Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Arrogance and Privilege, Not Just Fear

I've struggled with language to express how my mind is connecting the latest wave of racist murders in our country. The names of Jordan Davis and Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin keep ringing in my ears...their stories, their families, their potential. People keep describing their murders as part of a culture of fear - fear of black bodies; fear of black teenagers; fear of the "other." And while that is certainly part of the case, I keep thinking that these particular murders, and so many like them, are about the age old issue of black folks daring to step out of place, daring to step outside of the narrow racial boxes in which we are supposed to exist.

How dare this kid walk around this gated community ignoring me?  He's stepped out of his place...he's not supposed to be here.

How dare this woman come knock on my front door?  She's stepped out of her place...she's not supposed to be here.

How dare this boy not turn off his music when I told him it was too loud? He's stepped out of his place...he's supposed to do what I told him.

Underlying these racist murders is an attitude of arrogance and privilege, not just fear.  It is sheer arrogance to assume that because you don't like the volume and genre of someone's music, they are obliged to turn it down. And it is even more arrogant to act from paternalistic motivation, getting a gun to shut down their music because you weren't "going to ask for favors anymore."  Arrogance insists that you teach a "thug" a lesson, instead of common sense that would simply keep it moving when confronted with something you don't like.

We cannot talk about the larger culture's fear of black people and black bodies without talking about the privilege and the arrogance that also accompanies that fear.  It is privilege that causes you to patrol neighborhoods trying to decide who you feel "belongs" and who you feel is an "outsider."  And it is from arrogance and privilege that you dare to question, interrogate, and kill those you deem as outsiders and interlopers, as if somehow you had the right and authority to control the movements of other law-abiding citizens.

The questions that are posed in the killings of Martin, McBride and Davis reveal this arrogance and privilege when you decode the actual subtext of the interrogation:

Question: why wasn't he home at that time of night or what was she doing that late at night? Subtext: black folks should just stay in the house and not dare to walk the streets.

Question: why didn't he just listen when he was asked where he was going or when he was asked to turn down the music? Subtext: black folks have to respond and obey when white folks speak to them.

Question: why was the music so loud or why was she out partying?  Subtext: black teenagers can't behave like other teenagers, who are allowed to live, breathe, and grow even if they make mistakes.

It's important to me to talk about arrogance and privilege, not just fear, because that same arrogance and privilege undergirds the daily racist acts and microagressions people of color experience on a regular basis. We are constantly confronted with the literal and figurative questions of: do you belong here? Are you stepping outside of your place? Are you daring to speak and challenge dominant authority?

Unless we wrestle with the causes and repercussions of racist arrogance and privilege, we will continue to throw our hands up in shock and surprise whenever another unarmed child or teenager is shot by a gun-wielding murderer who was supposedly "in fear of his life."  We need to decode that "fear" for the arrogance and privilege it actually is.

© Yolanda Pierce