Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Please Don't Let it Be One of Us

'Crowded Oxford Circus' photo (c) 2011, Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

If you are a member of a marginalized community, at some point a crime, or a ludicrous action will become public or go wildly viral and the first thought that will go through your head is, "please don't let it be one of us." We will follow up on the story, find out that it is indeed one of us, shake our heads and think about how the action of one individual will come to reflect upon us. If you are privileged, you have never had this experience.

The moment I heard about the Boston Bombing, I thought please don't let them be of colour and please don't let them be Muslim.  When I saw a headline about a man being arrested after calling 911 trying to order burgers and weed, I said, "please don't let him be Black." Certainly, whenever a mass murder happens, neurologically atypical people cringe because they are aware that the media will try to explain that the killer was "crazy" and that's why they acted in that fashion. Just look at the response to the Newton CT. shooting last December.  For many, the gun culture and the relative ease at which most can lay their hands on a weapon in the U.S. was not the problem but that a so-called crazy person had access to a gun. Tory MP Nigel Evans has been accused of rape but when you google his name, all you will find is article after article referring to the alleged incident as gay rape.  You better believe that there are members of the LGBT community who are cringing about this. This kind of thinking happens all the time.  It happens because if you are a marginalized person, though you are an individual, the world does not perceive you as such. Though we know it's a trap to think this way, it's impossible not to in a world determined to define us as a homogenous group with negative traits.

Privileged people don't know this feeling because they don't know what it is to be targeted for who they are. Even people who have privilege in one area and negotiate an ism in another, cannot always understand this feeling.  For instance, a White, straight, cisgender able bodied woman will be marginalized by gender but she cannot hope to understand what it feels like to feel concern that she will be universalized in this manner.  When a violent crime is committed by a woman, no one initially hears about the event and says please don't let it be a woman.  That is not to say that White, straight, cisgnder able bodied women aren't expected to conform to ridiculous gender expectations, or that they are not shamed for an inability, or a determined decision to thwart supposed norms. In fact, in the case of White, straight, cisgender able bodied  women, it specifically comes down to the fact that they are perceived as either delicate flowers who need protecting or as victims.  Certainly, this is damaging but it does not amount to the same universalizing pressure to be responsible for the actions of other women. This is particularly true if the criminal behaviour is performed by a WOC.


Sometimes this fear of being deemed a bad minority means that we consciously change our behavior.  For Blacks, it can involve something called code switching.  This means that when we are in mixed company, we censure ourselves and drop certain slangs or phrases from our vocabulary. The politics if respectability has long been a factor in organizing in the Black community.  A way to prove that we deserve equality and separate us from those in our supposed group who are bringing us down.

I often think about the term the Black community and what it implies.  You see, though I am a Black, straight, disabled woman because I am an individual, and have my particular frame of reference how I view the world is through a very specific lens and yet, I am part of the so-called Black community.  This term implies that because I share the same racial background as millions of people that we will think the same and react the same to similar stimuli.  The truth of the matter is that there is no real community and we are just a group of people who happen to share specific genetic traits.  Yet, I am subject to all of the racial stereotypes faced by Black women and this specifically erases my identity as an autonomous being.  Only certain groups are ever held responsible for the whole, or expected to pay for and at times apologise on behalf of people who we have never met.

Crimes committed by straight, cisgender, able bodied White men particularly send this message home to me.  The denial for instance that the Boston Bombers are indeed White, though they could not be more obviously so is one example.  Crimes committed by straight, cisgender, able bodied White men are culturally perceived as an aberration.  This separation between the group and the individual is absolutely a reflection of power and privilege. This group, regardless of the horrors that it has  committed are not viewed as a threat. This means that anger and or hyper masculinity are ignored or explained away as though they are harmless.  More than any other group, White, straight, cisgender, able bodied men are less likely to understand what it is to look at a large incident and hope that it was not committed by someone who looks like them. Having never been a member of an outgroup and encouraged to believe in their superiority, they are free to universalize, firm in the knowledge that such action will never be applied to them.  Who gets to be perceived as an individual comes down to the degree of social power they are able to access and wield. Ironically this is why we are silenced when we talk about our marginalizations and told that we are the ones with the problem.

Even though I know it's a trap to think, "please don't let it be one of us," I cannot help but to do so because I know that the actions of the individual reflect on the group.  There is no escaping the reality of this, even though I know that this is embracing the masters tools.  Yes, it's a defeatist approach because we should reject this universalizing treatment of us.  We should demand to be seen as individuals in every instance. Yes, we need some form of community for the purposes of support but at the same time, we need to be conscious of the times in which we are held responsible for these very same communities.  There is criminality in all groups and all are influenced by a myriad of social forces.  Please don't let it be one of us while a logical response to the oppressions we are forced to negotiate, only affirms that we can be defined by the actions of others.