No question about its roots: White Supremacy and the Cracker Question

While little surprises me about CNN (Cable’s NON News), the sensational efforts to play off the George Zimmerman trial, to link the “N Word” to Cracker, and to situate the discussion within a discourse of “which is worse” is a testament to their failures as a network.  As someone on Twitter and my colleague Rich King noted, the mere fact that CNN says Cracker but encodes the “N-word” tells us all we know, yet the conversation continues.

Despite amazing participants, the framing of the discussion, which centers whiteness (can’t have a discussion of “N word” without somehow bringing the debate back to whiteness), on false comparisons is telling!    If CNN wanted to have a discussion to add depth to Zimmerman trial as it relates to Cracker but instead they wandered down the problematic road of “everyone is racist” and “everyone has their own slurs.”

Cracker has a long history; a longer history than America.  Dating back at least to Shakespeare, the origins and meaning are disparate.  Jelani Cobb, on NPR’s Code Switch, offers insight into its more contemporary usage:

“Cracker,” the old standby of Anglo insults was first noted in the mid 18th century, making it older than the United States itself. It was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting the frontier regions of Maryland, Virginia and Georgia. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker,” since the manual labor they did involved driving livestock with a whip (not to mention the other brutal arenas where those skills were employed.) Over the course of time it came to represent a person of lower caste or criminal disposition, (in some instances, was used in reference to bandits and other lawless folk.).

Despite this very specific history, one that locates cracker within history of white supremacy and one that position itself outside this history, some still try to connect Cracker with “N word” as part of its narrative on “white victimhood” and “double standards.   Joan Walsh took up this line of argumentation in a recent post:

From Glenn Beck’s the Blaze to the Breitbots to smaller right-wing shriekers to Twitter trolls everywhere, white grievance-mongers seemed less bothered by the fact that Martin allegedly used the term, than by Jeantel saying it wasn’t a slur…. My God, don’t these people get tired of themselves? So much of the trumped-up racial upset on the right, generally, is about language: If black people can use the N-word, why can’t we? (Even Paula Deen tried to use that as self-defense at first.) Now we’re moving on to: If the N-word is racist and forbidden, words like “cracker” should be, too.  But “cracker” has never had the same power to demean, or to exile, or to sting. No social order has ever been devised whereby African-Americans oppress people they deride as “crackers.”

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker too articulated the absurdity of the comparison:

For those needing a refresher course, here are just a few reasons why cracker doesn’t compare to the N-word. Cracker has never been used routinely to:

Deny a white person a seat at a lunch counter.

Systematically deny whites the right to vote.

Deny a white person a seat near the front of a bus.

Crack the skulls of peaceful white protesters marching for equality.

Blow up a church and kill four little white girls.

Need more? Didn’t think so.

Cracker may be a pejorative in some circles. It may even be used to insult a white person. But it clearly lacks the grievous, historical freight of the other.

The efforts to push back at this attempt to imagine white victimhood, to reduce racism discussions to individual prejudices or slurs, to deny white privilege through noting double standards and the assault on whiteness, is nothing new.  It’s central to a post civil rights discourse, which has sought to deny the structural advantages that continue to benefit white America.  Tim Wise makes this clear in his piece “Revisiting a Past Essay — Honky Wanna Cracker? Examining the Myth of Reverse Racism:”

Simply put, what separates white racism from any other form and makes anti-black and brown humor more dangerous than its anti-white equivalent is the ability of the former to become lodged in the minds and perceptions of the citizenry. White perceptions are what end up counting in a white-dominated society. If whites say Indians are savages, be they “noble” or vicious, they’ll be seen in that light. If Indians say whites are mayonnaise-eating Amway salespeople, who the hell’s going to care? If anything, whites will simply turn it into a marketing opportunity. When you have the power, you can afford to be self-deprecating.

The day that someone produces a newspaper ad that reads: “Twenty honkies for sale today: good condition, best offer accepted,” or “Cracker to be lynched tonight: whistled at black woman,” then perhaps I’ll see the equivalence of these slurs with the more common type to which we’ve grown accustomed. When white churches start getting burned down by militant blacks who spray paint “Kill the honkies” on the sidewalks outside, then maybe I’ll take seriously these concerns over “reverse racism.”

