Monday, March 19, 2012

Of Matters Very Much Related: Trayvon Martin, "Multiracial" Identity, and the Perils of Being Black, Breathing, and Nearby

Scholars have long maintained that race is merely a social construct, not something fixed into our nature, yet this insight hasn’t made it any less of a factor in our lives. If we no longer participate in a society in which the presence of black blood renders a person black, then racial self-identification becomes a matter of individual will.

And where the will is involved, the question of ethics arises. At a moment when prominent, upwardly mobile African-Americans are experimenting with terms like “post-black,” and outwardly mobile ones peel off at the margins and disappear into the multiracial ether, what happens to that core of black people who cannot or do not want to do either?
Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of being black, young, and "suspicious." Like many other young black boys and grown men throughout United States history, he was shot dead for the crime of possessing an innocuous object (and likely daring to be insufficiently compliant to someone who imagined that they had the State's permission to kill people of color without consequence or condemnation).

The facts are still playing themselves out. From all appearances, the police have failed to investigate the incident properly. Trayvon Martin's family has been denied the reasonable care, respect, and response due to them by the local authorities. Observers and activists have gravitated towards racism as the prime motive for the shooting and murder of a young black boy by a grown man and self-styled mall cop, Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry wannabe vigilante.

Common sense renders a clear judgement here: if a black man shot and killed a white kid for holding a bag of Skittles he would already be under the jail; in this instance, the police are operating from a position where a young African American is presumed "guilty," and his murderer is assumed innocent.

Yes, race matters in the killing of Trayvon Martin. However, and I will explore this in a later post, it is significant in a manner that is much more pernicious than the simple calculus of whether to shoot a young black boy for some imagined grievance or offense--as opposed to being asked a question, or perhaps sternly talked to. The latter is also problematic: it assumes that black people's citizenship and humanity are forever questionable, and subject to evaluation, by any person who happens to not be African American.

Cornel West famously suggested that all black children are "niggerized" at some point in their upbringing. Moreover, black children learn to live in a state of existential dread because they are always subject to wanton and unjust violence. Trayvon Martin's murder reminds me of a parallel and complementary observation. Black people live a paradox. We are simultaneously both children and adults in the white racial imagination regardless of our age.

Black people are treated as adults even when they are minors. In the courts, black young people are disproportionately subjected to punishments which are typically meted out to adults. As research has repeatedly demonstrated, to be young and black is to be an adult for purposes of arrest, the gas chamber, or imprisonment.

Historically, black people have been treated by whites as though they are children in regards to political matters. Thus, the contemporary rhetoric from conservatives that African Americans are childlike, zombies, on a plantation, or somehow hoodwinked or tricked into supporting the Democratic Party. Despite all of the available evidence, grown folks who were either heirs to, or participants in, a Black Freedom Struggle that salvaged and saved American democracy from its own weaknesses, lies, and hypocrisies, are depicted as naive infants, unable to be full and equal political actors.

The sociological imagination draws many connections. To point, Trayvon Martin's murder is also a surprising (and for many, counter-intuitive) complement to The New York Times' excellent series of essays on race, interracial marriage, and identity.

As someone who has loved across the colorline, and also believes that there are many ways to create a family, I have always held fast to a simple rule.

In this society, in this moment, and given what we know about how race impacts life chances, if a white person is going to have a child with a person of color (especially one who is African American or "black"), a parent is committing malpractice if they do not give their progeny the spiritual, emotional, philosophical, and personal armor to deal with the realities of white supremacy.

By implication, young black and brown children must be made to understand that they are not "special," "biracial," or part of a racial buffer group that is going to be given "special" privileges because one of their parents is white. These "multiracial" children are some of the most vulnerable and tragic when they are finally forced to confront the particular challenges which come with being a young black boy or girl in American society. In post civil rights America, this notion is politically incorrect. Nonetheless, it remains true.

Here, Thomas Chatterton Williams offers a great comment on blackness and the dilemma of "post-black" identity:
Still, as I envision rearing my own kids with my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife, I’m afraid that when my future children — who may very well look white — contemplate themselves in the mirror, this same society, for the first time in its history, will encourage them not to recognize their grandfather’s face. For this fear and many others, science and sociology are powerless to console me — nor can they delineate a clear line in the sand beyond which identifying as black becomes absurd.
Question: what happens for those young people who do not see themselves as "black" or "brown," yet run into the deadly fists of white racism? Do they have the skill sets necessary to survive such encounters whole of life and limb?

