Saturday, December 6, 2014

Are you co-opting Ferguson?

On August 9, 2014, a white police officer shot and killed a young black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St Louis. The shooting, as can be expected, has led to a great deal of protest and controversy.

A number of people have brought their own perspectives to the discussion -

Several young women involved in organizing the Ferguson protests have described similar encounters with a gender barrier: men bowling them over at meetings or not inviting them to help make decisions. The media, they said, also tended to focus on the guys, who sometimes delivered more inflammatory sound bites — about, say, the likelihood of a riot.
Other women similarly refused to back down after early skirmishes with their male counterparts. They organized their own demonstrations, contributing to the complicated mesh of establishment and start-up activist groups that took to the streets in the chaotic, early weeks after the shooting.
“There are some who still think God only speaks in baritone, and that leaders only speak in baritone,” said Traci Blackmon, a pastor in the Ferguson-adjoining city of Florissant, who said that her fellow clergy tend to be men. “We still teach our males to be dominant, domineering.”
Meanwhile, girls are taught to be nurturing and collaborative, said Blackmon, one of six women who have been appointed to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s 16-member Ferguson Commission to examine the aftermath of the shooting. “There is a socialization that creates certain forms of leadership.”
Over the months, he said, the protests have become a “women-led movement. ... They're stronger, smarter, sober. A lot of guys are saying, 'I can't be up there [on the front lines], because I've got warrants.' The women don't make excuses.”
“When it comes to being a black woman, you deal with the oppression of both race and gender,” Richardson said. “You can't turn one off. I will always be black and a woman. ... Black lives matter, trans lives matter, women's lives matter. I'm standing for all of black lives.”

Then there is "Why Ferguson Should Matter to Asian-Americans":
Michael Brown’s death has several parallels in Asian-American history. The first to come to mind may be the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American killed in 1982 by a Chrysler plant superintendent and his stepson, both white, both uncharged in a racially-motivated murder; like Brown, Chin unified his community to demand protection under the law. However, most direct parallels have often had one distinct dissimilarity to Ferguson: they have not spurred widespread resistance, nor have they engraved a visible legacy.
There is the story of Kuanchang Kao, an intoxicated Chinese-American fatally shot in 1997 by police threatened by his “martial arts” moves. There is Cau Bich Tran, a Vietnamese-American killed in 2003 after holding a vegetable peeler, which police thought was a cleaver. There is Fong Lee, a Hmong-American shot to death in 2006 by police who believed he was carrying a gun. None of the three cases resulted in criminal charges against the police or in public campaigns that turned the victim’s memory into a commitment to seek justice. One op-ed even declared how little America learned from Tran’s slaying.
As with Ferguson, it’s easy to say the Civil Rights movement was entirely black and white, when in reality there were many moments of interplay between African-American and Asian-American activism. Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama worked alongside Malcolm X until he was assassinated in front of her.
And Asian writers again:

[...] We are outraged by the state violence against young black and brown men and the less noticed but equally distressing state violence against black and brown women. We are dissatisfied with an unjust system and dominant culture that continues to craft false narratives around our African American, Latino, and Native American brothers and sisters – similar to the construction of false narratives about Asian Americans.
The myth of the model minority, for example, has sought to pit us against each other, even though some of us have a long history of mutual support and collaboration across racial lines. We can’t overstate this: the rich, productive, complicated relationships across boundaries among Asian, Latino, and African-American people are too often poorly represented or entirely erased. It may not appear in the official record, but we squabble and we love. The evidence of this suppressed history very often finds its way into the poems, novels, talk-stories, plays, kitchen gossip, and movies that we are making – works of art that are often ignored or dismissed.

And how the situation connects with muslims: (Note: a search did not find any evidence that Michael Brown was muslim)
It’s never been exactly cozy between American Muslims and African Americans. But with Ferguson—and Gaza—that’s changing. [...] The Muslim-American community of which I’m part hasn’t been great in standing up with and for African Americans. [...] Other Palestinians, including a doctor, even offered advice via Twitter to the protesters in Ferguson on how to deal with the tear gas being fired at them based on their own experiences with Israeli security forces.

There are plenty of reasons to be quite happy with this diverse discussion. Different groups coming together in solidarity so that none is left fighting battles alone. A large army to solve large problems.

On the other hand, perhaps this is just a bunch of barnacles attaching themselves to an issue and derailing conversations that need to take place. Or merely a capitalist response to any tragedy, as anyone paid for their analysis or opinions would be leaving money on the table if they found themselves unable to write a piece with "Ferguson" in the title.

As everyone adds their own idea of how Ferguson fits into issues close to their heart, what is drown out is in-depth analysis of specifics of the situation. Breadth, not depth. Attention scatters. But that could be the point.

A simple truth is that young black men do not form a demographic that collects much sympathy. Concern and attention are abound - but this may be sourced more often from fear than caring. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the death in Ferguson is illustrative of what is primarily an issue African American men are dealing with. In adding "voices", perhaps some groups in some sense see themselves as lending their legitimacy to black men and humanizing them.

It's just a shame that the writing could not lend a little more light to the issues faced black men.

We can speak about Gaza - and absolutely should, as the conflict rages on. But let's not allow anyone to think that African Americans are somehow the junior when it comes dealing with complex social problems.

And the extension into contemporary "religious discrimination" in America may also not be desirable. It may be a cynical assessment of intentions, but getting dirty looks at the airport, being mocked as a Mormon or being ignored as an atheist does not mean that one is granted special insight into what life in St Louis is like.

As an example of the sort of thing that may be unhelpful, let's reread the piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times:

Several young women involved in organizing the Ferguson protests have described similar encounters with a gender barrier: men bowling them over at meetings or not inviting them to help make decisions. The media, they said, also tended to focus on the guys, who sometimes delivered more inflammatory sound bites — about, say, the likelihood of a riot. [...] “We still teach our males to be dominant, domineering.”

While it's admirable that the paragraph has the familiar essential qualifier of not all men, the injury is dealt. It spells it out - having women speak is better as black men are more prone to dramatic allusions to violence.

And this is coming from the team said to be in support of black men.

Maybe it is true. Perhaps black men are not fantastic ambassadors of their cause. Maybe this even fits the protest narrative - it's difficult to expect absolute civility from a group that is hassled by police and subject to extremely low expectations from society.

This possibility is left unmentioned by the article however, as it thanks women for their bravery, level-headedness and good nature. Women are a gem in a world in which men are simply brought up wrong.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

If one finds nothing much lacking in how the dialogue speaks of black men or deflects from them, then one should at least find much lacking in this text. For this article is co-opting Ferguson, using it as a springboard to address what one opinionated armchair activist feels about other opinionated armchair activists.

This article does not discuss:

  • Voter engagement
  • Police hiring practices
  • Economic problems
  • The drug war
  • Urban planning
  • Education funding
  • Family norms
  • Overemphasis on incarceration 
  • ... and so on ...

Trying to piece a lot of possible factors together in a meaningful and evidenced manner takes work. Creating a hypothesis about what has happened and back it up with facts. What could be more boring and exhausting?

Tell a story, share sympathies flavored with your own worldview, get those page views and move on.

Anything more would be effort.

1 comment:

  1. Feminists co-opting a movement? Color me shocked!

    A black man aged 15-35 is more likely to die of murder than any other cause. But please, tell me why we need VAWA.