So to be clear, comparing the “N-Word” to Cracker is like comparing ice cream to cardboard.  Yet, both very much pivot on white supremacy.  Yes, white supremacy grounds both the N-Word and Cracker.  The history and origins of Cracker points to the way it seeks to normalize whiteness as middle-class, civility, and civilization.  It, like White Trash (see here for great discussion), seeks to differentiate between those who are southern, those who are lower-classes, and those who don’t embody the desired inscription of whiteness.  Cracker seeks to humanize white normativity.   Matt Wray (cited here), writing about discourse surrounding white trash, argues:

Current stereotypes of white trash can be traced to a series of studies produced around the turn of the century by the US Eugenics Records Office… wherein the researchers sought to demonstrate scientifically, that large numbers of rural poor whites were “genetic defectives.” Typically, researchers conducted their studies by locating relatives who were either incarcerated or institutionalized and then racing their genealogies back to a “defective” source (often, but not always, a person of mixed blood) (2)

Given this history, Cracker must be understood not as anti-White per se but serving in the maintenance of white supremacy and the white power structure.  It establishes a qualifier to those who are “white” who don’t embody the hegemonic vision of whiteness. It not only Others the “white poor,” furthering narratives that demonize and blame the poor across the color line, but humanizes whiteness as a category.  The history of Cracker and the word itself is very much one of race, class, and caste, in which WHITES judged, policed, and categorized OTHER WHITES to determine who was truly WHITE and who was not quite WHITE.  Rather than recycling the tried and trusted story of white victimization (notice how the debate about “N Word,” Cracker, Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act, Paula Deen, etc. always in some way comes back to a delusional sense of white victimhood), we must begin to think about the structural context, one where “whites continue to swim in preference.”  Cracker isn’t simply a word or a slur but a window into America’s racial history, into white supremacy.

My opening statement: Trayvon and the fight for justice

Ladies of the Jury,

I am angry; I am angry at how Trayvon Martin is being portrayed in this court; I am outraged by the disrespect directed at him within the news.  I am saddened that the defense seems based on racial stereotypes and racist appeals rather than facts.  I am outraged that the defense seems to be: he’s black.  Not surprising given that facts we know.

Can you imagine a defense attorney standing before the court and showing pictures of your white child in an effort to demonize and victim blame?  What do you think the reaction would be if an attorney or a news station consistently put out images of guns, smoke, marijuana and other photos that sought to turn your child into a “thug” who deserved it.  What do you think the reaction would be from white America?

Can you imagine the outcry if dozens of white youths were being gunned down by police and security guards in a matter of months?

Can you imagine the extensive political discussions; the media stories that would saturate the airwaves?

If a white youth was killed on the way to buying skittles for a friend, would he be recast as the assailant; as a person to hate

Can you imagine Fox News or any number of newspapers reporting about a school suspension for one of the victims or doctoring pictures in an attempt to make these victims less sympathetic?

Can you imagine a person holding up a sign calling these victims “thugs” and “hoodlums.” Just think about the media frenzy, the concern from politicians, and the national horror every time a school shooting happens in suburbia or every time a White woman goes missing…can you imagine if women routinely went missing from your community and the news and police department simply couldn’t be bothered?

This isn’t simply a trial about George Zimmerman and justice for Trayvon; it is trial about who’s life matters; who is entitled to justice. It’s a trial about race in America

I want you to close your eyes for a second, and imagine that your son or daughter, sister or brother, granddaughter or grandson, ventured to the corner store for some Skittles and tea but never returned? Can you imagine if Peter or Jan was gunned down right around the corner from your house and the police didn’t notify you right away? Can you imagine if little Cindy or Bobby sat in the morgue for days as you searched to find out what happened them? Can you even imagine the police letting the perpetrator go or the news media remaining silent? Can you even fathom learning about background and drug tests on your child? Can you imagine the news media demonizing your child, blaming your child for his own death?

