Thursday, January 5, 2017

Armed or Armored

It doesn't take a deep insight into the nature of humanity to realize that people are often cruel and often foolish. And let's throw egotistical into the mix for good measure. And so we have the case in Chicago, where four teenagers decided that it would be fun to torture one of their mentally disabled classmates - and then to live stream it.

Now, I'm old, and therefore I'm past being particularly shocked or appalled by this sort of behavior. I've heard of worse, and I'm sure that, sooner or later, someone will take this as a challenge to be exceeded in the name of being on the national news. But this case has been receiving a lot of air time, due to the fact that the assailants are Black and the victim is White. And a lot of people have been hashtagging their social media posts about the subject with "BLM Kidnapping," as if this were sanctioned by the Black Lives Matter movement.

When someone doesn't perceive, understand and acknowledge a threat against you, your preparing to defend yourself and a prelude to aggression can be difficult to distinguish. And this, I think, is the issue that many people have with the idea of Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter came into existence, initially as a hashtag itself, after the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of wrongdoing in Mr. Martin's death, in part due to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people to use lethal force without requiring them to attempt to retreat to safety first. And, presuming that Stand Your Ground would applied equally to everyone involved, it can be said that Trayvon Martin acted in self-defense when he went after George Zimmerman - after all, Mr. Martin was somewhere that he had a legal right to be, and was confronted with an armed man who turned out to be ready, willing and able to kill him. (And if you ask how Mr. Martin knew Mr. Zimmerman was armed, I'd ask what was it about Mr. Martin that prompted Mr. Zimmerman to bring his gun to the confrontation in the first place - whatever assumptions that George Zimmerman made that gave him the impression that lethal force could be called for could just as easily been made by Trayvon Martin.)

Black Lives Matter is a response to a perceived threat - namely the idea that Black people in the United States, young Black men for the most part, are often enough dangerous and/or criminals, that the use of lethal force against them is justified, especially in situations in which non-Blacks would be given the benefit of the doubt, and police would more often be expected to deescalate the situation. But I believe that it's safe to say that a lot of non-Black people in the United States (although by no means all) don't perceive that threat. And accordingly, they see Black Lives Matter, and the social changes that the group/movement/hashtag pushes for as weapons; something that makes society more dangerous by demanding that Black people be held accountable for their actions less often than Whites or others.

And in this, Black Lives Matter, rather than being a reaction to an aspect of society that Black people find frightening and destructive, is instead a tool for racial advantage, in much the same way that many people view Affirmative Action. For a person who sees themselves as just as likely to be abused by authority, or who sees the actions of the police as justified by criminality in the Black community, there is no threat there, and Black Lives Matter is a weapon to be wielded against them, rather than armor for a community that feels itself vulnerable.

Thirty years ago, if you had asked certain of my high school classmates about racism in the United States, they would have told you it was a thing of the past. And I suspect that they honestly believed that, even when they did things that a neutral bystander would likely have regarded as racist. But they didn't see themselves as a threat, and therefore, they didn't understand why I felt any need to guard against them - and instead, I was the threat - looking for ways to cause trouble for them for my own advantage. This aspect of human nature is unlikely to ever go anywhere, because it's ubiquitous, on large scales and small. An abusive spouse sees themselves as reacting to wrongs done to them by their partner, terrorists view their actions as justified by the crimes of their target's (or their target's government) and nations go to war with completely different stories of who took the action that finally sparked the conflict.

The inability to see ourselves as other people see us, and to demand that instead they see us as we see ourselves, is likely built into human DNA. It seems too widespread to be otherwise. But it prevents us from understanding when the people around us feel threatened by us, and are responding to us, rather than threatening us themselves. And the consequences of this will likely always be conflicts, no matter how unnecessary they turn out to be.

No comments: