The trouble with privilege, of course, is that the system is designed to deliberately blind you from the suffering of others, to make it hard (or, in some cases) nearly impossible to imagine yourself in the position of the person who is suffereing.I think that Elle, phd is spot on today with her description of how that works in the case of black women who’ve been victimized. She’s talking about how “strange” it is that, suddenly, Megan Williams’s outstanding warrants must so urgenly be served against her, so that a woman who just got out of a prison of sorts, where she was held for a week against her will, ends up back in a holding cell. See how easily we slip from feeling sympathy with her? When we first found out about her plight, she was a victim of a bizarre crime just because she was black.
But wait (slip and slide away from her), she knew her attackers. But wait (slip and slide some more), maybe she even dated one of them once. And wait (slipping further from her), she herself is a criminal.
She’s not like us. She’s not us.
Those things would never happen to us. We’re good.
Sometimes, though, you get a glimpse of what it is that the dominant culture would like from black people. And watching the Jena 6 stuff and the Megan Williams stuff, it seems like what we want from black people is for y’all to have no ties–not to each other, not to your families, not to the community, not to history–and that y’all walk around complete blank slates. Something happens to you and you’re just supposed to be confused and surprised. Something happens to another black person you know (not that you’d really know them, but maybe you’d have heard some rumor about them or something) and you don’t draw anything from that about how you might be treated. Nope, I thnk you’re really supposed to be a people without history, without ties.
Let’s talk about small towns. I’m from small town America. I graduated in a class of 47.
I’m not from small town American in the same way most folks are, because my dad’s a Methodist minister and so we moved from small town to small town, but because of that, I’ve seen my share of how they work.
There’s some good stuff to be said for small towns. But let’s not kid ourselves–for a lot of people, they’re not easy places to grow up.
And folks who don’t understand how small towns work can pretty easily misunderstand what’s going on in them.
I mean, please, of course Megan Williams knew her attackers. Of course she probably socialized with them. She lives in West Virginia, for gods’ sake. How many people in a sixty mile radius of her do you think she didn’t know? Hadn’t socialized with to some extent? Is it really surprising that she’d been in stupid trouble before? That’s the kind of trouble folks get in (until you get meth involved, and then, Christ Jesus).
That’s what the heartland looks like. These are those “values” folks on the coasts are always crowing on about. You know people. You get into stupid trouble. You get a reputation. It sticks with you for the rest of your life. Things seem fine on the surface and underneath, bad trouble.
I mean, not to be flip, but that’s the fucking point of almost every Stephen King book ever written and he’s a best selling author. You think he’d sell so well if that idea–heartland America, fine on the surface, bad trouble underneath–didn’t resonate?
Now, let’s look at the Jena 6.
CNN is reporting that the U.S. attorney responsible for reviewing the case doesn’t see any tie between the nooses hanging in the tree in front of the high school and the fact that six black kids beat up a white kid.This is laughable on its face.
Is there any person from small town America who doubts for a second that those two things aren’t directly related?
The U.S. attorney says, “there were three months of high school football in which they all played football together and got along fine, in which there was a homecoming court, in which there was the drill team, in which there were parades.” In other words, since everything appeared fine on the surface, it must have been fine. But who in a small town would believe that?
When I went back for my 10 year high school reunion, I had a girl bawl me out for a good ten minutes in front of everyone for thinking I was better than everyone else back in high school. Twelve years she’d been carrying that shit around, twelve years in which she saw me a few times and seemed perfectly happy to see me.
You think some kids can’t carry with them for a few months the fear and anger they must have felt at knowing they lived in a place where you could still have a “white tree” and where the simple act of sitting under it would lead to an implicit threat on your life?
And, while we’re being honest, is there one person here who doesn’t know that the message of those nooses was “You be afraid, ’cause we could hurt you.”? And is there one person here who doesn’t get that beating up that white kid wasn’t a message of “No, you be afraid.”?
First of all, that’s how boys work. You just have to hang out with teenage boys for, oh, say five seconds to hear “Fuck you.” “No, fuck you.” And second, we used to kill black people that way. Not that long ago. Within the living memories of the families of those boys. When they saw those nooses there, they had some tough decisions to make, decisions with old implications.
Do they trust the authorities to take care of it? To really get the level of the threat? Well, they tried that. And the kids got suspended for a few days. Yeah, if you walk into a school and announce you’re going to kill random people, you get tossed out. You walk into that school and make a gesture that threatens the deaths of black people and you get to come back to school.
Do they just take it? I’m not excusing their behavior. It’s wrong to kick the shit out of people. I’m asking though, for you to put yourself in the position of a teenage boy. Are you just going to take it? Or are you going to be a man and do something about it?
Again. I’m not excusing it. I think we have fucked up notions of what it mean to be a man and those ideas put boys we love in harm’s way, repeatedly.
I’m just saying, there was a time when black people, when confronted with a whites-only tree and then some nooses hanging in it, a time not very long ago, when they would have just had to take it. Proving to yourself that you no longer live in such times can be a powerful motivator.
I don’t know. I feel like I’ve gotten off track a little.
My point is that we talk about the heartland as if it’s one thing, when we all know that it’s another. Well, that it’s that one thing and that it’s another. It is the smooth surface and the terrible deep.
Why can’t we just admit that to ourselves?
I don’t know.