I have listened to Don West for many hours (or many minutes) and have to say I am not surprised.  In the 4 long hours, he continued the defense strategy to dehumanize, mock, and disrespect Trayvon Martin, and his family.   With this statement he showed little concern for the black community and the nation as a whole, playing the racism card with precision.

Trayvon Martin was killed; he lost his life. His parents, family, and friends are devastated. Their lives have been changed forever.

Yet, he starts with a joke: “Knock knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? Good, you’re on the jury,” Really, levity? Can you imagine the outrage had he made a joke at a trial involving the killing of a white youth; probably not which tell us everything we need to know about this case and a society that consistently doesn’t show itself not to value black life.

Can you imagine of Johnnie Cochran opened America’s last trial of century with a knock knock joke? In a country where racial profiling, stop and frisk, and #every28hours are almost daily realities; your attempt at levity is yet another moment of disrespect.  His “joke” is causing a lot of anger and pain.   It is yet another example where black life is pushed into the background; where black pain and trauma is neither seen nor felt. Can you feel his parents pain; is it “legible.”

But that is no concern of the defense since it thinks George is the true victim.  That is what we have been told today; that George was victim of Trayvon, armed with “sidewalk,” on that fateful night.  While Trayvon lost his life, the defense wants to paint POOR Georgie as the victim. This version seems to be as much of a fantasy as other nursery rhymes.

While Trayvon parents lost their child, their future, they want us to feel sorry for George because he is depressed, because he gained weight, and because his life has forever changed.  Trayvon life was ended; George Zimmerman is not a victim, he is the defendant.

I have heard that “we are all Trayvon Martin,” yet we are not Trayvon Martin – and we never could be. White America is never suspicious. White America can walk to the store without fear of being hunted down. White America can count on justice and a nation grieving at the loss of White life. We aren’t Trayvon Martin, we are George Zimmerman: presumed innocent until proven innocent.  If we were all Trayvon Martin, if the jury and the judge, the media and society as a whole, was Trayvon Martin, we wouldn’t have been subjected to the joke, forced to listen to more lamenting of George the victim, and most certain forced to sit through another effort turn Trayvon into the assailant.  I hope that you, a jury, clearly not of Trayvon’s peers, can see behind the white colored glasses to see this vicious defense strategy in our march toward justice.

The defense strategy to dehumanize Trayvon, to paint him as a gangsta who deserved to be killed, is reprehensible.  It is beyond the pale.  I hope we see that; I hope we denounce that here and everywhere.  The decision to make a joke at this trial is sad reminder of what’s a stake here: justice and saying Trayvon’s life matters.  If it does, lets take a stand for justice.  Let us stand together to life up Trayvon in the name of equal justice building toward the fulfillment of our freedom dreams.

In a week where the Supreme Court of the United States concluded that diversity isn’t a compelling issue, where this same group of justices decided that voting discrimination was no longer an issue worthy of governmental oversight, you have the potential to say “no.”

No to the perpetuation of racist stereotypes;

No to the pandering to white racism;

No to a society that rarely sees or hears black suffering.

Yes to justice;

No to hatred;

Yes to a future, no to a racist past.

With  disenfranchisement making a sad return, spaces of change and justice are becoming and more scarce within these halls.  The power to lead us on a different path sits not just with you but those of us who must organize, who must demand justice for Tryavon, for Rekia, for Jordan, for those being pushed out of school and into prisons, and for those being denied the right to vote from D.C. to Mississippi.  Yes, this is 1 case but it is a moment where we can open up the windows justice toward a new tomorrow.

****

This piece includes previously published material from Ebony.com

Fear of a Black Body | The Feminist Wire

Hank Willis Thomas

***

Fear of a Black Body

David J. Leonard

“Suspicious;” “he feared for his life;” “it looked like a weapon;” and “it was a dangerous situation.” Such explanations and sources of defenses have become commonplace #every36hours. As black men and women die at alarming rates, amid claims that racism or race is not at issue, those who want to explain away these deaths, disregarding the injustice and lost futures, continue to rationalize and blame, criminalizing black bodies even, perhaps especially, in death.

