We Hold These Rights Inalienable: the right to life, liberty, and the right to be Ignorant: Bridging Racially Ignorant and Racially Conscious
by B.J. Delas Armas
on 11/23/2007 08:00:00 AM
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Nooses are everywhere nowadays. Not just in Jena. But also on teachers' office hour rooms at Ivy League schools. Sold at a store near you in New Jersey, Connecticut. Sold online. As Haloween decorations in a predominantly white neighborhood near you! Who says modernity has elipsed our good old fashioned family values? Were once again partying like its 1899!
People nationwide after the Jena 6 incident have been defending their right to display nooses when and wherever they want, particularly during the past Halloween season.Another Halloween dummyLatest Noose IncidentNooses in Home Depot
These latest incidents in noose-hanging are nothing but a platform for them to say what they've been saying since people of color first got civil rights in the United States.
Far as they are concerned, racism is over except for a few lingering isolated incidents and is actually instigated more by blacks. They say that blacks and liberals, and racial militants call everything racist. If asked to respond to someone they perceive as a liberal or racial militant, they counter that "racism is in the eyes of the beholder." They also complain about how society is so politically correct.
If you hear/read that someone believes that "racism is in the eyes of the beholder", for them they believe that racial militants will label anything racist. That statement is full of more bull than a carb-loading session before the Encierro. They think what racial militants do in noting racial incidents is arbitrary. They are generally skeptical when an act is argued to have racial undertones and racial implications.
To support this eyes of the beholder argument, they often speak of how complex it is to know what's racist and what's not.
With that perceived complexity in determining racism, it then becomes difficult for even the average person to know what wrongs they are commiting at any given moment. With that difficulty, it follows that they should just be absolved of any responsibility and most importantly that they don't get any of the consequences associated with doing something stupid.
So this is how they come to defend people who continually display their nooses as proud symbols despite the incidents at Jena, and Columbia University: they say those selling nooses and displaying them at their neighborhoods probably didn't know what they were doing.
In effect, ignorantly displaying nooses during Haloween was a way of getting a free pass for people to "express themselves." "Ignorantly" is the key word.
It's an effective way of breaking with what they perceive is a "politically correct" society. The logic goes: if you don't know that something is racist, then you should be excused because you just don't know better. I'm no law professor emeritus at the moment, but in any other field, if you don't know something, wouldn't it be considered negligence.
Following these types of comments for a while, even before these string of incidents, I've come to a realization. Those who argue for the freedom of expression by the noose-displayers absolutely hate the thought of being considered a racist (which I guess is a sign of progress).
I do think most of them do not want to be racist, but what they're fighting for in fighting FOR the free display of nooses is...the right to be ignorant. The right to be ignorant...of course without incurring any of its consequences.
There's an old saying that goes along the lines of "the less you know the happier you are." Elegantly stated this is the classic "ignorance is bliss" statement.
Ignorance in general is looked down upon, but in reality we all want it and think we need it as a form of release.
It's one of life's counterintuitive ironies at work...we want to be all-knowing, smart, and considered responsible but if that fails, in our less structured world outside of employment, we also want the right to let loose...to be ignorant stupid and irresponsible...without suffering the consequences.
Part of the appeal for non-stars like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Nicole Richie, etc. is that it seems like they are allowed to act as stupidly and ignorant as possible and still get away with it. Most importantly they do it without much consequence, which is why it was so shocking and the same time, exciting for people to see Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie go to jail.
Plenty of Americans want to re-create part of that in their own vapid lives. They want to break away from all the information and understanding and caring. They want to break away from what they perceive is political correctness. Essentially they're fighting political correctness as part of a bigger societal need to just be ignorant.
Racial humor is one arena/space that fits this description perfectly: people can be ignorant and not care, and most of the time not incur any real consequence. Inherent in these incidents is that people want to feel something real, express something raw without feeling the consequences. They generally expect not to get called out. But when they do get called, they call people like me "too politically correct."
Whether it's printing up tired ass Busted T's t-shirt about Juan-on-Juan basketball or New Mexico being Cleaner than Real Mexico or displaying a noose these incidents are driven by a rebellion against the perceived politically correctness of society.Abercrombie & FitchTwo Wongs Don't Make A Right
On college campuses, there are strings of theme parties about stereotypes of other cultures.Theme PartyTheme party 1
On online forums, millions of anonymous people can be as racist and stereotype as they want. Possibilities are endless. One look at an LA Times' online forum about immigration issues, homcide issues, would probably make you re-think your position of LA being some kind of hotbed of liberty, equality, and acceptance.
What promotes them to not care is that race probably isn't an issue for the people who so flippantly disregard incidents like Jena as child's play. If you think it's all in humor, consider that people probably think it's humorous too when they draw or graffiti a swastika.
For them race and ethnicity is not something that they are made aware of on a daily basis, so they can be as careless as they want. They actually once again puts them in a privileged position of being there only to make judgments, unless of course they get called out.
But for people of color who are likely made aware that they are different, that they are minorities, it's not so flippantly disregarded. By all means you can do it, but you're probably going to be called out for it.
As mentoned before, we live in a time and place of vast information exchange.
People use information to make decisions, including those people in power. We've learned in history how disinformation and stereotypes lying within power players and the public have continually hurt folks of color from gaining admission to schools, buying houses, and getting jobs.
People's perception of things count for a lot these days, especially when all it takes is a simple "bad feeling" about someone for them not to get a job, a house, a loan, etc.
We don't want people to be bringing these messages to people en masse: that it's OK to hang nooses, that's its OK to have racial stereotype theme parties, or even that it's OK to have these stupid ass orientalized, otherized, T-shirts. This is stuff that while you might get a kick out of, just reinforces people of color's less than human-ness.
We don't get much representation in politics and media, and it's disturbing that the only things that circulate widely is stuff that objectifies our cultures and distances us from other people. I really hope that fuckheads engaging in these kinds of acts aren't going to be decisionmakers, but it's inevitable that quite a few will.
We want to be seen as humans, eating, breathing, shitting, sexing just like you. The way people of color in this country have been disenfranchised has been through skin color (while another color has been promoted on that basis), and for liberal people our color, our ethnicity, our heritages are the the only thing that make us interesting in their eyes.
In all likelihood, those who did hang the nooses at Jena knew what they were doing, but they were secretly hoping that they get away with it. Their motivation is no different than various idiots who print Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts about Chinese people, Busted T-shirts who print other ignorant bullshit about Africa --- to fight what they perceive is political correctness so they can have their space to act ignorant without consequences. Only they want to do it at the expense of people of color.
All this is like kicking someone in the shin underneath the table during a meeting and hoping that you can get away with it.
If we are getting our shins continually kicked, how would you expect us to respond?
Labels: Jena 6, Media Discourse, Racial Misunderstandings