Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the fear of whiteness

George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin because he feared for his life, is looking to Florida's "stand your ground" law for protection. The law "states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat". Mr. Zimmerman had reason to be scared when approached by a black man dressed in a hoodie, he argues. (In his version of the story, Trayvon approached George, not the other way around.)

But, it's clear that before George got out of his car, he had been following Trayvon for quite some time. George's 911 call proves this.

Trayvon, 17 and unarmed, was being followed by a guy in a car. I know how that would make me feel. And I'm a middle aged white woman, no one is afraid of me. I think it's reasonable to assume that Trayvon knew that people would see him as a threat. He'd have to realize that those people would be threats to him in turn. So, who is standing whose ground here? Is George just defending himself when he shoots Trayvon? Or, is Trayvon just defending himself if he gets into a fist fight with George?

I had a slim, handsome, Asian, gay dance major in one of my classes once. He told the class how he would never go to the on-campus pub by himself, because he wouldn't feel safe. The class was stunned. They wouldn't believe that someone who seemed so proud to be who he was would ever be afraid on their own campus. But he was. Other gay men have told me similar stories. And they have reason. Gay men have reason to fear big, white, heterosexual men in groups drinking alcohol. If homophobia flairs up they know they'll be on the receiving end. It's not as if it hasn't happened before.

Hegemony is a process in society through which certain things come to appear normal, even though they are expressions of an ideology that protects the status quo. Hegemony is at play here. That's why it appears normal to us that George would be scared, but we don't consider the other side with the same ease.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

sheer cover scam

I noticed a weird charge on my bank account today, $9.95 that I had not authorized. I called the bank but they said there wasn't anything they could do. So I googled the company, Sheer Cover. Turns out that if you google 'sheer cover scam' you get a lot of hits. And you learn that Sheer Cover is one of the products sold by Guthy-Renker, the company behind many of the late night infomercials.

Once I had done that much research I called the bank back, and they were able to see that I had been signed up for monthly charges. So, what Sheer Cover had done, is that they had obtained my account information somehow, and then they had signed me up for monthly deliveries of their product, a mineral powder.

I asked the bank to stop all future payments to Sheer Cover. Then I put out their name on Twitter and Facebook, and wrote on their Facebook wall. And I filed a complaint with The Better Business Bureau.

Sheer Cover wrote me back on Facebook. Read the absurd exchange below. I've emailed Customer Service. Will keep you updated.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

fury (if you want real fury, google melissa harris-perry's take on the case)

I had a student last year who lives in the Oakland area, east of the San Francisco Bay. When I'd talked to him a couple of times I started noticing a couple of sentences that he used a lot. "Twenty-five is old where I'm from", was one of them.

For being under 25 (he is 24 now) he had also attended an awful lot of funerals. He would tell me that his friends were "dropping like flies". He's a funny and charming guy, but there is also a lot of sadness about him. He's young, but old.

One of my best friends growing up is a gay man. When we were in our 20s in the 1980s his friends were dropping like flies too. He'd go on trips, and where ever he went there was always a funeral being planned, that he attended. In Stockholm, where he lived, he borrowed a suit for his first couple of burials, but then realized he should just go ahead and buy his own.

I didn't own a funeral dress in my 20s.

AIDS and street violence have given my two friends similar experiences. The two of them have lived with the presence of death in ways that you expect old people to live with death in their lives.

Death comes knocking, and claims a friend. And another. And another. And you wonder, when me? Because that's what you learn when your friends, sibling, contemporaries, die. It could have been me. Why them? When me?

Trayvon Martin, 17, died at the end of February this year, when he was shot in the chest by a self-appointed community watchman, a man who had taken it upon himself to patrol the streets in search of trouble. He came upon Trayvon on night, found him "suspicious looking", followed him in his SUV, confronted him, and shot him to death.

That's one part of the story.

The other part of the story is that the shooter, George Zimmerman, was interviewed by the police following the shooting, claimed self defense, and was released. The police spokesperson said that they had no reason to doubt his story.

If you are a young black man in the US you may get shot by someone who gets scared when they see you. One of my black students was talking about that when he said "I was raised to not go into certain neighborhoods at night because people might get scared when they see me." What he said made little sense to me, and he had to explain it. But I get it now.

If you are a black in the US, and you live in certain areas, you may be going to a lot of funerals. If you are black in the US, you may also find yourself with a dead son, brother, and boyfriend, and a police department who lets his killer go. If I, or any of my white professional friends, were shot point blank, the shooter would not be let go. Even if he, or she, claimed self defense.

Racism is treating people differently because of their race. Institutional racism is having systems built into society, or parts of society, that makes those differences for you.

Austin McLendon is a 13-year-old boy who became a witness to Trayvon's death. The point has been made clear to him. He is not safe. What if someone finds him suspicious looking next time he walks the dog at night?

"If I was like two years older, that could have happened to me," he said.

And, guess what, grown-up America. He's right. The kid is right, and what are you going to do about that?

Here is the clip with Melissa Harris-Perry. Listen for how she says 'skittles' at the end.