Jordan Davis spent his last night hanging out with a group of his friends. He, like many American youth, spent the evening laughing and chatting. Shortly after his family celebrated Thanksgiving, he breathed his last breath. Michael Dunn would shoot him to death. Claiming that “he felt threatened” and he “fired his handgun eight times … only after one of the four teenagers in a car threatened him and pointed a shotgun his way,” Dunn hinged his defense on fear and safety—his own.

Yet, according to Davis’ father, “There wasn’t a gun. They were just kids, 17-year-old kids. They have never been in trouble. The kids had no weapon, they had no drugs in the car.” While Davis lost his life, while his friends have been vilified and criminalized in the media, while his family grieves, Dunn is working overtime to construct himself as a victim. While this shooting is yet another that is happening #every36hours involving an African American victim, Dunn’s defense is denying that race matters.

Then there is Shelly Frey, who was killed in front of her two children after she ALLEGEDLY stuffed items into her purse. When confronted by a Wal-Mart security guard, Frey, “ran to a car — that had two small children in it — and mashed the accelerator as he attempted to open the door.” In response, he fired one deadly shot into the car, fatally wounding her. Yet, again, claims of fear and suspicion justify the aftermath. Thomas Gilliland, spokesperson for Harris County Sheriff’s Office, offered additional justification noting: “I think it knocked him off balance and, in fear of his life and being ran over, he discharged his weapon at that point.” He added, “He confronted the suspects at the exit of the store before they left. One female wouldn’t stop, struck the deputy with her purse, and ran off.”

And while some will note that the off-duty officer who was moonlighting at a security guard was African American to deny the racial implications, race always matters. In a country where black is suspicious, where the site of a black body compels fear, where stereotypes lead people to see things that aren’t actually happening, to note weapons that are never found, can we ever talk about fear, danger, and suspicion away from race. “The frightening thing, if you are a young African-American man, is that you know nothing makes some folks feel more ‘threatened’ than you,” writes Leonard Pitts. “Nor do you threaten by doing. You threaten by being. You threaten by existing. Such is the invidious result of four centuries of propaganda in which every form of malfeasance, bestiality and criminality is blamed on you.”

The consequences of racism are clear from Jordan Davis to Trayvon Martin and from Rekia Boyd to Shelly Frey. A report from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) entitled, “Report on Extrajudicial Killings of 110 Black People,” highlights the epidemic of killings, by police, security guards, and others empowered to “protect and serve.” A great number of killings, the police and others have justified shootings with claims of self-defense, fear, suspicion, and alleged weaponry.

  • Stephon Watts, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome was shot and killed after police claimed he “lashed out with a kitchen knife.”
  • Justin Sipp lost his life after an off-duty police officer “thought Sipp looked suspicious.” Following a routine “traffic stop for broken tail light” and argument,
  • Dante Price was shot 22 times by security guards who claim he tried to run them over with his car.

Sadly there are many more cases – Rekia Boyd, Canard Arnold, and Dakota Bright, just to name a few. To be sure, racism is at the center of each one.

Continue reading @ Fear of a Black Body | The Feminist Wire.

A Lynching Happens Every 40 Hours

 

A Lynching Happens Every 40 Hours

By David J. Leonard // Huffington Post

 

Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, African-American activists fought to thwart the systemic scourge of lynching. Faced with a silent and complicit populace, particularly the media and political establishment, African Americans forced the nation to bear witness to the depravity of American racism. Between 1882 and 1968, close to 5,000 lynchings (73% of the victims were black) took place on American soil, and that is of course an estimate that does not account for the countless unknown souls who lost their lives at the hands of White supremacy. According to Richard Perloff, racial lynchings had become commonplace in part because of the media’s failures to bring the injustice to light. He quotes a white resident of Emelle Alabama, who questioned a reporter’s inquiry into the killing of an African American: “A few White residents who had been on hand when the men were killed refused to talk about the events to reporters from The Tuscaloosa News. “What the hell are you newspaper men doing here?” asked a White man who had been part of the vigilante group. ‘We’re just killing a few negroes that we’ve waited too damn long about leaving for the buzzards. That’s not news'” (Raper, 1933, p. 67). The silence from the mainstream media about blacks victims burned to death, hung, and dismembered, embodied the normalization of white supremacist violence.

