Thursday, July 18, 2013

Black men in elevators are terrifying

Here's the story, prompted by the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman:

  1. Musician Questlove wrote an article about how a [white?] woman neglected to tell him what floor she lived in a upscale apartment building, ostensibly because she feared him
  2. Rebecca Watson wrote a reply (every famous person is entitled to the Skepchick or Marcotte treatment) in which she essentially argues that would be alright for the woman to be afraid if her fear was based on size and sexual orientation.
Some snippets:

As the comments on the piece suggest, I wasn’t alone, as a woman, in placing myself in her shoes. I’ve sort of been in her shoes, [...] In my elevator situation, for instance, I was never scared but more annoyed, and I used it as an example of poor behavior because I knew that many other women would have been rightfully scared of someone who obviously cared little about her personal feelings. My experiences do not encompass the experiences of all women, and so even though I may not have reacted in the same way, I absolutely understand and condone the response of the woman in Questlove’s anecdote as described.
Even for me, despite my lack of fear, I always evaluate potential threats around me and try to be on guard. Even if I recognized Questlove, [...] I assume celebrities and other powerful people are more entitled and therefore pose more of a threat.
I’d like to say Questlove’s skin color would have nothing to do with my evaluation of his threat level, but of course I know that I grew up and continue to live in a very racist society and I’m sure I have some subconscious prejudice as a result. I can say that consciously, though, my evaluation of him would be primarily based on these factors: 
1. Can this person overpower me? 
2. Is this person viewing me as a sexual object? 
So if I place myself in the shoes of the woman in Questlove’s anecdote, I can say without a doubt that the answer to both those questions is “yes.” He’s very large, and he writes that this was his thought process during the interaction:
She was also bangin’, so inside I was like, “Dayuuuuuuuuuuum, she lives on my floor? *bow chicka wowow*!” Instantly I was on some “What dessert am I welcome-committee-ing her with?”
In the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal, would a black man have a similar threat evaluation about a white man following him late at night? “Can this person overpower me? Is this person viewing me as a racist caricature?”
Sexual objectification and racist stereotyping both lead to the dehumanization of marginalized people that Questlove accurately describes as feeling that you ain’t shit.
Obviously I wasn’t the woman in Questlove’s elevator and so I can only guess at what happened. Maybe she was racist, and maybe she would have told a large white man her room number. But I suspect that both Questlove and the woman had similar desires: to be seen first as a human being.

Let's try to decipher some things.

The first interesting comment is Watson's admission that in the elevator "situation" she did not feel scared.

This is interesting because there exist many people that feel the entire elevator incident was underlined by fear. This is likely sourced in that merely mentioning the location gives many the impression that there is a sort of claustrophobic destruction of choices - no opportunity of escape interaction with the man.

But no. Watson merely found him annoying, and in found it important to dismiss his actions as such and also point out that he would have made some other woman in the same situation rather frightened.

Which can be viewed as insulting in two ways:
  1. It views other women as simple creatures that scare easily
  2. It assumes the man lacks all social awareness and is going to behave in precisely the same way with every woman he finds himself in an elevator with. It's likely he'd ask your grandmother for "coffee"
With that blast from the past finished, we may return to the issue at hand - race.

Obviously Watson thinks its wrong to be afraid simply because a man is black.

However it remains entirely legitimate to be afraid of a man because:
  1. He may be larger than you
  2. He may be sexually attracted to you
It would appear that being on the receiving end of male desire is about the same as being on the receiving end of racist hatred.

It's a bit of an strange comparison, but this sort of thing comes out of 'feminist' activism every day so let's put this aside.

Also we can put aside another issue for a moment and assume that white women are not racist and are rather afraid only for the reasons described - male size, strength, and libido.

The odd part in all this is Watson, in a way, is providing support for both Martin's and Zimmerman's actions.

Some background about the case - according to Zimmerman, Martin had the upper hand in a fight when the shooting in "self defense" occurred.

In the comparison Watson makes, Martin's actions probably be justified in the same way as a woman attacking her stalker would be justified.

At the same time, Zimmerman's actions may be justified simply because he was intimidated by Martin's physical characteristics.

Where would 'feminists' begin to criticize Zimmerman?

The first point raised would be that Zimmerman made a conflict in his "racist" monitoring of Martin and following Martin around the neighborhood.

The second point raised may be that Zimmerman shouldn't have owned a gun or used a gun.

Let's itemize these as two points - racial profiling and trigger happy madness.

Assume for a moment that Zimmerman is a very racist person and his focus was Martin simply because of Martin's race. One could say Martin was provoked into responding.

How would this change how we would view Martin's alleged actions?

If there is a racist misogynist on the bus, are you allowed to slap him? If things escalate and you are injured, what would that mean?

Some say Zimmerman's actions constitute 'stalking' or 'hunting'.

Indeed, what Zimmerman did sounds a lot like stalking. Zimmerman followed Martin (who looked "suspicious") around the neighborhood where they were both living.

