NYT columnist Charles M. Blow writes:
The Perfect-Victim Pitfall First Michael Brown, Now Eric Garner DEC. 3, 2014Uh, you guys, the ones holding The Megaphone, picked out Michael Brown to be the face of the Democrats’ Ferguson, Feminism, and Foreigners 2014 campaign. It’s a country of 300,000,000 people and outrageous stuff happens every week, but you had to double down and triple down on a story that should have been deep-sixed after the video tape leaked on August 15th and the family’s autopsy was released on August 18th. You guys were too blinded by rage and hate to re-evaluate.
At some point between the moment a Missouri grand jury refused to indict a police officer who had shot and killed Michael Brown on a Ferguson street and the moment a New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk — on video, as he struggled to utter the words, “I can’t breathe!” — a counternarrative to this nation’s calls for change has taken shape.
This narrative paints the police as under siege and unfairly maligned while it admonishes — and, in some cases, excoriates — those demanding changes in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. (Those calling for change now include the president of the United States and the United States attorney general, I might add.)
The argument is that this is not a perfect case, because Brown — and, one would assume, now Garner — isn’t a perfect victim and the protesters haven’t all been perfectly civil, so therefore any movement to counter black oppression that flows from the case is inherently flawed. But this is ridiculous and reductive, because it fails to acknowledge that the whole system is imperfect and rife with flaws. We don’t need to identify angels and demons to understand that inequity is hell.
The Mike-or-Eric-as-faces-of-black-oppression arguments swing too wide, and they miss. So does the protesters-as-movement-killers argument.Have you ever noticed how much of the Conventional Wisdom sounds like it was cribbed from my posts, just turned 180 degrees? This is my usual citation of Orwell’s Sapir-Whorf theory of Newspeak, just with the word in danger of being banned being … “racism.”
The responses so far have only partly been specific to a particular case. Much of it is about something larger and more general: racial inequality and criminal justice. …
Yet people continue to make such arguments, which can usually be distilled to some variation of this: Black dysfunction is mostly or even solely the result of black pathology. This argument is racist at its core because it rests too heavily on choice and too lightly on context. If you scratch it, what oozes out reeks of race-informed cultural decay or even genetic deficiency and predisposition, as if America is not the progenitor — the great-grandmother — of African-American violence.
And yes, racist is the word that we must use. Racism doesn’t require the presence of malice, only the presence of bias and ignorance, willful or otherwise. It doesn’t even require more than one race. There are plenty of members of aggrieved groups who are part of the self-flagellation industrial complex. They make a name (and a profit) saying inflammatory things about their own groups, things that are full of sting but lack context, things that others will say only behind tightly shut doors. These are often people who’ve “made it” and look down their noses with be-more-like-me disdain at those who haven’t, as if success were merely a result of a collection of choices and not also of a confluence of circumstances.
Today, too many people are gun-shy about using the word racism, lest they themselves be called race-baiters. So we are witnessing an assault on the concept of racism, an attempt to erase legitimate discussion and grievance by degrading the language: Eliminate the word and you elude the charge.
By the way, I haven’t looked at all into the death of Mr. Garner because it hasn’t garnered much attention. The NYT has been covering this local story, but not with the intensity it covered Ferguson. The Garner death may well be a better example for Mr. Blow’s purposes than Michael Brown’s death (it’s hard to imagine one factually worse than Brown).
But perhaps there has been caution at the NYT over how hard to push this local story because they don’t want another Crown Heights riot. Mobs burning down some distant loserville like Ferguson and hammering a random white guy to death in boring St. Louis … well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. But risking eggs being broken in the Big Apple is a whole different kettle of fish. *
* Hmmmhmmm, perhaps this sentence’s Food-Related Image System needs more work.