Activists and Black journalists responded to American media that often downplayed the practice of white-on-black violence and/or named African Americans as deserving of torment and murder. According to Perloff, writing in The Journal of Black Studies, “It is next to impossible to locate a newspaper article that does not identify the victim as a Negro or that refrains from suggesting that the accused was guilty of the crime and therefore deserving of punishment. For example, The New Orleans Picayune described an African-American who was lynched in Hammond, Louisiana for robbery as a ‘big, burly negro’ and a ‘Black wretch'”.

Amid this silence and sanctioning of White-on-Black violence, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and others within the Black press not only documented each and every lynching, but in providing the graphic details, they challenged the very fabric of American racism. From displaying signs announcing “A Lynching Happened Today” to the publication of various pamphlets, activists worked to force America to come to grips with the contradiction between its purported creed and the ongoing violence perpetuated within its boundaries

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The history of racist violence, of lynchings, of state violence, or a complicit media and systemic injustice, all of which define the era of Jim Crow, remain a reality despite our purportedly post-racial moment. A recent report from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) entitled “Report on Extrajudicial Killings of 110 Black People” elucidates the contemporary struggle against lynchings. In the first six months of 2012, the police, security guards, and self appointed agents of “justice” have killed 110 African-American men, women, and children. Since its publication, there have been 10 additional killings in total, 2012, which means that in 2012, there has been 1 killing every 36 hours.

Of those who lost their life at the hands of a police or security officer, 47 did not have a weapon at the time of their killing. Another 40 were said to have a weapon (including a cane, a BB gun and a toy gun), although witnesses have disputed these purported facts. A small number of those killed, 21 people, were armed at the time they were sentenced to death. None were afforded the presumed right of innocence until proven guilty.

Many of these deaths are the consequences of stop and frisk policies, racial profiling, and a culture of White racist stereotyping of African Americans as criminals and suspects. According to Rosa Clemente, a member of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and former vice-presidential candidate of the Green Party, “Nowhere is a Black woman or man safe from racial profiling, invasive policing, constant surveillance, and overriding suspicion.” In the press release, she notes “all Black people – regardless of education, class, occupation, behavior or dress – are subject to the whims of the police in this epidemic of state initiated or condoned violence.”
The study showed that 43% of those killed on these streets, prior to any legal proceedings, were stopped because of “suspicious behavior or appearance” or because of traffic violations. Another 10% were not involved in criminal behavior at all, with another 18% resulting from 9-1-1 calls, including several from family members seeking assistance with individuals suffering from mental illness, only to see them killed in the streets. With only 33% of those killed resulting from an actual investigation, we must begin to ask protecting and serving whom?

Among its victims are: Rekia Boyd, an innocent bystander shot and killed in Chicago; Dante Price, who was shot 22 times, while trying to pick up his children; and Travis Henderson, a “a suicidal man sitting in a church parking lot with a gun. When he got out of the car, he allegedly pointed the gun at an officer and was shot.” An Orange County Sherriff killed Manuel Loggins, a former marine and father of two daughters, in front of his children. The “sheriff initially said he feared for his own safety and later revised his story to say he feared for the girls’ safety.” And there is Anton Barrett, “who was allegedly driving without headlights and running stop signs when a DUI Saturation Patrol signaled him to stop. According to the report, “he led the officers on a high speed chase, when his tires went flat, he fled on foot. One officer confronted him in a darkened alley and shot him multiple times, claiming he thought he saw him pull a ‘metallic object’ from his sweatshirt pocket. After Barrett was shot, he attempted to rise and a second officer tasered him. He was cuffed and died at hospital. Police admit they mistook wallet for gun.” The history of state violence, of the consequences of systemic racism, a story often imagined as a concluded chapter in American history, remains a grave problem of the twenty-first century.

