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CI: Stop the Criminal-Black-Man Narrative 2012

April 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, International Law, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal InJustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

Stop the Criminal-Black-Man Narrative 2012
by nancy a heitzeg

“Trayvon Martin was killed by a very old idea..”
~
Brent Staples, New York Times, 4/14/2102

The Black Man as Dangerous is a lethal idea, ironically, not to those who perpetrate and fear, but especially to those to whom it is attached. It is indeed also a very old idea, one that has evolved over centuries. The Savage, The Brute, the Defiler of White Women — honed and solidified in the Post Civil Rights Era into an archetype that scholars and activists now refer to in aggregate short-hand:


The Criminal-Black-Man.

This image is ubiquitous — it is the text and subtext of all crime-reporting and “reality” cop/prison programing. It shapes the contours of everyday racism, the school to prison pipeline, police patrols and profiles; it offers the framework for both creating and then perversely justifying the demographics of both the prison industrial complex and the face of death row.

At times, as in the Trayvon Martin case, the archetype and its’ consequences are, at least briefly, openly examined and discussed. More often, as with the noxious Kony 2012 campaign, it looms just below the surface with an eerily subconscious pull.

The Criminal-Black-Man is the visible yet untouchable specter that lies at the center of fear and violence. It is personal and yes it is political.

War-Criminal-Black-Man: Joseph Kony

As the Invisible Children Scam prepares to launch its’ April 20 Cover the Night campaign in pursuit of Joseph Kony, there is perhaps no better example of the power of this theme. There are innumerable troubles with Invisible Children and their viral video campaign — profiteering, consumerism posing as activism, misinformation, ties to military dictators, ultra- right funders and homophobes, expropriation of the symbols/slogans of progressive movements, calls for military action, More.

But at the heart of the appeal of the viral video campaign lies White Supremacy. First there is the colonialist appeal to what has been called “the white savior industrial complex‘. The lost and monolithic African continent which cannot save itself nor its’ “invisible (to whom??) children without intervention from the over- burdened “white man” West.

And it must be saved from Joseph Kony – yes a war criminal rightly wanted by the International Criminal Court — but most significantly the embodiment of the existential threat of the Criminal-Black-Man Archetype. (Does anyone really think that millions would be so worked up over a washed up pasty European War Criminal??)

That is the under-pinning of the viral power of the Kony 2012 campaign — Kony is not a long ago defeated leader of some 200 lost along the border resisters. He is Hitler, He is Castro, look closely, he will soon morph into Barack Obama. He is your worst Nightmare.

Kony is the Menacing Black Everyman 2012– so, to capture him, you must Stop, they say, at Nothing.

Street-Criminal-Black-Man: Trayvon Martin

So much has been written on Trayvon Martin — including here at Criminal InJustice…Yes he is dead because he was Black and as such, a “threat” to “white space” both literal and figurative.

Melissa Harris-Perry says it best in “What It’s Like to Be a Problem”:

Trayvon Martin was not innocent. He was guilty of being black in presumably restricted public space. For decades, Jim Crow laws made this crime statutory. They codified the spaces into which black bodies could not pass without encountering legal punishment. They made public blackness a punishable offense. The 1964 Civil Rights Act removed the legal barriers but not the social sanctions and potentially violent consequences of this “crime.” George Zimmerman’s slaying of Trayvon Martin—and the subsequent campaign to smear Martin—is the latest and most jarring reminder that it is often impossible for a black body to be innocent…

The Criminal-Black-Man is always guilty.

Periodically, cases like that of Trayvon Martin bring the archetype into the light — it is fleetingly subject to public scrutiny, sometimes accompanied by guilt/shame and calls for a “national dialogue on race”.

But such calls are short-lived, and soon met by denials — of “color-blind” liberals whose view of race and criminal justice is 10 million light years from the reality endured by communities of color, by the tired denials trotted out by old tired tokens, like Bill Cosby, who will insist both now and later, that the Martin case is not about “race, but guns.”

After more than 2 months of calls for “Justice for Trayvon Martin”, his killer, George Zimmerman, has finally been arrested and charged. But is it a set-up – a disingenuous charade??

A conservative “law and order” Republican prosecutor appointed by a far-right Governor has over-charged Zimmerman with Second Degree Murder, setting a high bar for conviction. Zimmerman will be defended by a slickster good old boy attorney at a trial that will undoubtedly be moved to some Simi Valley-like venue. Media circus guaranteed. All day like OJ.

Anyone who thinks that “justice” will be served now, should give pause. Yes the prosecution will present its’ case. But from the perspective of the defense and much of the public, the focus will be “threat” and fear and the right to Stand Your Ground against the perceptions of thug life, if not the reality of ice tea and Skittles. It is not George Zimmerman who will be on trial. Trayvon Martin and The Criminal-Black-Man will.

We know that verdict.

