The Week In Scary Black People
Events in recent days and weeks has offered an opportunity for all of us to sit and watch the unbridled id of some of our commentariat demonstrate just how odd and repulsive it can be. And not just our commentariat, but some of us regular folk responding on social media as well. Even as the Governor of Missouri finally stepped in, removing the over-armed and over-eager county police from Ferguson, we continue to see the posthumous character assassination of Michael Brown as well as the same done to residents of his hometown.
Along with this particular bit of ugliness, the spreading Ebola plague in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone is also starting to register among the rank-and-file, especially as some health care workers have been transported to CDC facilities here in the United States. Nothing is more frightening than a disease Americans have no experience with, that sounds very scary, and (like AIDS when it first emerged in Africa and Haiti) spreads among people of a different skin color.
Racism can be funny, even as it turns your stomach. Consider a dispatch from the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, quoted at The Reality-Based Community:
East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?” It’s not the last challenge like this I’ll get here where the sidewalk ends, or the most serious one.
I get yelled at by a racially aggrieved tyke with more carefully coiffed hair than your average Miss America contestant.
Rather than call crap on the scene, let us consider the whole thing carefully. While obviously the creation of a mind unfamiliar with any person of color walking the earth today, isn’t it fascinating that Williamson wrote this and his editors allowed it to be published? Isn’t it fascinating there are people in America who will read this and say, “Yup!”? I mean, who talks like this alleged 9-year-old? “White devil”? Really, Kevin? And the scariest scary black man his mind can conjure is Snoop Dogg, a persona who is the creation of a record company, receives corporate sponsorship and support for his tours, and supports his children with the meager proceeds he receives from his record company contract. Not only that, it’s a bit, I don’t know, dated a reference, isn’t it? I mean there’s Li’l Wayne, and Fifty Cent, and Xzibit and even Nicki Minaj with her penchant for showing off her body and reputation for enjoying a good party. Can’t Williamson even get current in his fears? So while this surely is an entirely imaginary event, I have little doubt that Williamson believes it to be real. The opening paragraph says far more about Kevin Williamson than the entire story he wrote says about East. St. Louis, IL.
As for the Ebola outbreak, it continues apace as every resource is strained in an attempt to get some kind of handle and control on the situation. With the announcement that two aid workers who had contracted the disease were being flown to the United States, it seems some people don’t quite understand how diseases like Ebola are spread. The mere presence within our borders of people with Ebola is enough to cause some people to be terrified, refusing to accept the disease cannot be spread either by air or just being in the same country as someone who has it. Like AIDS when it first emerged, Ebola carries the additional stigma of existing almost exclusively on the African continent. That is enough to have a few too many people worried that scary black people will now infect white people with their scary hemorrhagic fever.
The nice thing is that despite the best efforts of some to lengthen the life of horrid racist tropes and stereotypes, far more people are horrified by the photos of heavily armed police officers facing down peaceful protesters. While Michael Brown’s reputation, and by extension the town of Ferguson, MO, is having his reputation besmirched after he’s dead, based on photographs that are either misunderstood or void any context whatsoever, few people believe that it is necessary to shoot an unarmed person in the back while he’s running away from you. Even if Brown was a criminal – and nothing has emerged that I’ve seen to make me believe that’s the case – does that mean, in this instance, he deserved to be shot to death for jaywalking?
Just because the residents of Ferguson are angry, and tired of being angry, and demanding representation and justice and fairness for their community, does the mere presence of large groups of black people automatically constitute a riot in need of militarized police?
Just because Ebola, a tropical disease that, while virulent and deadly, is difficult to contract unless exposed to blood and bodily fluids of those who are already symptomatic does not mean it is some strange thing that might well wipe out whole swaths of the United States. Nor does it mean we should withhold aid and assistance because it is scary and far away and happening to people living in countries in West Africa. Nor does it mean that bringing infected persons here is some kind of threat to American residents.
People reacting out of fear do crazy things sometimes. They might concoct a scenario in which they are confronted by their own worst imaginings of some terrifying “Other”, believe it so much they tell this same story to others, creating Truth where none exists. Others might insist that an unarmed man shot in the back while running from an armed police officer deserved what he received because a photograph they saw on the Internet demonstrates that man was a thug and a criminal. Finally, many who have only heard the words “Ebola” and “hemorrhagic” in passing suddenly fear a terrible plague striking us here in the West because we had the audacity to try and care for people who had the disease. The realities of these events and situations is far more complex than cartoonish descriptions and too often ignorant ramblings even among journalists would make them out. We can set aside our fear of scary black people only when we realize they are just people. Maybe then, rather than concocting nonsense fables and demeaning dead young men and allowing thousands to die will no longer be acceptable.
We still have a long way to go.