In the spirit of Ida B. Wells and other freedom fighters, this report continues the tradition of baring witness to the atrocities of state violence. Under a cloud of silence, denial, and denied accountability, the death toll rises. While the media, political “leaders,” and citizens alike ignore and justify these killings by blaming the victims, MXGM and this report make clear that African Americans continue to live “without sanctuary” in America, demanding that we not only “bare witness” to these ongoing atrocities but join them “in demanding that the Obama administration implement a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice to stop these killings and other human rights violations being committed by the government.”

A lynching happened today;

One happens every 36 hours;

Will another happen tomorrow?

As Ida B. Wells-Barnett powerfully reminds us, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

To read the report visit www.mxgm.org. For information on the petition visit

Dr. David J. Leonard: Whiteness Matters

Whiteness Matters

Between the racist comments, the constant use of the race denial card (this country’s most frequently used “race card”), and the absurd claims of White victimhood, our conversations about race need to change. The failed responses, at a rhetorical and a policy level in the aftermath of Katrina and post-Trayvon highlights a persistent failure to account for American racism. As Richard Wright reminded us decades ago, “There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem.” In other words, there isn’t a race card, but the injustices of persistent racism, one that not only erects obstacles but also provides unearned advantages for White America. Whiteness matters and it is time to account for American racism.

Sure, we got teary during The Blind Side and Antoine Fisher; we maybe even gave money to KONY2012 and after Hurricane Katrina; we maybe even donned a hoodie to protest the murder of Trayvon Martin. Sympathy and apologies are in great supply. As James Baldwin once said, “People can cry much easier than they can change.” I don’t even doubt there are individuals out there who are genuinely concerned about racism and injustice; I don’t doubt that there are many Whites that marched with Dr. King and whose “best friends” might be Black. None of this matters if African Americans continue to die at the hands of guns held by security guards and police officers all without justice

During the last few months, I have heard over and over again: “we are all Trayvon Martin.” Yet we are not Trayvon Martin – and we never could be. White America is never suspicious. Is it White America who is stopped and frisked in cities like New York? Can you imagine if Whites in Salt Lake City were stopped daily in search of guns, even though only .2% of those stops would result in finding a weapon? We can already hear the outrage!

Is it White America who must show their papers when stopped in places Arizona? Is it White America who endures “driving while black,” “shopping while black,” or “walking while black.” Driving or shopping while White is not an issue insomuch as Whites are able to engage in the practices without being seen as problem. White America can walk to the store without fear of being hunted down. White America can count on justice and a nation grieving at the loss of White life. We aren’t Trayvon Martin, we are George Zimmerman; we aren’t Rekia Boyd or Marisa Alexander: we are presumed innocent until proven innocent. We are seen as victims worthy of protection and mourning. The cover of People Magazine features three victims of Aurora and not the many victims of extrajudicial violence and the daily realities of guv violence.

I want you to close your eyes for a second, and imagine that your son or daughter, sister or brother, granddaughter or grandson, ventured to the corner store for some Skittles and tea but never returned? Can you imagine if Peter or Jan were gunned down right around the corner from your house and the police didn’t notify you right away? Can you imagine if little Cindy or Bobby sat in the morgue for days as you searched to find out what happened them? Can you even imagine the police letting the perpetrator go or the news media remaining silent? Can you even fathom learning about background and drug tests on your child? Can you imagine the news media demonizing your child, blaming your child for his own death?

Can you imagine the outcry if seven White youths had been gunned down by police and security guards in a matter of months? What about more than 110 in 6 months? Can you imagine the extensive political interest, the media stories that would saturate the airwaves? If the recent coverage of shooting in Aurora is any indication, there would be little else on the national media landscape. Can you imagine Fox News or any number of newspapers reporting about a school suspension for one of the victims or doctoring pictures in an attempt to make these victims less sympathetic? Can you imagine a person holding up a sign calling these victims “thugs” and “hoodlums.” Can you imagine pundits blaming White youth for wearing “thug wear” or citing THC in their system as explanation for why our sons and daughters are gunned down with unfathomable frequency. Just think about the media frenzy, the concern from politicians, and the national horror every time a school shooting happens in Suburbia or every time a White woman goes missing … can you imagine if women routinely went missing from your community and the news and police department simply couldn’t be bothered?

