“Look to the cookie!”
First, a joke
Two psychiatrists are walking down the street when they run across man lying on the sidewalk, beaten and bloodied, moaning in terrible pain.
“Look!” said one psychiatrist to the other. “Whoever did this needs our help!”
Incident at Charlottesville
In January, a group of black high school students in Charlottesville, Virigina led a series of assaults on students at the University of Charlottesville. All the victims in the assaults — some of which resulted in broken bones or stitches — were either white, south Asian or south-east Asian, and none of them knew their assailants. Police suspect that race might have been a factor; some of the arrested suspects allegedly admit to specifically selecting victims who “looked white”.
Charlottesville’s mayor says that the city’s reaction must include more than just punishing the attackers. He and other town leaders have started effrorts to investigate his city’s racial climate and social structure in attempt to find the root causes of the attacks. There have been a series of community meetings to discuss the issues of race and violence in light of the attacks. One of the victims attended the meeting, saying that his attack inspired him to want to do something about improving race relations. In my humble opinion, I think these are good responses that go beyond simply trying to cure the symptom and missing the disease. So far, so good.
What annoys me is the hand-wringing and rationalizations of the the attacks. For example, here’s what the University’s Dean of African-American affairs, Rick Turner, had to say:
I’m not condoning this act, but I think that we have a group of high school students, particularly African-Americans who are angry, and I think that anger stems from being left out historically, the schools, being poor…so I think all those played a role in this.
Now, as a first-generation immigrant and a force of darkness myself (“person of colour” sounds too wimpy), I know that the playing field isn’t level. Mom and Dad have always told me: “No matter how long you’ve lived here, no matter how much better you can speak, spell and write better than the locals, and no matter how well you’ve absorbed the culture, remember that they’ll always look at your face and skin and say ‘you’re not from here.’ You’ll always have to work harder.” In spite of all that, I should not be excused for opening a can of Crouching Tiger-brand whup-ass on someone just because he’s white, or because my people’s history was obliterated by ancestors he’s never even heard of.
Here’s a gem from Jim Burton, a retired factory worker who attended one of the community meetings:
“We really don’t have a problem here. I think what happened here is somebody just blew this all out of proportion. I believe this was just kids being kids. I don’t think they intended to hurt anybody, but they were just misinterpreted.”
It’s “kids being kids” only in the Lord of the Flies sense and they inteded to hurt just as much as the people behind the brutal murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.
My own story
The reason that crap like this gets me so mad is that it happened to me.
It was the day before Frosh Week 1988, the day before Queen’s University’s newest wave to incoming students arrived for their week-long initiation, a day before a week’s worth of revelry and debauchery for us second-year students. My friends and I were at Alfie’s, the school’s largest pub, drinking pitchers of Lime and Lager and dancing to Bizarre Love Triangle and Yin and Yang the Flowerpot Man. I was dancing with Joan, a red-haired friend of mine, when a six-foot something blond guy walked up to me.
“You’re a fucking chink fag,” he said with gritted teeth.
“Nice day for it,” I replied. I was too busy dancing to deal with some drunk asshole. Besides, I’m a flip, not a chink, you fucking moron.
I found out later that he was upset because he was attracted to Joan and thought I’d beaten him to the punch in picking her up. I have two things to say: wrong, and tough shit.
He grabbed me my my shirt. “Why don’t you fucking go back to where you fucking came from?”
Oh, great. Not just a racist, but one who also uses cliches. I grabbed his neck and started pressing on his Adam’s apple. All the while, I was wondering where the hell the bar staff were. Usually, they jump on you if you did so much as stand on a chair.
“I came from across the street, asshole,” I said.
My friend Rob Moore Ede, always smiles, saw the altercation and came up to us. He faced the guy, made the peace sign and said “Peace, man.”
The guy looked at Rob with incredulity, and perhaps taken aback by Rob’s message of universal peace and love, let go of me and looked like he was about to walk away.