Requiem

Yes Joseph Kony and Trayvon Martin will factor into Presidential politics 2012. The ground work for that has already been long laid. Again, Melissa Harris-Perry

Liberal democracy—based on commitment to individual liberty and dignity—does not exist if the government legislates against particular bodies in public spaces, as it did during Jim Crow, or when it is complicit in the violent policing of those bodies by other citizens, as in the Trayvon Martin slaying. For more than two years, vocal pockets of conservative activists and politicians demanded proof of President Obama’s citizenship—as if a black man was trespassing simply by being elected to the Oval Office. As the president was being asked to show his papers to the nation, state governments in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina empowered police officers, school officials and merchants to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they deemed suspicious of immigration violations—suspicions that are triggered primarily by racial, ethnic and linguistic profiling. Despite the dramatic legal changes brought about by the ending of Jim Crow, it is once again socially, politically and legally acceptable to presume the guilt of nonwhite bodies.

It is no accident that the Kony imitative is framed in the language of Campaign 21012 replete with Shephard Fairey Hope/Change/Vote colors. And everyone knew — before he even said it aloud – that if Obama had a son, “he would look like Trayvon Martin”. In the current political climate Obama is Criminal-Black-Man #1 — already overtly named as the main “anti-war government N%$”. Thats just the warm-up. ( Please see Kay Whitlock’s excellent piece, Criminalizing President Obama. for more on these narratives as well as thoughts on recognizing and challenging criminalizing archetypes)

But more importantly , this is personal too. Personal for the tens of millions whose lives are disrupted daily by police, by profiling, by suspicion, by stress, by the risk, always from everywhere, of hair trigger racism.

Personal for me too. I would be remiss if i said i was tired — and i am!- of writing every week and speaking every day and watching for years on the end the corrosive impact of The Criminal-Black-Man meme on the lives of people I love.. For what is that when to compared to the pain of living it?? Dying it??

Do whatever you can people to finally confront -in yourselves, in the world – this old ugly idea.

Uproot it. Undo it however you can.

And this time — really — Stop at Nothing

40 comments
kabrahamson19
kabrahamson19

Like many have said, Taryvon Martin was killed because he was a black man. Why is it that people of a different race are always at fault or found guilty? Racism is still a huge issue in our society today. I thought it was supposed to have come to an end decades ago. It is incredibly sad that people still think racism is still okay in our society. Trayvon Martin was shot because he was a black man, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, who looked "suspicious'. It makes me sick that people give people of different races these stereotypes. When it comes to the criminal system and how they treat people because of the color of their skin is disturbing.  I found this blog very interesting, thanks!

 

epitz33
epitz33

I think that it is sad that it takes cases like Trayvon Martin's for some people to recognize the danger of the idea of "The Black Man as Dangerous."  Having this image in the minds of people in our society results in narrow minded people who fear certain groups or individuals and then blind to other things.  We have people who fear a black man, yet engange in numerous other actions or behaviors or associate with people who are may put them at great risks.  The color of someone's skin should not determine fear.  It should be the actions and assosiations of an individual.  "The Black Man" is stigmatized by being dangerous for nothing more than what he looks like and not by his character or behaviors.  This is when it is obviously unfair and extremely dangerous.  The fear of "The Black Man as Dangerous" puts a target on their backs.  The individuals who supposedly put others in fear, are the exact people who have to fear the most.

JaimieBeavers
JaimieBeavers

This is a very powerful article. The line that just shocked me by it's truth was, "the Criminal-Black Man is always guilty." SO powerful. It took me until my Criminal Justice class to realize how true this idea is - even still today. It's truly upsetting knowing these men are being convicted of crimes simply because of their race. America is supposed to have gone so far away from racism but that does not seem to be the case.

Panyia
Panyia

For over a year now since I have been immerse into Sociology I am becoming more regretful of my lack of enthusiasm for history class.  As I read The New Jim Crow book and as I become more aware of how people of color are treated by the criminal justice system I am even more regretful for not taking history class seriously.   I don't think it is fully my fault for not being interested though because I felt I had no relation to the history that I was being taught.  Being a part of Nancy's class and learning about the evolution of slavery into mass incarceration have shown me how connected I am to our country's  history.  This is why now I want to know more about our country's history, particularly about the history of how Black Americans were marginalized, criminalized, and incarcerated because it is here that I realized how I, as a kid, bought into the idea, unconsciously, that black people are "bad people".  But after taking my first Sociology class, I saw the color line much clearer.  My next step is to see even more things I haven't realized so that I may be able to move more steps away from the stereotypes/labels that has become a part of our society. 

PegRapp
PegRapp

Thanks McKenzie for speaking up.  It is only when lots of people, not just people of color, call people on this stuff when it happens that will hopefully eventually change the stereotypes.  It's sad that in the meantime, we have to teach our children to watch their backs.

 

McKenzieDaul
McKenzieDaul

Since this idea is so deeply rooted it is hard to know how to even start changing this issue, and when people of color try to speak out, once again society puts that criminal label on them. Before I began at St. Kate's, I never realized these issues that are taking place everyday all around me. Sadly, I think that is true for most. It always confuses me though how such harsh acts of hatred are put towards people just because of their skin color. A country that is supposed to be over racism is so far from that. I believe it is my job to continue talking to family, friends, coworkers, etc. to educate and help them to realize and take a closer look at the society and system. A difficult and complex topic but one I will continue to explore. 

pmlarsonmiller
pmlarsonmiller

"The Black Man as Dangerous is a lethal idea, ironically, not to those who perpetrate and fear, but especially to those to whom it is attached."