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: Whiteness Matters.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Playing Dead: The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death

Playing Dead:

The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death

by Lisa Guerrero and David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

The more things change, the more they stay the same. While new media and social networking is “transforming” our society, in certain ways, bringing people closer together, if only seemingly so, its “newness” seems only relative to its potential as a new frontier in which to deploy and recycle the same old narratives and tropes, to continue a history of injustices that define the American experience. As the technologies of communication appear new, the technologies of oppression are anything but. However, as we see with “Trayvoning,” the trend that has White youth posting pictures of themselves as if they were part of the Trayvon crime scene, the marriage of communication innovation with racist stagnation does constitute something new, though not improved, in the history of the system of racism in the United States.

“’Trayvoning’ is when you get a hoodie, Skittles and Arizona iced tea, and pose like you’ve been shot in the chest.” The Facebook page instructs participants in go through the following steps:

1. Get hoodie

2. Get skittles

3. Get Arizona

4. Wear hoodie

5. Go to Florida

6. Get shot 🙂

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African American male who was unarmed and got shot by a raciest [sic] Mexican American.

During Step 7, participants are instructed to post their pictures on the Internet, which has led to widespread circulation of these disgusting and dehumanizing images.

In response to reports about “Trayvoning,” Jasiri X asked on Twitter: “Trayvoning? Really? Why is our pain, suffering & death, always mocked for laughs?” This question gets to the heart of not only the efforts to recreate and disseminate representations of the Trayvon case, but it is also a means to communicate pleasure in the murder of Trayvon. “Trayvoning” recasts and performs injustice by turning someone’s pain and suffering into a spectacle of white pleasure that further denies the humanity of black people. This is reflected not just in “Trayvoning” but with the Orlando businessman who has sought to capitalize by selling Trayvon shooting targets, the media that continues to criminalize and blame Trayvon, and those who have disparaged, mocked (see here for picture of someone who donned blackface), and made light of a dead young man.

The disregard for Black life, and the disparagement of Black death is nothing new; the pleasure and joy garnered from Black suffering and dreams deferred has been central to White supremacy throughout United States history. Evident in minstrel shows, the history of lynching, and jokes about racial profiling or the war on drugs, whites have always found joy in the violence experienced by African Americans.

The history of American public discourse is one marred with both the erasure of black and suffering, and efforts to find happiness and pleasure in the suffering of the OTHER. We saw this during Hurricane Katrina where the sight of African Americans wading through water in search of food or medicine, or stranded families clinging to life on roof tops elicited reactions of shock and horror as well as pleasure and joy at the knowledge that could never happen to White America. Dylan Rodriguez describes Katrina as a “scene of white popular enjoyment, wherein the purging/drowning of black people provided an opportunity for white Americana to revel in its entitlement to remain relatively indifferent to this nearby theater of breathtaking devastation.”

Such joy isn’t simply an outgrowth of the denied humanity of Black people or the refusal to witness and see Black pain, but it is also a celebration of, or at least the solidification of, White humanity, White power, and the protective armor that whiteness provides each and every day. This is the story of race in America, from lynchings to Katrina, from slavery to Trayvon Martin.

But the examples of racialized disregard that have surrounded Trayvon Martin’s death, most recently exemplified in the commodification and “meme-ification” of the tragedy by various White people. This marks a startling new mechanization of racism wherein there has been a complete evacuation of humanity…on both sides, that of people of color and other marginalized groups, the dehumanization of which is, sadly, no longer surprising, but also that of dominant groups who willfully participate in acts of oppression like “Trayvoning” whose humanity becomes increasingly and insidiously taken over by consumption and performance. The joy historically, as well as contemporaneously, taken by many Whites in the violence against and suffering of African Americans has become nearly indistinguishable from the joy of consuming.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Playing Dead: The Trayvoning Meme & the Mocking of Black Death.