Because we are both part of a diaspora, the wisdom of our Jewish brothers and sisters is also instructive here. Continuing from The New York Times piece:
For Judt, it was his debt to the past alone that established his identity.Or as Ralph Ellison explained — and I hope my children will read him carefully because they will have to make up their own minds: “Being a Negro American involves a willed (who wills to be a Negro? I do!) affirmation of self as against all outside pressures.” And even “those white Negroes,” as he called them, “are Negroes too — if they wish to be.”And so I will teach my children that they, too, are black — regardless of what anyone else may say — so long as they remember and wish to be.
Trayvon Martin was likely taught the life lessons necessary to survive an encounter with the police (or their posse cousins) by his parents and other elders. Because black life is cheap, a young person of color can do everything "right" and still end up dead. What does this mean for blackness, when a century or more after the end of slavery, and decades after the end of lynch law, that your guilt is still assumed?

Whiteness and White privilege involve the luxury of being able to decide how, in what ways, and under what conditions, you will be allow yourself to be uncomfortable. White privilege also involves the luxury of not having to have a conversation with your kids about how to avoid being murdered by the cops because of your skin color. In many matters of life and death, white supremacy remains, in many ways, unchallenged. Black and brown folks, if they are responsible parents, cannot avoid such conversations with their children. The foot-dragging by the police in regards to the murder of Trayvon Martin reveals this ugly truth.

Dr. King is gone. A black man is President. Yet, life remains unfair...does it not?


nomad said...

"A black man is President." And yet nothing changed. ATSS. ( I'm coining this initialism: Ain't That Some Shit.)

Damn, CD. Go easy on us robots.

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. I learned it from watching you!

Neal Deesit said...

A Little History of Slavery

In 1565, the Spanish colony of San Agustín in Florida became the first permanent European settlement on modern U.S. territory, and included an unknown number of African slaves.

On December 6, 1865, all remaining slaves became officially free when the thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery, took effect.

So, in a mere 153 years, slavery will have been abolished for a long a time as it was legal in US territory. Maybe then we can start talking about being "postracial."

nomad said...

I was with you up to the end. And then there's that last sentence full of presumptions and non sequiturs. There is no equivalence between Dr. King and President. In terms of where they stand on civil rights they are polar opposites. Bringing up Obama only highlights the fact that he will be silent on this issue and every other issue that reveals America's racist heart. He learned his lesson from that Gates incident.

And I don't know where people ever got the idea that having a black man as president would somehow make life better for black people. Especially when the black president was chosen by a white corporate power structure, or as we used to say back in the day, "the man". "Here, Negroes, take this leader we have selected for you!"

It's a non sequitur. Having a black man in charge has nothing whatsoever to do with improving the lot of black people. Instead of thinking "We have a black president, we have arrived." we should be thinking "We have a black president, the game is afoot!"

And, finally, in light of his policies towards black people, or lack thereof, it shouldn't be phrased "A black man is President."
It should be "A man who happens to be black is President."

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. I threw that little but about Obama in there for you...I have established a precedent for myself of calling Barack Obama a President who happens to be black from some of the reasons you listed, but also for precision sake--he is not the leader of "black America." Nor, should we expect him to be.

He will be silent on this issue. That is quite unfortunate. I do hope that Holder gets his butt down there and busts some skulls though.

YKM said...

At the very most I shall say this, as I have stated on my FB page, and several other spots...

I would LOVE to see all of these people who are endeared to the alleged "one drop rule" (KKK, Stormfront, Neo Nazis, Teabaggers, et al) get a DNA test.

I, for my part, would HOLLER at the findings.

Anonymous said...

I was all in with CD and I am still all in of course despite his obligatory white jewish wisdom insert( But I digress)

This killing of yet another Black youth really stings because somethings simply have never changed for a Black person on this soil. We remain less than human our fellow citizens adopt anybody but our kids they take from around the world,our woman wear phony hair and our self esteem has become a fixture even in the homes of Black folks living on the hill with progressive whites..

I woke up this morning to this horror tale on NPR it made me so angry today full of rage and pain I hoped writing this blog does something for me it yet it only fuels more anger


nomad said...

"-he is not the leader of "black America." Nor, should we expect him to be."

That's what I mean. You had reasonable stream coherent observations; when from out of nowhere comes a reference to the irrelevant. If he is not the leader of black America, why bring him up? Why suggest connectedness with someone who was a leader of black people. King and Obama are already unreasonably conflated in the imagination of the black American. I try to unconflate them when I can.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Exhale, lest you blow a fuse. We need shock troopers, of which you have the espirit de corps to apparently be one.

@Nomad. Remember, it is all a game, a big performance, and a con. You know that, which is why I swerve folks every now and then to keep them on their toes and to show I can still surprise--if even on a most subtle level.

