Monday, April 16, 2012

Can Black Friends Help You Avoid a Charge of Hate Crimes?

Claiming that one has Black friends has become the classic excuse to waylay charges of racism.  Some, like George Zimmerman, actually manage to scare up an uncle Ruckus to come to their defense.  Having a useful fool by your side is not a get out jail free card, and makes the Black person swearing for your anti-racist position look like the sell out that they are.  In the latest manifestation of "I have Black friends", alleged Oklahoma shooter Jake England's attorney's just released a tape in which he claims that despite being charged with the murder of three Black people, that he is not a racist and has....you guessed it, Black friends. It has been reported that just before going on a murder spree, Mr. England took to facebook to attack the murderer of his father, who he referred to using an anti-black slur.  England however wants us all to know that this is a one time only incident and that he has never in the past used a slur to refer to a Black person.  I guess he didn't learn anything from Mark Fuhrmann, who lied on stand claiming not to have used the word nigger in the last ten years. Even if he had Pinocchio's nose, his lie could not be more obvious.

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What people like England don't realize is that even if we believe for a moment that you actually have a friend of colour, the fact that you are more than willing to exploit that relationship means that you cannot possibly value this person.

I have [ fill in the minority] friends when you are accused of an ism is not an excuse, and it does not justify oppressive behaviour.  Though it has been customary to hear this excuse when it comes to race, it happens to every single social minority.  I have gay friends is supposedly a defense against homophobia for instance.  What always perplexes me about this is the fact that the accused is willing to say anything to avoid the charge of ableism, racism, homophobia etc., means that they recognize that ableism, homophobia and racism are bad and do not want it associated with them, but at the same time, they are so wedded to their privilege that engaging in oppressive behaviour is something they actively seek to engage in.


So twisted has the social discourse become that being a called a racist, homophobe, ableist etc., is deemed worse than living with the ism itself.  If people can recognize that the ism itself is ugly, then being oppressive to historically marginalized groups should be something that they actively want to avoid.  The truth of the matter is that privilege equals power and power is seductive.  No one wants to willingly give up power and this is especially true when power proves to be elusive in other circumstances.  This is why when hurt we will lash out using whatever power available at the time to hurt others.  We may unconsciously be aware that what we are doing or saying is wrong, but because this response has been normalized, it is only when challenged that many can even hope to see the wrong doing of their actions.

I think that England and his attorneys are well aware that special circumstances added to the crime of murdering three people could well mean a minimum of life without the possibility of parole, or even death the death penalty.  With this kind of penalty hanging over his head, it's really no surprise that England is talking about his Black friends and Black co-workers.  His life is now dependent upon this declaration appearing to be sincere.  Even when the punishment is less dire than the death penalty, or life in prison, the first option in the minds of many is to declare themselves decidedly not [pick your ism] and then segue into the faux apology. You know, the one that declares that they didn't intend to offend, that they didn't know said action, language etc was [pick your ism] and that they sincerely apologize to all who were offended. It is so obvious that if a batter could read a pitcher this easily, their RBI average would be through the roof, yet the same play is routinely dragged out. It is an insult to the intelligence of  historically marginalized people.  I would rather no justification or apologies for oppressive actions aimed at the marginalized groups to which I belong. 

I have [pick your ism] friends has become so common place that it is laughable.  I was hardly shocked to see England make this claim. I know that it will happen again and again, even when the stakes are not as high. It is about more than avoiding responsibility; it's about holding onto power.  No one wants to be a victim and to be "othered" and so what people need to realize is that giving up their privilege will not make them powerless or victims.  True equality means no victims because everyone is empowered. There are also so many ways in which power manifests that to seek only the kind that coercive is limiting.  There is power in freedom.  Whether these bigots realize it or not, their hatred may at times appear beneficial, but in the larger sphere, it stops them from being, seeing and experiencing everything life has to offer.  If knowledge is power, then pulling out your uncle Ruckus buddy to claim that you're evolved only proves how far you have to go.