On Trayvon Martin: The U.S. School System’s Criminalization of Black Youth | Urban Cusp

On Trayvon Martin: The U.S. School System’s Criminalization of Black Youth

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

Eye on Culture

The efforts to defend George Zimmerman by disparaging and demonizing Trayvon Martin have become commonplace. The three-headed monster of the Sanford Police Department, Zimmerman’s attorney (and surrogates) and Fox News continue to push a narrative that seeks to justify Zimmerman’s actions. At the center of their distortions, distractions and lies has been an effort to paint Trayvon Martin as a “criminal,” as a “thug” and as a “menace” – as America’s nightmare: “young, black and don’t give a f*ck.”

Citing manufactured pictures and suspensions, like Geraldo’s reference to hoodies, the “blame the black kid” defense is intent on justifying his murder by substantiating Zimmerman’s fear and suspicion. Michelle Goldberg asked, “Why Conservatives Are Smearing Trayvon Martin’s Reputation,” concluding that “Conservatives are focusing on Trayvon’s tweets, appearance, school suspension over marijuana traces, and the hoodie he was wearing to blame him for his own death – and to show that his killing had nothing to do with racism.” These efforts have led to a shift in the media coverage and hyper emphasis on Martin’s demeanor, background, and behavior. According to Goldberg, “The media was flooded with the news, if one could call it that, that Martin was once suspended from school for possession of a plastic baggie with marijuana residue on it.”

For example, a story in the Orlando Sentinel took the lead in the character assassination, giving voice to defend Zimmerman by assassinating the character of Martin with its emphasis on most-recent school suspension: “[H]e had been suspended from school in Miami after being found with an empty marijuana baggie. Miami schools have a zero-tolerance policy for drug possession.” Likewise, a Miami Herald piece on Trayvon Martin provided a context to understand the shooting:

As thousands of people gathered here to demand an arrest in the Trayvon Martin case, a more complicated portrait began to emerge of a teenager whose problems at school ranged from getting spotted defacing lockers to getting caught with a marijuana baggie and women’s jewelry. The Miami Gardens teen who has become a national symbol of racial injustice was suspended three times, and had a spotty school record that his family’s attorneys say is irrelevant to the facts that led up to his being gunned down on Feb. 26.

The focus on his suspension is particularly revealing not only in Trayvon’s case, but also in the larger fabric of American racism. For the defenders of Zimmerman and much of the media, the reports of multiple suspensions, of a connection to an “empty marijuana bag,” are evidence that at best Trayvon was “complicated” and at worst he was a “thug” who therefore deserved to be killed.

While telling us nothing about Trayvon Martin and his murder, his suspensions do reveal the ways that profiling and his criminalization began long before Zimmerman. While white students are more likely to be in possession of drugs and possess guns while at schools, black and Latino youth are far more likely to face punishment. According to the Department of Education, black students are 3.5 times more likely to face either suspension or expulsion that their white peers. In Chicago, although whites account for 10 percent of students, they are only 3 percent of suspensions. Compare this to African Americans, who represent 42 percent of Chicago students, but 76 percent of suspensions. In Los Angeles, while only 9 percent of students, black students account for over 25% of suspensions.

“Disciplinary policies are racially profiling African American students,” notes Marqueece Harris-Dawson, an activist in Los Angeles. “It is not that African American students are lazy, unmotivated or not smart. These students are being pushed out of schools.” This is the same assumption that led George Zimmerman to follow and ultimately shoot Trayvon Martin; the same ideologies that imagined Martin as threatening, suspicious, and dangerous requiring discipline and punishment contributed to his suspension from school just as it played a role in his untimely death. In other words, his multiple suspensions are proof in that ways that race matters in material ways, which unfortunately became all too clear on February 26.

continue reading at On Trayvon Martin: The U.S. School System’s Criminalization of Black Youth | Urban Cusp.