Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Everybody's a victim

"The venom, looking at the blogs and e-mail responses to the newspaper articles, I'm told--I'm really not online; I have an Underwood typewriter--but I see letters. And it's really sad. It would match e-mail for e-mail the worst Jim Crow remarks in the South against African-American voters." --Ralph Nader... in an interview with Joel Stein.

Ralph Nader is clearly a dumb ass.

Not for his third party bid for the White House--he's a grown man and a grown man can run for president any time he wants to. And I actually agree with him that the current two-party system really limits voters' choices and only benefits massive corporations that can contribute to both sides to hedge their bets.

No, the reason Ralph Nader is a dumb ass is because he compared his treatment after announcing his presidential bid to the treatment of African American voters attempting to register to vote during the Civil Rights era. I know he tried to qualify his statement by only dealing with the verbal comments made towards black people at that time, but the comparison is still there.

And that's a dumb ass move.

Seriously, Nader is old enough to know remember exactly how things were for black folks trying to register in the South. (Hell, he might be old enough to remember how tough it was for Jesus to convert Jews.) Nader knows that along with being called some of the most vile and degrading names in the world to THEIR FACES(there was no internet back then, no matter what Al Gore says), black people also faced unjust imprisonment, concerted violence from private citizens and public officials and even death.

SNCC workers often spent months in Deep South prisons on trumped up charges over their registration efforts, while those black residents who attempted to register were evicted from their land and harassed mercilessly. And if Nader doesn't know about this, then he's done a piss poor job of keeping track of this country's history.

No, I think Nader is well aware of the fact that his treatment really doesn't compare to the treatment of black people. But, I think Nader, like many, many people in this country, believes that when you're mistreated the best way to get people to empathize with your cause is to compare yourself to black people.

Let me explain.

Despite the many inadequacies in American education, the vast majority of white folks do understand that black people caught some serious hell for most of this country's history. The problem is that those people's understanding of that suffering is only on the most surface level.

That's why you see so many of them comparing the treatment of blacks to the suffering of other immigrants, or comparing slavery in America to slavery in other Africa. They have a basic understanding that bad shit happened to black people, but they lack details. And often this doesn't just apply to white folks, it applies to just about every ethnic group, even black folks.

Consequently, when folks want to prove they are egregiously mistreated, their go to move is to compare their treatment to the treatment of black people during slavery or the Civil Rights Era. Not only is this insulting and crass, it's also very predictable.

Homosexuals readily compare their fight for equal rights to the battles black people fought during the Civil Rights Era. While homosexuals have legitimate complaints about mistreatment, there is no effing way it compares to what black people have dealt with in this country. There have been no clashes with police dogs and fire hoses, no visits from angry mobs on the blackest nights and no long incarcerations by racist and capricious courts simply for being gay.

The same thing can be said for the fight for gender equality and the smaller Civil Rights movements of Latinos and Asians. I'm not trying to minimize or ignore the horrible experiences of any of these groups or comment on the legitimacy of their movements. Equal rights should be enjoyed by all people. But, when you consider the sheer magnitude and breadth of suffering black folks have dealt with, the only people who have had a comparable(or possibly worse) experience in America are Native Americans.

Unfortunately, the lure that keeps sucking folks in is that when they invoke the suffering of black folks, it clearly adds gravitas to their cause. Straight up, the simplest way to draw attention to any cause is to bring up the specter of "Negro suffering" because it is a cultural touchstone. Everyone, no matter their personal feeling on black people, understands the reference.

But, the problem with the constant co-opting of the black experience is that it greatly reduces people's appreciation for just how unique and heinous the treatment of black people was in the country. When people begin to believe that their own experience is somehow on par with what black people have gone through, they are less likely to appreciate the far reaching and massive effects this country's racism has on the black community.

That's why you regularly hear people wonder how long black people are going to complain about "something that happened 150 years ago." And why people think telling black people to assimilate and improve their lot like every other immigrant group is an intelligent comment. The fact is, far too many Americans believe that black people have tried to establish a monopoly on suffering, and those people are convinced that the complaints of black folks are really an excuse for malingering.

The shit's insidious.

So, the next time you hear somebody compare their mistreatment to that of black people realize that their comments aren't just making it easy for others to identify with their cause, but they also are preventing this country from rallying around any movement to provide full redress to the black community.

Please react accordingly.


WNG said...

I can't react accordingly - I'm too cute to go to jail. After some deep breaths and meditation I can try to teach.
BTW- found you through field negro and really like your blog.

Dark & Stormy said...

"Everyone, no matter their personal feeling on black people, understands the reference."

They understand the reference but not its origins. I am still amazed by the cheap ways in which some one will use "Negro suffering" as a measuring tool for their hardship. The fact that any one would have such audacity makes me sick to the core. And yet I doubt it will ever change...

Christina Springer said...

I've simply got one question. Why is it that, in spite of their vast feelings of superiority over us, they always need to have everything we have or create with none of day-to-day reality that makes it real? Jazz, hip-hop, modern art...etc.

Ferocious Kitty said...

Piggybacking on Christina:

I had occasion to tell a white person, "No one who is not black actually *wants* to be black."

He replied, with visions of festive gospel choirs and delicious fried chicken Sunday dinners dancing in his head, "I do. I want to be black." I said, "Not when you are standing trial or getting pulled over by the cops you don't."

"Oh. Right."

Christina Springer said...

Piggybacking on Deesha

The girls at school used to love coming back from spring break and seeing if they were darker than I was. Unfortunately, we had a spring break one year that was not in a sunny location. I love my Daddy. We'd discussed this before going back to school.

One girl excitedly squealed, "I'm darker than you!"

"Yes, and with all of your White privilege intact."

She looked slapped. Good.

Big Man said...

'Preciate the thoughts on the piece. Good points about white folks love affair with selective negritude.

Ernesto said...

Agree with everything except the part about gays...they get beat up,killed on the regular in this country. If anyone's had it close to like Black people have had it, it is them.

Ferocious Kitty said...

"selective negritude"...stealing that!

Big Man said...

Ernesto, no disrespect, but nobody other than Native Americans have faced the collective abuse and discrimination that black people have faced.

Besides the long history of slavery and Jim Crow (no gay equivalent for that) ongoing discrimination in housing, employment, health care and other areas is still mainly a black problem. Latinos are now facing some of those challenges, but not to the same level as black people.

It's a fact.

Big Man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gye Greene said...

On the hardships of gay folks vs. the hardship of black folks:

A key difference: A gay guy can "pass" as straight; a black guy can't "pass" as white.

That's one of the reasons that **ethnic** minorities (e.g. Polish folks, Irish folks) have assimilated, and **racial** minorities (e.g. AfrAms, NatAms) have not: the ability to "pass" as a mainstream Euro-American.


Raving Black Lunatic