Anonymous said...

"-These "multiracial" children are some of the most vulnerable and tragic when they are finally forced to confront the particular challenges which come with being a young black boy or girl in American society."=tragic mulatto. No more _Imitation of Life_ for you!

Dan B. said...

You are statistically more likely to become a victim of black crime than the "deadly fists of white racism."

During my school years, I witnessed 3 separate occasions where white students were jumped by gangs of blacks. They were beaten because they happened to be white an would not fight back. My wife went to separate schools and watched her friend get ravaged to the point of hospitalization by black thugs for absolutely no reason. On this occasion the teachers observed the whole thing from inside through the windows and only came out to help AFTER the beating was finished. Trayvon's death was a tragedy but is only news because of the race of the aggressor.

When whites commit violence, they do it to blacks 2.4 percent of the time. Blacks, on the other hand, choose white victims more than half the time.

In those cases in which the race of the killer is known, blacks kill twice as many whites as whites kill blacks. Black-on-white robberies and gang assaults are twenty-one times more common than white on black. In the case of gang robbery, blacks victimize whites fifty-two times more often than whites do blacks.

Mr Chauncey, using Trayvon's death to highlight your case for white racism is flawed.

CNu said...

Remember, it is all a game, a big performance, and a con. You know that, which is why I swerve folks every now and then to keep them on their toes and to show I can still surprise--if even on a most subtle level.

What kills me about jack-and-jill jiggaboos is that they even TRY to tell big fat whoppers like this with a straight face.

"responsible" negroes, same as it ever was, same as it ever was...,

CNu said...

Dan Boyd is a spineless punk crying school yard anecdotes to justify his gutless racism.

As the third black student in a racist white school, outnumbered fighting was a regular right of passage until it became clear that the return on effort invested was piss poor.

In a violentized and highly stratified society violence by the poor against the poor, by the have-nots against the haves, is to be expected as a given. This isn't India, and their are no sudras pounded into abject submission.

The majority of non-productive and violent white males most likely to commit violent crimes have been provided with food-powered make-work jobs in the governance hierarchy that enable them to kill and commit violence on a massive and legally protected and sanctioned scale. That's why we find them in such overwhelming numbers on police forces, as prison guards, and in combat roles in the military.

Everything else is self-calming, racist conversation...,

40 said...

Here in the NYC area I find the Trayvon Martin story (and more importantly the police handling of Zimmerman) an interesting juxtaposition to this Rutgers spying case where Dharun Ravi was found guilty and is facing 10+ years in jail for invasion of privacy, and a hate crime. Mr. Ravi used his webcam to tape a homosexual encounter of his roommate and showed it to friends. Allegedly his roommate was saw distraught by his outing that he jumped off of the George Washington Bridge. Alas I take issue with linking Mr. Ravi with his roommates death. Was it an asshole move by a college kid? Yes. Worth sending him to jail for 10 years? Hell no.
I place this along side the local Florida authorities who's a Rod Farva wannabe cop with a clear pattern of being an overzealous cop stalker, manifesting his delusions into turning his "neighborhood watch" in to his own personal militia that shoots on site and ignores police protocol. As Incarceration Nation grows, I find the tragicomedy of not only who gets locked up but now who even gets prosecuted. Shit's ridiculous.

nomad said...

"Remember, it is all a game, a big performance, and a con."

I know it. I just want everybody else to know it. I don't want my people to be tricked.

Anonymous said...

Zimmerman is the south's version of NYC's Bernhard Goetz a coward of white man who under the privledge of whiteness gunned down 4 unarmed Black men..

Of course the jury of his peers gave him a minor slap on the wrist and he came a hero in America

Killing negroes and coloreds who are not human and represent America's meltdown is a noble occupation

40 said...

The other element of this is the power of the name. George Zimmerman clearly looks like he is over some sort of Latino extraction, and I think in the early brush over of this they tried to play up his Latino side to take some of the "hate crime" stink off of it. But if he grew up as "Jorge Zapata" instead of "George Zimmerman" would have been so comfortable in his perceived "whiteness" and the privilege that comes with it? I call this the Charlie Sheen paradigm where Carlos Estevez gets to reinvent himself due to fair skin and an Anglicized name. Its the reverse Charlie Snow/Carlos Navada trick from "Bingo Long"...

Anonymous said...

Fuck words and logic that reasons away white supremacy and the contempt for our humanity..

I am not paying any attention anymore to long winded narratives that read well and do nothing but assuage the fraile egos of a majority white culture that gives less than fuck about the humanity of Black people..

