From Rep. Joe Wilson to Kanye West to Serena Williams, tantrums abound. On the surface, one may surmise that the outbursts of these two men were evidence of their impulsiveness and immaturity. That may be true. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is. However, upon closer inspection, it is apparent, to me anyway, that race is inextricably enmeshed in the fabrics of these incidents and once again, America is choosing to overlook the gendered and racial implications of men behaving badly.
Let us consider the Congressman first. There’s not much more to say beyond what President Carter elucidated earlier this week. What hasn’t been said is that the Senator is representative of many White Americans who cannot contain themselves, want to crawl out of their very skins, and shout from the highest mountain a string of racial slurs toward the White House.
How can this mere Negro have the audacity to give the government orders? These citizens can hardly stomach the fact that a Black man is in charge. Resorting to behavior that would have warranted a timeout had he been in a preschool class, Senator Wilson, who is not a racist according to his son, just had to say something to disrespect and discredit the President. He really couldn’t hold it in any longer. Hate from racial prejudice overwhelmed him. I guess he hasn’t gotten the memo announcing that we live in a post-racial society in which these open acts of racism covertly guised as disagreement are passé.
Then there’s Mr. West. Okay, so we all have to concede the fact that Kanye was out of pocket when he decided to make a spectacle of himself at the VMA’s. Typical West behavior though was met with an unanticipated backlash this time. We all know Mr. West is a loose canon libel to say anything at any time. No filter. What we didn’t expect was for him to victimize a White girl. Yes. I said it. If Kanye had, hypothetically speaking, instead taken the mic from Jay-Z and insisted that Lil Wayne should have won some award, we would have been shocked for many reasons. We would not, however, deem Jay-Z a victim. West would have been allowed to remain until the show’s and his cognac’s end without incident. It would have made the news.
But we would not have called for Kanye’s immediate apology. We all would have laughed at his crazy antics and gone on to talk about Patrick Swayze’s passing as we should have. But no, Kanye chose the wrong one to pull his publicity stunt on this time. White women are to remain untarnished, unharmed by Black men. History has shown us this over and over. The extreme hatred of OJ Simpson for example. Emmett Till’s murder. There are countless examples of the lengths White America will go in protecting the honor of White women. Kanye should have known better. Even in this "post-racial" society, some acts will always be infractions when White women are involved.So, does the same hold true for Black women? What would have happened had Mr. West upstaged Beyoncé? Would the media dedicate as much time and attention to the reporting of that story? Do Black women have equal value and protection in this society?
The answer is a resounding, “Not so much.”
We know that there exists a dangerous double standard for Black women.
Tashawnea Hill, in Morrow, Georgia by Troy Dale West, Jr., a White man. Ms. Hill, a mother and an army reservist, was barraged with racial slurs while being kicked and punched in the head as her daughter watched helplessly traumatized. The man doling out this unprovoked savage attack was released on bail while the FBI flounder about wondering if this is a hate crime. This act of brutality, however, was not discussed on every morning show. We did not hear a demand for an apology from Troy to Ms. Hill. With the exception of a few headlines, the media and all of its consumers were almost silent.
The silence is deafening. Because we now live in a post-racial society, it is difficult for us to explain these events. Essence, a magazine for women, has decided to consult astronomers to discuss Mercury retrograde as a viable reason for these acts instead of examining the racial implications glaringly present in each of these incidents. Since the election of President Obama, we no longer have racism to blame.
What else, dear reader, would prompt a burly man to soundly beat a woman? Why else, dear reader, would all the networks come to the aid of Taylor Swift so swiftly? How else, dear reader, can you explain the influx of contributions Mr. Wilson received after disrespecting the President, the leader of the free world?
Well do not look to overt or covert racism as a means by which to explain or understand the differential treatment, reactions, and coverage these unruly men have received. We’ll have to look to some other ism since racism no longer exists.
These incidents leave us to ponder explanations that could possibly extend beyond the complexities of race and racial implications in this country. To some, particularly those who have firsthand experience with marginalization in this country, the notion that racism is no longer a credible culprit, the idea that we cannot look to a past wrought with systemic discrimination, prejudice, hatred, and exploitation to understand the present plagued by the same conditions seems ludicrous.
I wonder if we know that now more than ever, race is a centralized social construct people consistently use to guide their decisions, yet we, society as a whole, both Black and White folks alike, would rather not acknowledge the validity of its effects on the normal day-to-day interactions between people. However, without that acknowledgment, without racism as explanative in understanding why events like these or that in Philadelphia with the children banned from the pool, or that at Harvard with Professor Gates, it becomes difficult to understand the impetus of such treatment. This is a dangerous endeavor indeed, this denial of the importance race and racism in this country.
For without an answer, without racism and hatred as root causes for the effects of damaging behavior, those victimized are then compelled to internalize the blame. Because racism no longer is present in our society, then the mistreatment must be either a figment of my imagination or the result of something I, the victim, have done wrong. Racism is then internalized and the victim becomes responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior.Come on folks. Racism is alive and well. We cannot deny its power. We cannot deny its effects any longer if we wish to move forward in peace and solidarity in this country within the next century. Calling it what it is, identifying the reason for maltreatment, naming racism causes discomfort for all involved. It is through the discomfort, by treating infection, suffering through the symptoms while healing occurs do we cure the disease. Until we recognize that we are sick with racism, the virus will continue to spread.
Alas, it takes great courage to even go to the doctor sometimes. Most don’t go until the pain becomes unbearable. While I fear that it will come to that, conditions like the one in Morrow, GA will worsen to a point that is intolerable for the average person before we validate racism and all of its ugly cousins, the other isms, perhaps repeating these words ad nauseum will make them true: We live in a post-racial society. We live in a post-racial society. We live in a post-racial society.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
Rema Reynolds is a former teacher, counselor, administrator, and currently organizes parents for the improvement of Black student achievement in various schools. She is an Assistant Professor at Azusa Pacific University teaching aspiring school counselors and school psychologists and offers support and instruction to pre-service Secondary teachers at UCLA’s teacher education program, Center X.