were not duly "respectful" of white authority. More recently, Trayvon Martin caused his own murder by a street vigilante named George Zimmerman because he wore a hooded sweatshirt and should not have been walking down the street without white folks' permission.

Renisha McBride will be treated in much the same way, because on the night of her accident and murder, she was apparently "intoxicated". The focus will not be on how a white man with a shotgun blew off her face for daring to knock on his door in search of help.

No. For colorblind racists, racially resentful white people, their allies, defenders, and those particularly sick people who combine those attitudes with worship of the gun, the real story is how Renisha McBride "killed herself" and was "responsible" for her own murder by having too much to drink and then seeking help.

In America, female rape victims are blamed for their own assaults because "they were asking for it"; "were dressed provocatively"; or "had too much to drink". Through a similar reasoning, black and Brown people who are killed by the George Zimmermans, gun happy cops, or men like Theodore Wafer, were also, like rape victims, provoking the shooters to pull the trigger.

Blackness has many burdens. One of them is the ability to cause existential dread in others, as well to somehow make black people responsible for their own murders by white people.

How do you think Renisha McBride will be blamed for her own murder? What are some explanations that will be trolled and reinforced by the Right-wing echo chamber in its effort to defend the innocence of Theodore Wafer as they transform him, just as was done for George Zimmerman, into a martyr and a victim of "reverse racism" and the "liberal media?"


James said...

This is the way I envision the justification (we could take bets...): It would be something along the lines of 1. She was not a paragon of virtue and therefore somehow deserved it. Third parties will dig into her past, pore over her facebook and twitter accounts and drum up as many photos of her out partying as they can in order to show that not only was she drunk that evening, but that it was part of a larger pattern of behavior that eventually put her in that unfortunate position (** see below).
Other, more compassionate individuals will shed crocodile tears and feign genuine concern for her unfortunate demise before following up in the next breath about how it is just a tragedy that so many young black people live "that" kind of lifestyle which eventually places them in harm's way.

2. It will be made clear that it is hard to blame Mr. Wafer considering how often a black stranger running towards you or your home actually *does* spell out danger, even if Wafer himself has never been in such a situation. The "menacing black stranger running towards you/your home" trope has repeated so many times over his lifetime, either through media stories, movies and television, or anecdotes from acquaintances, that it has become firmly planted in his psychology (and the psychology of most good white people). Thus, the reaction of fear and the need to protect oneself when a black stranger is running towards you is normal, natural and beyond one's control. The only way this psychological trigger will ever be eliminated will be for no more black strangers to ever run towards white people before something bad happens. Clearly the onus for ridding the world of this admittedly tragic occurrence falls on black people. I think this type of justification might work well in the Jonathan Ferrell case as well.

(**) Just as an aside, One of the major themes coming out of the NSA scandal that bothers me most, particularly in light of the amount of people who seem to have no problem with the mass gathering of data on innocent people is this:
It doesn't matter if you feel that you have nothing to hide because you are not doing anything wrong. And it doesn't matter that you have a hard time seeing how the powers that be could have any interest in the insipid details of your life -- most of which is in the public sphere via social media anyway. The danger lies in the fact that, when you have a shadow organization that is unaccountable in any meaningful way gathering an unlimited amount of data about your life, that data CAN be strung together to paint a picture of you that is biased, unflattering, or worse -- it could be used to very convincingly pain a picture of you that deletes your humanity and helps to justify pretty much any type of action or retribution wrought against you. Not because you have done anything wrong or unforgivable, but because the balance of power is skewed so far in the other direction.

SabrinaBee said...

I can see them bringing the screen door to court to say she was armed with a door and therefore his fear was justified. So far, we have got that because she was drunk she was banging on the door, tried to break the door down. Or that because she left the scene of the accident,, the implication is that she was lawless and had decided to go on a burglary spree, while bleeding from the head.

However, another thing that is gnawing at me are the witnesses, who saw what happened and noticed that she was bleeding from the head, but left her there in order to go call police. It was during this time that she left the scene. Is it me? Or, am I deluded in thinking that someone who is bleeding and has been in an accident is never, simply, left alone. Somehow, I envision people trying to comfort her until the police came. That is always how i believed witnessing a hurt person would play out. Heck, even dogs are shown more compassion.

Who is to say that Renisha didn't know whether the people were getting her help or not,if they simply left her alone? And that, as opposed to leaving the scene for nefarious reasons, that she went searching for someone she thought might actually help her?

Bryan Ortez said...

I have a story that is somewhat similar to this.. I'll keep it short.

I worked at a restaurant/bar in my college days. I got off work at 3:30 in the morning. One January morning I was warming my car up for a few minutes before I left when a white woman, very drunk, came in to use the phone. She dialed twice, no answer.

When she left the bar she stole my car. Sped down a dark back road where eventually she wrecked at the dead end. She got out of my car, woke up an elderly couple, (I am guessing also white) and used their phone to call her parents. She then fled the scene, leaving my truck behind. I have no idea where she went and got away on foot. that whole area of the county is farm land, woods, and a river.

I can't help but draw parallels between that instance and this one. If it had been a black woman, would she have been 'out of place?' Would the family have tried to keep her there after using the phone, thinking she is likely drunk and needs to wait for the police?

Roderick2011 said...