Zimmerman would have been well served to document the situation in a 'feminist' way, which would be to first inform Twitter or post about Martin on Facebook. Zimmerman would likely have looked like a fool and nobody would have been hurt.

However Zimmerman allegedly felt that Martin was a malcontent that was likely going to get away with property crime unless the armed Zimmerman intervened to save the day.

If we were to blame this on social structures, we could perhaps say this is in some respect a byproduct of a macho culture that calls on males to deal with the misbehavior of other males. Superhero comics always have had a vigilante streak - catch the bad guys! Vigilantes always get the ladies, right?

In retrospect that assessment of the situation was ridiculous, and led to tragic consequences.

Yet it's important to remember that even if Zimmerman was an armed racist paranoid nutjob, that's different from being a intending-to-kill homicidal armed racist paranoid nutjob.

One supposes that the big problem many have with Zimmerman is the concealed weapon. If it's true that Zimmerman was receiving a horrible beating, it's difficult to question the use of a weapon but the discussion circles back to just what type of person is walking around with a pistol.

Who walks around with a gun playing community cop? Nobody that is very popular with "liberal" activists that tend to dislike "stop and frisk" style of policing as well as casual gun ownership.

For an idea of how unhappy some people are, have a look at Greta C's (another "FreeThoughtBlogger") recent Facebook updates:

Sometimes, I am deeply ashamed of my country. This is one of those times. The Zimmerman verdict is making me physically ill.
I have no patience tonight. If you have anything at all to say that even remotely hints at implying that the Zimmerman verdict was remotely defensible., unfriend me and unfollow me now. And get the fuck out of my life.
If you are so grossly insensitive to think that this is the time for cold-bloodedly micro-parsing the finer legal points of this blatantly grotesque travesty of justice... please get the fuck out of my life. Now.
If you really think that the issue of my using harsh language and unfriending people on Facebook is really more important than the fact that young black men in the U.S. can be stalked and murdered with impunity -- and if you really think that expressing rage over this fact constitutes a "tantrum" -- then I do not want you in my life. Get the fuck out. 

I am sick to fucking death of the idea that "freethought" means "we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and debate them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully." Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to freethought to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to freethought to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them.

I am also sick to fucking death of the idea that I am somehow morally obligated to host said debates in my own space.

And I am sick to death of people looking at the national conversation about the George Zimmerman verdict, and acting as if "hey, people are being mean to people who expressed views they find morally repugnant, they're swearing at them and unfriending them and blocking them" was the real issue here, the most important issue, the issue we should all be discussing. A young black man was hunted and murdered for the crime of being a young black man, and his murderer was acquitted. This is not an isolated case: it reflects the reality of millions of African Americans. And what some people really want to talk about is "People are cussing people out and banning them!" If those are your priorities, then please unfriend/ unfollow me. And get the fuck out of my life. 
There are some issues that are worthy of calm, considered debate, issues on which people can reasonably disagree and still be friends. The question of whether a young black man should be able to buy candy at a convenience store without being hunted and killed is not one of them

In Greta's world, the very "idea" that the shooting-in-self-defense story was "remotely defensible" in court is just crazy talk and people that want to speak about "finer legal points" can "get the fuck out" of her life.

Doesn't everyone know that Zimmerman, the Hispanic Democrat gun owner, is the embodiment of racism in America and if we put him in jail it will all end?

The strange discussions continue in the Atheism+ forum.

A poster named Marsha writes:

"I disagree with the way you have summarized the case. It comes down to who was trying to kill who and the person who iniatiated the violence was Martin. Until he attacked Zimmerman, the encounter was strictly threatening, but not physical. Physical contact was made by Martin and that is what ultimately led to his death. Had he just kept walking home, he would still be alive. Zimmerman protected himself. If you want to make a case for racism, I'll listen, but I have yet to see any facts that would indicate this was racially motivated rather than simple self defense. The prosecution didn't even come close to demonstrating any racial bias other than on the part of Trayvon Martin himself."

And then later Marsha adds:

"You all seem to be misunderstanding what I am saying. Threatening a ban is just a heavy-handed tactic for stifling conversation without addressing the actual argument or presenting evidence. It seems you would much rather deal with "yes-people" than have any real discussion regarding the issues and this permeates every board. I challenge any of you to present evidence, rather than your opinion, that Zimmerman would have reacted any differently had the color of Trayvon Martin's skin been different. If you can do that, then I will gladly accept your argument that Zimmerman shot and killed Martin because he was black. There is simply no evidence that Zimmerman would have acted any differently to being beaten by a person of another race. He may be racist and that may be why he followed Martin, but you have yet to demonstrate that or to demonstrate that, even given that scenario, that that is why he shot Martin. The prosecution didn't do it, the police didn't do it, and so far no one else has been able to demonstrate that the gun was used only because Martin was black and not because he was beating Zimmerman. Go ahead and ban me if you feel threated by adherence to the facts and evidence. It only reflects on your irrationality that you can't offer a cogent argument and have to resort to threats and heavy-handed policing.
No one wants to see a teenager shot and killed. It is horrible. That, however, doesn't change the fact that Zimmerman would probably be dead right now if he hadn't fired his gun, regardless of the color of skin of the person beating him."