“Well,” Rob said to me, “that looks like the end of –”
That’s all I heard. The guy spun around on his heel and clocked me right in the nose. That’s not what knocked me unconscious — the back of my head smacking the dance floor did that.
I came to about a minute later to see a lot of blood on my new shirt. Joan had completely gone to pieces and was crying profusely. Some of my bigger friends were jockeying to be the one to teach the guy a lesson.
“Just give me the word,” Simon said, “and I’ll fucking waste him.” He yelled across the bar at the guy. “You hear me, homes? I’ll fucking waste you!”
I was being carried out the back exit of the pub while my friend Simon kept asking for permission to try out some new martial arts moves on the guy. I was in to omuch pain to really care about justice, or revenge and too scared to think straight. All I could ask was “Why did that guy hate me so much? What did I ever do to him?”
The worst part wasn’t the beating, but the excuses that followed. Some of my friends knew this guy and tried to “make me understand where he was coming from”.
“Look, Joey, he’s from a small town. All the people he’s evevr known until a year ago are white. He’s also from a poor farming family — he hasn’t travelled like you or me. Be a trooper, try and understand where he’s coming from. Don’t press charges.”
I got more or less the same from the student constables, students charged with keeping order at the campus pubs and events.
“Hey, sometimes people say things they don’t mean when they were drunk. Besides, I hear it was over a girl. It’s just a misunderstanding.”
If it was over a girl, then why did he never mention her? All I heard were racist epithets. Fucknozzles.
Between my so-called friends and the constables, I was disheartened enough not to press charges. I ended up living with that haunting feeling that I was no longer safe in my school.
Justice finally came, thanks to my housemates, who formed a posse and captured him one night. They dragged him back to the house, where they forced him to write a very long letter of apology at the point of my housemate Mark’s crossbow, I came home from the engineering pub to find his letter, which ended with a promise to not even look at me the wrong way.
That kind of incident happened in the Queen’s University of the 80’s and very early ’90’s, before student groups started taking notice of race-based attacks and tried to do something about it. It didn’t always succeed; Alfie’s Pub’s management practically looked the other way when my friend Dhimant got pounded by a couple of racists on the dance floor and as a DJ at Clark Hall Pub, I had to use a beer bottle to clock a guy who was queer-bashing one of the patrons. I won’t tolerate bigotry, and that goes double when I’m playing a really good set.
Not what Dr. King was striving for
I feel for the poor students who got beaten. I can only imagine what it was like for them — I was attacked by only one guy, and I didn’t need to go to the hospital for my injuries. I wonder if they feel The Fear when they walk on campus now, and I can imagine their frustration at the community holding a bake sale to raise funds for the assailants’ legal fees as well as their medical bills. I can only hope that they had loyal housemates like I did.
If the races were switched — if the assailants where white and the victims black, there’d be sound condemnation from black community leaders, and rightfully so. They shouldn’t be pussyfooting around the issue simply because the violence is black-on-white. By all the “I blame society” statements, all they’re doing is drawing attention away from the fact that innocent people were very badly hurt. That should still be the most important thing about the case.
What’s going in Charlotteville is shameful. I’m all for the city of Charlottesville looking beyond just punishing the youths involved and trying to make sure that they don’t continue down the path of hate. But being a member of a minority group, no matter how oppressed, doesn’t give you bonus rights, some kind of karma credit or a “get out of personal accountability free” card. You can say that the brutalities of racism far outweigh a handful of students getting beaten up, but you then reduce the victims to mere statistics.
And as someone once said, statistics are people with their blood and tears wiped away.
The discussion at Plastic about the incident at Charlottesville.
A stool-softeningly stupid op-ed piece at the university’s aptly-named paper, the Cavalier Daily. Moron professional journos often get their start as moron college journos.
The NPR story (RealAudio required) on the incident.
One more asshole in the mix: former Klansman and current asswipe David Duke get in on the action!