Thursday, November 12, 2015

Force of Arms

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Step back. And I'm not speaking on anybody's behalf. I'm speaking on my behalf.

SABLE-SMITH: The demonstrator telling us to back up was a white man. So was the other reporter, a grad student from Denmark. Then two more demonstrators who were black women called for more people to come help move us away from them.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Can a black man please come over here please? Thank you. Black men...

Bram Sable-Smith, Demonstrators Clash With Journalists At The University Of Missouri
If the desire is to place some distance between student demonstrators and the media reporters attempting to cover the protests, why call a "black man" specifically?

One of the downsides of being a Black man in the United States today is that it carries a connotation of violence and intimidation - something that I've tripped over from time to time in my own experiences with people, and not just people I don't know. It's a weight that can be unpleasant to carry, and it being a job doesn't make it any less so. Part of the reason why I quit working with children back in the 1990s was that being a man in a profession dominated by women, I was often called upon to be "the heavy." Some kid is completely out of control, and needs to be restrained? Okay. One of the older boys getting in your face and realizing that he's at eye level to you making you nervous? Handled. Going to the park with the group, and there's a kid who's decided that they're going to act out because they can't go? Sure. Then comes the day that you notice that the kids don't speak to you as openly as they used to. And then, you walk into a room, and everyone goes silent. Because you're the guy who shows up when it's about to get real.

Now, when I worked with kids, the gradual deterioration of my relationships with them had nothing to do with the fact that I was black - it was more than I was the disciplinarian, because I had the mass to carry it off. But when we're dealing with the public at large, it's a different story. Harvard's "'Weapons - Harmless Objects' Implicit Association Test" measures (to the extent that the tests are accurate) the degree to which the test-taker automatically associates ethnicity and weaponry. Using Black men as weapons certainly can't help that.

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