We have travel this road so many times before from the murders of unarmed Black youth either by state sanction police behavior under the 'color of law' or by paramilitary groups now compose of other non-whites who seek to rid white civilization of niggers as their admission to whiteness..

Fuck this template and paradigm that inserts and employs words as balm instead of instructional information on how to survive a ethic cleansing .. Fuck this template that relies on the paternalism of the federal goverment to render justice for Black people in a flawed criminal 'just us' system where laws operate to provide immunity for the wanton killing of Black folks..

Fuck these words that give quarter to and promotes the template of reason,logic and history as if any of these so called civilized notions ever saved one Black person from street execution in America..

Hell NO!!!
Now is the time for this culture to feel the wrath of a civil war where slavery nor the economic conditions of gentry class matters..

Black Americans today in this post racial era even in the time of a Black man in the white house our lives are in peril not just the thugs and the under class living in post industrial decay but Black folks that write like CD and think like CNU all of us are in peril ..All of us are one wrong move and glance from being killed in the streets and left to rot like forgettable road kill..

Fuck that narrative I am not going down like this nor am I turning the cheek..

It is on..Behold America you have now unleashed the mother fucking dragon .... Nobody gets the benefit of doubt, nor more cum ba ya situations..Beware America ..Niggers like me are activated and now in your midst...BEWARE AMERICA

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Got to love this: "
It is on..Behold America you have now unleashed the mother fucking dragon .... Nobody gets the benefit of doubt, nor more cum ba ya situations..Beware America ..Niggers like me are activated and now in your midst...BEWARE AMERICA"

You need to start a rap group or put that on T-Shirts or write an online comic or anime. Do these "activated Niggers" form like Voltron or The Power Rangers?

Where can I sign up? Are we going to be Negroes with Guns 2.0.?

Anonymous said...

I'm going to wage a campaign of "niggerhood" in very civil venue I am in. I am going to be rude, abrasive, cold, hard, impolite, nasty, inconvience,a pain in the ass, loud, dramatic, all manner of behavior which requires class will be violated by my presence and the roll out of my 'interactive niggerhood ' paradigm.

I will shame and embrassed religious leaders and non-profit whores who operate progams that castrate Black personhood

Where there is silence I real bring noise..Where there is decorum I will bring misbehaving. Unlike the underclass which is locked in their venues I have the freedom of being and uppity nigger..

I will leverage my upper class status and use my class admission to bring havoc to those shielded from the usual thugs and niggers...Where I go is Where most Black folks never get to travel.. I will circulate in the ether of privldge and bring a sheet of crude nigger behavior that cocktails will never be able to erase my presence..

Every one of my actions will be legal and within the boundaries of discretion . I will not be lawless but I be an outlaw .. I will bring "niggerhood back to kitchen table and boardroom of America..

I intend to violate and interfere with every sector of civil pristine america life..I will create niggerhood jack ass movies for the internet bandwidth that loves the novelty of extreme and wanton debasement..

I will shatter your bliss and create memories for your offspring that contaminates their childhood into the future..I will create appointments for therapists long into the future soley because of the 'niggerhood" I will bring into their orbits.

When I get tired and bored I will refuel when yet again another Black innocent person gets murdered just for being Black..

Tom said...

Dan Boyd: For one thing you're defining the question to exclude police violence. Skews the stats just a bit.

I'm white; a member of my family was once put in the hospital by Black attackers. This happens. But I just can't bring myself to believe that a group we outnumber something like 5:1 has somehow got the upper hand overall. It makes no sense.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Self defense is when someone pulls a knife at you or a gun or you have a fear your life is threatened. But it's not self defense if the person you are afraid of is running away from you. Justice must be served.

J said...

The name of this blog is "We Are Respectable Negroes". Anonymous comment #1 (timestamp March 19, 2012 8:47 PM) and #2 (timestamp March 20, 2012 2:44 PM) do not sound respectable at all. Why all this white hate? The killer was Hispanic.

ellemarie said...

"I will leverage my upper class status and use my class admission to bring havoc to those shielded from the usual thugs and niggers...Where I go is Where most Black folks never get to travel.. I will circulate in the ether of privldge and bring a sheet of crude nigger behavior that cocktails will never be able to erase my presence.. "

Can I just say that whoever "Anonymous" (from 3/20 3:12 PM) is had me laughing so, so hard for a good five minutes. This is a Chappelle Show (R.I.P) skit begging to be made, with some sort of take on the Incredible Hulk with the "Id" "nigga" of the "American Negro" psycho being unleashed in privileged spaces. Thanks for the laughs "Anonymous"!

ellemarie said...

meant to say "psyche" not "psycho"