I am not Trayvon Martin, I am not Tracy Martin, and I can hardly aspire to the Christlike serenity in the face of unbearable grief and rage of Sabrina Fulton, his mother. I am not Tracy Martin, but like I have a son and like Trayvon that son was 18 once, so I know what it is to worry about the safety of a son in a dangerous world. I know what it is to worry about a son but I do not know from personal experience, the way Tracy Martin did, what it is to worry about a son like Trayvon, because unlike Trayvon my son is white. And while white boys are “constructed” as dangerous and troublesome, the same goes double for black boys. There is a centuries-long history in the US of seeing black men as uniquely dangerous, black people in general really, even children. So I really am not Tracy Martin.
I am not interested in reviewing anything whatever the legal or evidentiary details of the case and the trial. That has been done exhaustively elsewhere and much better than I could do here, and any discussion around any of those points is off-topic here. (No offense intended, no comment intended about the quality of the comment; just clearing the weeds from around the roses.) For the record I thought that in the George Zimmerman case Stand Your Ground amounted to Hunt Him Down, but as I said that is outside this discussion.
Over at Danny’s Corner Daisy Deadhead wondered why there had been a peep out of anyone here at Genderratic about this affair. It’s a fair question. For me there were a couple of reasons. The first was that I had nothing to contribute to the conversation other than disgust and rage and there were others better qualified for that. Another was that I have a strong distaste for white people wrapping themselves in other people’s tragedies as a form of moral exhibitionism. So I held off. But now enough time has passed that I can make another and related point about this.
The Cult of Embattled White Womanhood
In the wake of the trial verdict there were feminists who saw half of what was wrong in this situation. Katy Otto, Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti all said that the core of the problem was our need to treat white women as under continual threat. (Ahem…) And strangely none of them saw the obvious connections to Schroedinger’s Rapist that the Spearhead did.
These feminists focused on the acquittal and the psycho-dynamics of that acquittal, rather than on the shooting itself. Katy Otto over at Feministing lays the smacketh down right where it belongs here – at the feet of this society’s need to treat white women as the holy of holies that must be protected at all costs and the sense of vulnerability that engenders in people protected to that degree.
This narrative of embattled white women, always in peril from the forces of barbarism, drives not only white supremacist policing of black men in America but also the entire gender system. Eldridge Cleaver saw decades ago how entwined America’s racial and sexual mythologies were.This narrative of embattled white women drives the way men have always been treated and what has been expected of them in interactions with [white] women. It drives the narrative about women being the moral guardians of society and the arbiters of manners and proper behavior. It even drives the way little boys are treated when a girl is involved. A boy’s slightest misstep is seen as aggresssion and punished accordingly, a girl’s aggressions are explained away one way or another or simply denied. And this narrative of embattled white women drives feminism.
“I frequently get tweets and emails from people asking why there are so many women who align themselves with conservatives in an era when waging war on women’s rights appears to be the Republican Party’s No. 1 priority. I often lamely tell them that it’s complicated, and it is. Juror B37, however, tells us part of the story: This myth that the world is full of scary people who are out to get you white ladies works. “
And they don’t just here this from white racist conservatives either, do they? Where else do they hear that, get that pounded into their heads? How much of this mentality is indoctrinated in Women’s Studies departments and Take back the Night events and Don’t Be that Guy poster campaigns? People have been making this very same point in the MHRM for quite a while now.
(And in reference to the title of that piece, one really has to wonder what planet anyone has been staying on that it comes as any surprise that an all–female jury woudl findd a male victim disposable the eway that one found Trayvon Martin.)
“Plenty of white women are so worried about the imaginary threats lurking outside their door that they don’t pay any mind to the real problems that threaten us: economic inequality and lack of health care access. Sure, there’s crime, too, but 80-90 percent of rapes are committed by someone the same race as the victim. White women have more to fear from the men deemed our protectors than the ones we imagine are out to get us.”
Which inevitably leads to the question of why [white] women are so comfortable turning to these “deemed protectors” – white male power structures – so readily in their advocacy.
“As Mychal Denzel Smith pointed out here at The Nation and on MSNBC’s Up With Steve Kornacki, defense attorneys stoked this fear deliberately and broadly.
To my disgust, O’Mara literally invoked the same justification for killing Trayvon as was used to justify lynchings. He called to the witness stand Olivia Bertalan, one of Zimmerman’s former neighbors, who told the story of her home being burglarized by two young African-American boys while she and her children feared for their lives. It was terrifying indeed, and it had absolutely no connection to the case at hand. But O’Mara presented the jury with the “perfect victim,” which Trayvon could never be: a white woman living in fear of black criminals. Zimmerman had offered to help her the night her home was robbed. Implicit in the defense’s closing argument: he was also protecting her the night he killed Trayvon Martin.”
“This juror’s comments cannot be divorced from our culture’s long-standing criminalizing of young black men, and white women’s related fears.”
“Yes, white women—all of us—are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism.”
The Boy Who is Never Allowed To Be a Child
This was good as far as it went; in fact it identified the source of the problem but did not go on to the next obvious step. It was black commentators who took this a step further and pointed out the crux of O’Mara’s appeal to emotion was to deny Trayvon Martin’s youth and relative defenselessness so as to paint him as the kind of threat that would merit being gunned down when he was unarmed, a 17-year-old boy who the defense portrayed as some hulking, shadowy menace, not a child on the brink of manhood. Eugene Robinson explained in another op/ed the reason Trayvon Martin looked like a threat to frightened white women was that they basically just could not see him as a child. Joy Ann Reid echoed this while she was appearing with him on the Rachel Maddow Show. It meant that he could be portrayed as an adult threatening another adult and therefore a valid target for George Zimmerman. It meant that the jury of six women, five white and the sixth nearly so, could see Trayvon Martin as inherently threatening and shooting him as a valid response to that threat.
Black boys get this the most but they are not alone in this. Think of all the statutory rape cases where minors of equal age are involved and somehow it is only ever the boy who is charged with anything, regardless of race. Think of the cases where little boys are punished for affectionate gestures, sometimes to girls but sometimes even to grown women teaching them. One such teacher said she felt sexually harassed after a nine-year-old boy called her “cute”. (And this is leaving aside the ick factor of a grown women thinking of a nine-year-old as sexual.)
This denial of a boy’s boyhood is deeply dehumanizing. It imposes accountability on him long before he has the mental or emotional tools to shoulder that accountability, it often holds him accountable for female peers and adults, and as we see in the Trayvon Martin case, it denies him the normal protections due a child from adults.
This denial of a boy’s boyhood is deeply dehumanizing, and it is a natural aspect of hyperagency. A male is agentive just by virtue of being male in this system, regardless of his age because his age does not obviate his maleness. And this is where hyperagency leads us, a bunch of hypoagentive females twice his age thinking he is some kind of threat who it is reasonable to gun down, thinking it was justifiable to kill him on a hunch.
When it comes to men’s rights and the issues of men and boys, black men and boys are the canaries in the coal mine. It is all the same shit – wildly skewed incarceration rates, presumption of guilt in rape cases, but only if the male is the accused rather than the victim, the culture portraying them as sex-crazed animals, a firmly secondary role as parents – all happens to them first and worst.
Latest posts by Jim Doyle (see all)
- The Woman Card - May 2, 2016
- Frat boy bachelorettes and the invasion of gay bars - April 15, 2016
- “Not my kid….” - February 22, 2016