The result of this text?

Marsha was banned from the forum for a week.

The Atheism+ forums never fail to provide ridiculous drama.

Moving along, the always attention-seeking Geraldo had some provocative things to say:

For those that can't stand to watch Geraldo speak about anything, essentially the case he's making is that the all-woman jury believed Zimmerman because they would have also shot Martin if they were in a situation remotely similar.

Which seems to align with Watson's earlier points about acceptable behavior for women.

It seems that many of the people that are most vocal of Zimmerman's actions would be hesitant to share an elevator with either Zimmerman or Martin.

Some people would call this a perspective of privilege.

Continue to skip the elevator or exit on the wrong floor. Roll up those windows and lock your car doors. Refuse the company of strangers that don't look like your wonder bread brother returning home from a science fiction convention.

Then, when something awful happens be sure to stand up and be counted.

For that thing on TV that just happened is obviously racism.

Make sure everyone knows how angry you are!

What to call this?


Perhaps not.


  1. Imagine if a prominent Christian posted: "If you have anything at all to say that even remotely hints at implying that Jesus is not the one and only Savior of mankind, unfriend me and unfollow me now. And get the fuck out of my life."
    "There are some issues that are worthy of calm, considered debate, issues on which people can reasonably disagree and still be friends. The question of whether the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ is not one of them."
    I am sick to fucking death of the idea that "Christianity" means "we have to treat all ideas as worthy of consideration, and discuss them calmly and without anger, and treat people we disagree with respectfully." Some ideas are morally repugnant. It is not antithetical to Christianity to respond to morally repugnant ideas with rage. It is not antithetical to for a devout Christian to tell people with morally repugnant ideas that their ideas are morally repugnant, and that you will have nothing to do with them."
    Why are so many examples given of what "free thought" is NOT? Can anyone who identifies as a "free thinker" explain what it IS? Freedom of thought is meaningless if you insist on suppressing the free expression of those free thoughts. Has Greta bothered to persuade those who don't agree with rational, well-thought out arguments? Apparently she can't. So she throws out straw men, denies any opportunity for any and all dissent, and impugns the moral character of all who would ever mildly question her over-the-top conclusions.
    Notice how Marsha presents the evidence that shaped her opinion. In any other forum on the internet, banning her merely for her opinion would not even be considered. She did not attack, insult, derail, threaten, etc. She even specifically asked for evidence so she might reconsider her conclusion. Instead she was threatened with a ban. There is little difference between a threat and the actual ban. Because once the person who was "warned" goes on to post anything besides a groveling apology, as well as, immediately adopting the politically correct opinion, they will be banned. That way, it appears less like all-out censorship when they goad people into becoming defensive and "doubling down" in their response. The trap has been set and all the person they threatened to ban has to do is take the bait. Now you're acting in defiance towards the "friendly warning". That allows them to ban you with self righteousness. This has the added benefit of a chilling effect on the onlookers, who won't post anything that isn't in lock step with the A+ consensus. Occasionally, someone will post in support of the banned user and be immediately banned as well without a warning. Now the onlookers won't dare say anything.

    1. This is a very insightful comment, may I quote it in a future post? You've brought up several interesting points.

  2. If the atheism+ and the feminists have their way, there will be no justice system whatsoever. There will be the prosecution, which will be the radical feminists, and that's all. The defendant won't even be allowed to speak since the verdict has already been made.

  3. Given unlimited time and energy, it's possible that I could have written what you did about RW, Greta and Tray-George. But I don't think there's any I could have said it better.

    Circumstances have allowed me to relax my barbering and beard-trimming such that on a bad hair day I could be mistaken for the love child of Willie Nelson and the Unabomber. Concurrent with that is a noticeable reduction of parking lot proffers of sad tales from folk who only need $x to repair their broken-down car so that he and his autistic pregnant wife and 3 children can get back to Dogpatch, whereupon they'll gladly refund the donation.

    Mindful of my new aura, I've found that the quickest and easiest way to make it vanish faster than dew in summer sun is to speak. Chat 'em up. It's even a tad embarrassing to see people relax those almost imperceptible micro-expressions of fear. But it's happened so many times to be considered coincidence.

    My favorite illustration of this is Reggie Watts. Standing in a wholly neutral body posture, the man looks - at best - fearsome. But within about 3 words, poof! he's a completely different person. How can - and why should - I apologize for what seems like an almost innate reaction? Can anyone honestly say that Reggie's 60" in circumference 'fro has no relation or analogue to a lion's mane? If you do, you're a goddamn liar and I want you to get the fuck out of my life forever and ever, amen.

  4. Thanks for the interesting article.