They definitely would not have allowed her into their house to use the phone, and she would have been arrested walking down the road.

Roderick2011 said...

The author forgot about Jordan Davis and the other occupants of that SUV disrespected Dunn and didn't obey massa and turn down their darn rap music in a public place. *sarcasm off*

Katie Grimes said...

If white supremacy can justify the shooting death of an unarmed teen boy by a grown man, then I fear it will find a way to justify the shooting death of an unarmed woman by a grown man.

It will be interesting to see how the defense responds to and makes use of the intersectionality of gender and race in this case. In the Zimmerman trial, the defense attorneys concocted a story of dueling masculinities (also intersected by race): Martin's thuggishly menacing and irrationally violent and therefore unpredictable and predatory masculinity against Zimmerman's masculinity that was at once Wild West vigilante neighborhood protector and unassuming law and order/law-abiding family man.

Of course only white men can be both heroically law breaking because they alone are assumed to be existentially law was Zimmerman's thuggishness that compelled Zimmerman to break character and resort to violence. (And yes, in this case, I believe Zimmerman was "white"

But in the McBride case, the defense will not be able to lean on tropes of racialized masculinities. How will they deal with this? Somehow, I fear we will find it easier to emasculate the alleged killer than to accept the dead victim's innocence.

chauncey devega said...

Smart read. One qualifier--we cannot forget that black women do not have the luxury of being considered feminine. They are masculine as viewed by the White Gaze. They are also treated in a version of that same way via the "strong black woman" mythology.

chauncey devega said...

Got to know your place boy!

chauncey devega said...

Bystander effect? So very sad, the callousness. And some of the witnesses were black.

chauncey devega said...

Nice connecting the dots on your last point. Are you reading my mind about something I am going to share next week regarding some changes in thought and method I am considering here?

Bryan Ortez said...

It's amazing how we (white people) can be so openly prejudiced and have it all justified and excused away. Likely if Wafer is even convicted, press will find some way of continuing to humanize and sympathize with him. A family man, protecting his castle.

galleymac said...

They've already decided she was strung out on drugs. (There's no proof of this. I'm just expected to believe this is OBVIOUS, Because that's what we do.) And we're super many anyway, so obviously she had the strength of ten men and the poor gun-toting grown man was really just cowering behind his door praying to the lord to just make it stop, please.

! said...

I was about to say the same. This is the logic that allows a white man to be "threatened" by a black woman in distress, without losing any of his masculinity. I believe the media won't question the, ahem, "white male homeowner's" decision to shoot her or suggest that he panicked or lost control in any way. Instead they will resort to stereotypical characterizations of her behavior and appearance, which will convince whites that Wafer acted properly, as a "responsible gun owner" making a rational and necessary decision to protect his property and person. Get ready to hear that McBride was acting "crazy" or "erratic", that her voice was too loud or her movements were too sudden, that she seemed aggressive or like an unpredictable wild animal. That anyone would have perceived her as a threat.

Already, we've heard all about how dangerous Detroit is (ignoring the fact that this happened in a pretty nice suburb) so get ready to hear McBride characterized as the product of an unstable home life and lawless neighborhood, as well. Specifically, as they drag her name through the mud, I expect that her mother's parenting skills, economic situation, and personal style will come in for scrutiny too. Look for any sisters or female friends of Renisha's to be pathologized like Rachel Jeantel was in the eyes of the media. They will want to show that none of these women are truly distressed, grieving or vulnerable, in order to strengthen the idea that Renisha wasn't either. Instead, they will be "looking for a payout" or "overdramatic."

Basically what I am saying is that there will be an all-out media attack on black women in order to justify this murder.

DanF said...

The part of the public that is predisposed to do so is going to go with slut-shaming and race-baiting, but that won't really work for the defense in this case. I'm betting the defense will go with a variation of the defendant had taken medication and in his sleepy, confused state he thought the teenage girl was an angry black man trying to break-in when his gun accidentally went off. "Oh! That makes perfect sense! Of course. Who wouldn't have shot an angry black man while under the influence of cherry-flavored NyQuil? Let's not compound this tragedy any further by locking up a good man! Manslaughter. 30-days in county with credit for days already served. Next!"

The Sanity Inspector said...

It's Detroit. They're desensitized, don't even yield for ambulances or fire trucks anymore.

Look for the defense attorney to invoke Detroit's plague of brutal home invasions, as a mitigating circumstance. It won't work, but it will roil the internet again.

StEwPiD_MoNkEy said...

smh. this is such a one sided article. In certain circumstances, the victims to share a responsibility.
renisha was drinking and smoking. Blood alchohol level of .2
now that the trial is over, I agree whole heartedly with the verdict. Wafer did have other options and WAS NOT in immediate danger. BUT...
reagardless of color, why do we not hold victims responsible for their actions. Do not put rape, which is a crime of power in the same catagory as someone who's actions put them in harms way. Would you feel the same if Renisha had killed someone while driving drunk?
The point is not that people deserve bad things to happen to them. but should Wafer hold all the responsiblity in this case? He was convicted and rightly so. But Renisha, just like Trayvon had a hand in the scenario.
I advocate this no matter skin tone. Look up Roderick Scott in Greece NY. Shot and killed a white teen ager and you know what. I give the teenager his responsibility in that situation.