 

I am seeing ever more clearly how the marginalization of victims of color is intertwined with the criminalization of people of color. If you believe the criminal archetype of the African American man, for example, how could you possibly empathize with someone who looks like that man? Destructive stereotypes of black on white crime are so deeply rooted, people overlook victims of color, and if FORCED to look at them, there is an attempt to justify it with political jargon or through criminalizing the victim.

I am VERY apprehensive of the negative campaign ads we will be seeing; not so much regarding the ads themselves, but the ignorant people who will soak them up and continue to perpetuate negative racial discourse and stereotypes.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

Nancy, amen and endless gratitude.  This is powerful and essential reading.

 

Thank you for running it down so clearly.

 

These are the themes that dominate the Republican/Right strategies, and they will go into overdrive from now until the 2012 elections - and beyond.  This is the Southern Strategy, write large.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Panyia thanks so much for this comment Panyia -- we are really  often "discouraged" from knowing history..

 

Because if we do learn, we are inclined to stop repeating it -- just as you say..

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @pmlarsonmiller This -- "the marginalization of victims of color is intertwined with the criminalization of people of color."

 

Sad but true

 

 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @KayWhitlock thank you Kay

 

yes Southern Strategy in BOLD NEON. yes it will get worse -- those who laugh at the GOP and/or the romney candiacy should look twice, There will be Hundreds of  millions in negative campaign ads..

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Anybody who thinks the Rethugs are imploding and we've got this one in the bag needs to think again.  We need to work this election like our own lives depend on it.  Because they do.  Donate!  Walk precincts and wards!  Make phone calls! 

Seeta
Seeta moderator

@nancy a heitzeg

Excellently done Nancy.  Trayvon Martin was killed by a culture of white supremacy that devalues, degrades and demonizes black bodies.  I can't believe those frauds at Invisible Children are releasing a "sequel."  They need to have their 501c3 status revoked for creating political propaganda.

 

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @nancy a heitzeg Yeah - and supposedly bailing on "Stand Your Ground," while the ALEC member organization NRA continues to promote those laws.  Public relations to try to regain support from major companies who left them in the wake of Trayvon Martin.

Vikki
Vikki

 @PegRapp Sorry to hear that your son had to experience that. And yeah...I hear you on wanting to punch out the well-meaning (usually white) liberal folks who always think that people of color have somehow *done* something that warrants such treatment rather than recognizing that the system is racist.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @PegRapp  @nancy a heitzeg I am so sorry this happened to your son, PegRapp.  What makes it all the more reprehensible is that this is so commonplace. 

PegRapp
PegRapp

 @KayWhitlock  @nancy a heitzeg Assata Shakur!

(Great column BTW - my 25 yr old son was picked up at 6am in front of his house in Harlem a few months ago -- no justification. Spent two days in jail. He himself couldn't believe what was happening although he's been schooled to be prepared for it. It was a hard lesson for him. When I explained to white liberal friends, they kept pressing me with, Yeah, but what did he do (to bring this on himself)? I wanted to punch them out. :).  It's got to stop.

KayWhitlock
KayWhitlock

 @Seeta  @nancy a heitzeg But what do you REALLY think, Seeta?!

 

Well said.  Time to just say it plain:  frauds.

 

The devaluing, degradation, and demonizing of black bodies.

 

 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta yes he should read it..

 

.i won;t start either on the naked melt-down..Yeah dehydration Right

Seeta
Seeta moderator

 @nancy a heitzeg yep...they are pros, like good white colonialists and imperialists, of cultural appropriation.  This org is such a joke -- run by five white males with shady ties religious fundamentalists.  Virtually their entire budget is spent on creating these propaganda films which aim to increase US militarization in Uganda.  And don't even get me started on homophobe Jason Russell.  He should read this:        "Homophobes May Have Unacknowledged Attraction to Same Sex" http://criticalmassprogress.com/2012/04/09/homophobes-may-have-unacknowledged-attraction-to-same-sex/

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta among my many annoyances with IC -- i recently noticed what has to be the intentional stealing of movement symbols.. First the Shephard Fairy themes -- then the Triangle after the info leaked about their homophobic connections.. The 99% language of Occupy. Now "Cover the Night -- ripping off feminists who have been Taking Back the Night for decades,.

 

Disgusting -

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

 @Seeta Thank you seeta

 

yes the Invisible Children Scam is political propaganda at its' worst -- the initial appeal is frightening.. I hope NOTHING happens on April 20

Trackbacks

  1. […] But not an all white Simi Valley jury — blinded by racially coded appeals to ” the thin blue line”, blinded by fear of “PCP and Bionic man-powers” and the ever present danger of the “Criminal Black Man”. […]

  2. […] A mere 9 months after Trayvon Martin, and here we were, mourning Jordan Davis, another 17 year old Florida teen shot down. This time “loud music” not “hoodies” was the proximate trigger, but the real reason, of course, irrational archetypical threat of The Criminal-Black-Man. […]