Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is Your Life Worth?: Modern Lynching and Mike Brown

Left, Jesse Washington (1916); Right, unnamed demonstrator (2014)
It's 1916. 

An African American male in Waco, Texas is tried for the rape and murder of a local white woman named Lucy Fryer. With a confession and evidence that is shaky at best (and coerced at worst), he is declared guilty within minutes by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. He is then taken outside, publicly castrated, and lowered and raised in and out of a bonfire, screaming in agony, until he dies. His mutilated and charred corpse is dragged through the city as civilians jockey to purchase pieces of his body as "souvenirs."
His name was Jesse Washington. He was fifteen years old. 

Not only was Washington's murder an obvious violation of the 8th amendment (which bars cruel and unusual punishment), it was an atrocity that was fully backed by the governing office and police department of his town, and over 10,000 spectators were invited to watch Washington die.


From 1882 to 1968, 3,446 African Americans were lynched, with several hundred of these victims being under the age of eighteen. 

The dehumanization of the black male body and its use as an ideological weapon or punching bag for the White community has had its origins on American soil since the 17th century. The effects of these lynchings were most visible in the physical devastation and deaths of thousands of African American men and women over the course of several centuries. However, the horror of these acts inserted itself not only into a prominent place within the African American psyche and art (see Richard Wright's "Big Boy Leaves Home" or Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit"), but also into the wider social consciousness. The senseless killing of African American men simply for existing was just that- senseless. However, in order to justify why one particular group "deserved" to be publicly and brutally murdered,  stereotypes that grew over the course of American slavery- the  overly virile and assertive "Black Buck," the borderline psychotic  "Brutal Savage," and others- rose to higher prominence in the 20th and 21st centuries. These supported the assertion that certain Black men were a "danger to (White) society" and should therefore be removed permanently from the populace with extreme violence. 

Stereotypes and the subsequent lynching operated as violent symptoms of pre-existing institutional racism- White Americans had- have- the power to decide who is human and who is not. Self-identification becomes meaningless when the law, the government, and, for a period in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, science and medicine, had a drastically different opinion. Because African Americans were dehumanized over the course of slavery- viewed largely as animals, chattel, or a unique sub-human species that needed enslavement in order to have a life purpose- the application of these outlandish stereotypes in the ensuing decades proved quite simple.

Fast forward to 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri with the public killing of Michael Brown. The stereotypes of Black male aggression and savagery are still widely prevalent within our society, and the grave decision of whether or not to end the life of an African American is still disproportionately controlled by local police departments. In earlier centuries, public lynchings functioned as a demonstration of brute power by White Americans who feared losing their position within the American racial hierarchy. The number of African American lynchings increased after the conclusion of slavery, after African Americans began to utilize their right to vote, and even as they became more vocal in the Civil Rights Movement. Whenever a large group of African Americans decided to exert their humanity, the mutilation of the Black male body was used as an act of terrorism to intimidate and subdue African Americans. 

 Less than one percent of all police departments require officers to have a college degree, and many police officers have no plans to obtain higher education over the course of their careers. The average police officer salary in Ferguson, Missouri hovers around $30,000. As more African Americans than ever attend college, apply for graduate programs, and enter into high-paying fields, the racial status quo- especially in Southern states- begins to shift. As the question "What's your race?" becomes less relevant than "What does your résumé look like?" and African Americans slowly become just as (if not more) qualified for socioeconomic status-boosting careers that were previously unquestionably White property for centuries, history shows us that legally-sponsored White backlash will become inevitable. 

That White backlash is the source of the Black male stereotypes, the paltry consequence of "paid administrative leave" for killing Black American children, the biased media coverage, and the incessant portrayal of successful minority high school and college students as lowlifes and thugs for daring to wear a hoodie in the rain or forgetting that you cannot ever escape- even for an isolated, solitary moment- from the incredible pressure of knowing that you will always have to be twice as good to get half as much out of a system that you do not understand and cannot control. 

Or, in this case, to get the chance to live another 24 hours.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Flirting with Disaster: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Dating in College

Dating in college can be tricky, to say the least. You've got thousands of gloriously attractive (I'm being extremely generous here for the sake of the argument) people of both genders in their aesthetic and sexual prime skulking around a contained area with absolutely zero adult supervision. Think of it as Big Brother operating under the premise of higher education. Then you've got the well-meaning (but wildly uninformed) relatives, friends, and odd passerby who absolutely swear that "you'll meet the love of your life in college. Boy, I remember when..." and launch into a suspiciously idyllic narrative that sounds like a bizarre mash-up of The Notebook and Love and Basketball. So you show up on move-in day expecting to bump into Mr. Right, who somehow looks just like a young Denzel Washington and gets all of your Game of Thrones references. But what you actually end up seeing is Mr. Emotionally Stagnant doing a keg stand in a poorly lit room that smells vaguely of provolone cheese. What the heck happened?

Does that mean that Young Denzel (or whatever your preference is) isn't out there, and you're reduced to getting random 3AM texts from the bro-tastic Keg Man? No and no. It just means that you have to work a little harder to avoid some of the more...questionable characters that populate a college campus. Here are a few guidelines:

1) Do date mature if you are mature- Men are naturally slower to mature than women, and the added factor of college- a virtual cesspool of promiscuity that leans in favor of male students- does nothing to aid their maturation. Men are generally not interested in entering serious relationships until their midtwenties (there are notable exceptions to this rule, of course), so it may be advantageous for you to date a graduate/law/medical school student who is already on your campus (This doesn't give you free reign to date your professors. Do not be that girl.).

2) Don't compromise your beliefs- Got strong political, economic, moral, social, or intellectual beliefs that are based in fact and reason? That's fine- find a guy whose beliefs are compatible with your own. If an annoying street harasser asks you for your number, you are not contractually obligated to give him your number in order to entertain his delusions of grandeur. If you believe you can do better, then do so.

3) Do realize that the bad boy is a waste of time- It may seem tempting to ride off into the sunset on a Harley with your grizzled bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold. But in reality, you deserve better than a rotating harem of baby mamas, an extensive criminal or drug record, or a history of abuse and general poor behavior.

4) Don't date just to date- "But all my friends have boyfriends!" is not a good reason to date someone. Having a rapidly approaching self-imposed deadline (first kiss, first boyfriend, first long term relationship) is not a good reason to date someone. Dating that has inorganic origins or ulterior motives can do a lot more harm than good.

5) Don't try to force a boy to grow up into a man- Men and women do a lot of growing up while they're in college, and everyone matures at different rates. You might meet an 18-year 
old who has the next 10 years of his life planned out, and you might meet a 22-year old whose sole ambition is to play Call of Duty on his mother's couch for the foreseeable future. Everyone matures st their own rate based on their individual life experiences, and you will only be squandering your time, youth, and sanity trying to raise a boy into a man. The argument that "it's true love! He just needs time to grow up!" is self-destructive. Exit that relationship and, while he's learning how to be a man, focus on becoming the best possible version of you.

6) Do date people, not ideas- We've all done it- turning a guy who is "meh" at best (and catastrophic at worst) into a verifiable Greek god, husband, or your own personal Ryan 
Gosling. But putting a sub-par or totally wrong for you person on a pedestal will only result in eventual disillusionment for both parties involved. People are imperfect creatures, and you have to learn how to take the good with the bad. Don't write someone off because they don't fit every single qualification on your secret mental checklist, and don't start filling out an application to appear on Say Yes to the Dress just because a guy says something intelligent in class one time.