Tag Archives: race

The Hunger Games

The release of the film The Hunger Games highlighted some worrying examples of othering recently.

Certain responses – from a very limited segment of the fan-base of the books and the film, no doubt – to the casting of black actors in major roles were disheartening, and actually quite shocking. You really don’t expect to hear things like this being said so brazenly in this day and age, except from devotedly hateful extremists.

But the comments listed on that post, and this tumblr compilation, seem to be more lazily thoughtless and tribalistic than actively racist.

Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture

I’m still a bit lost for words at this. I can’t quite get my head around the necessary sequence of events. First, this person must have experienced a feeling of crushing disappointment at realising that a character she’d read about had dark skin (even though, I’m told, this character’s skin colour is explicitly described as such in the book). Further, it must have entirely failed to occur to them that the qualities she originally admired or appreciated in Rue might still be present – that the colour of her skin might be no hindrance whatever to this young girl being innocent, or likeable, or courageous, or charming, or quick-witted, or whatever she’s like.

And then they must have decided that publicly expressing all these unfiltered prejudices was a perfectly fine thing to do.

Some black girl.

Absent but strongly implied, of course, is the word “just”. Just some black girl.

Not, like, a girl girl. Just some black girl.

However you might have told the story to yourself while reading it, I don’t understand how you can have this reaction to encountering an entirely irrelevant racial disparity, and believe that it’s an acceptable reaction to have.

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America’s history of tribalism

A Tiny Revolution has a collection of quotes that demonstrate the way white Americans have dehumanised others to justify imperialism, conquest, and slavery.

The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner.

[T]he Iraqis don’t on the whole say “darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses.” They sort of accept that.

[Sheikhs]… do not seem to resent… that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs.

Marine major Julian Smith testified that the “racial psychology” of the “poorer class of Nicaraguans” made them “densely ignorant… A state of war to them is a normal condition.”

Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

The third quote there was actually from a British commander. Any cursory glance at history will tell you that my country is also among the experts at “othering” foreigners to the point of redefining them as entirely separate species.

And that last one? Thomas Jefferson, talking about black slaves.

Holy crap people are good at hating other people.

And we’re not over it yet. Not by a long shot.

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Slaughter in Afghanistan

I’ve written a very brief post over at my main blog, concerning the recent mass killing one particular recent mass killing by a US solider in Afghanistan.

It’s worth noting just how much this incident brought out the repugnantly tribalistic side of many supporters of the military. When one of our side goes off-message and slaughters innocents while they sleep, we expect it to be taken for granted that this was one rogue, isolated individual, unrepresentative of us as a whole, and it’d be completely unfair to judge the rest of us based on this one guy. Obviously we’re still the good guys and we’re doing what’s best. The idea that we should act even for a moment as if our position as moral defenders of freedom and goodness weren’t totally assured is ridiculous.

But whenever one of them attacks us, well, that’s entirely typical behaviour, it’s just what they do, it’s what we have to expect from them.

A post at Practical Doubt in particular exhibits some truly staggering examples of othering from commenters on the Fox News website. The first exemplifies the general attitude taken to foreign victims of US military action:

How “innocent” were they really? Any proof ? ? ?

If someone were to question the “innocence” of the 9/11 victims, and ask for proof that they didn’t deserve to get blown up before offering them any sympathy, I wonder if this person would take a similar position.

There are no “others” here. There are lots of people with lots of ideas and lots of feelings and lots of ways of dealing with their ideas and their feelings. Some people died, and that’s horrible. Someone killed them, and that’s tragic. It was just one event which doesn’t stand out much in an ongoing conflict, and that’s…

I don’t even know.

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Trayvon Martin

His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.

You’d think that when a seventeen-year-old black kid gets shot dead, we could all agree that the situation is unequivocally tragic, even if he hadn’t been both innocent and unarmed.

In case you’re not up to speed, Trayvon Martin was an innocent and unarmed seventeen-year-old black kid who was shot dead recently in Florida. George Zimmerman is the “neighborhood watch captain” who shot him. The hoodie was an item of clothing worn by Trayvon at the time. And the above quote was one of a series of tweets made by Geraldo Rivera about the incident.

He expressed similar sentiments on Fox News, explaining:

I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was… You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant, reflexive action.

The list of situations under which firing a gun directly at somebody is justifiable as an “instant, reflexive action” is, I dare say, an exceedingly short one, and “a young black man wearing a hoodie walking into your line of sight” is not one of them.

Maybe this particular clothing style does have an association, in some parts of the world, with a certain violent gang culture. But even if that’s true, the only acceptable solution is one in which we try to change that culture, not just abandon people to their fate and tell them they should have acted differently to stay out of trouble.

Geraldo has never said, “It’s a simple fact that black people get shot more often, they should learn to adjust,” but the callous victim-blaming is no less insensitive here.

He professes to have seen Trayvon Martin as a “wonderful kid” who “didn’t deserve to die”. But he must have abandoned a certain measure of human empathy a long way behind, to see this kind of senseless killing as inevitable on the basis of some clothes and an accompanying stereotype.

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In Brief: Dred Scott

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford, by a margin of 7 to 2, that Black people, whether free or enslaved, were “beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations.” Indeed, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney famously insisted that Blacks are “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

While most now regard the Dred Scott Decision as an embarrassing taint on the Court’s jurisprudence, it remains a frightening reminder of the depth of hatred and irrationality that once ruled the day. But Dred Scott and the legacy of slavery in this country, as well as the tremendous strides we have taken over the last 150 years, also point to what I believe to be a larger truth: it is much harder to hate and oppress a people when you recognize their humanity… And not only does this recognition make hate more difficult to sustain, it also makes the denial of fairness, justice and common human decency that much harder to justify.

(via the ACLU’s Blog of Rights)

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