Photo from TheHuffingtonPost.com
By Giovanni Ortiz
There is nothing more disheartening to me than seeing someone not recognize their privilege and nearly bash someone for calling it out. Full disclosure, I usually dislike anything that comes out Tomi Lahren’s mouth simply because she has a very one track mind and seems to refuse to believe she has more rights in this country due to the fact that she is a white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired woman. For someone who is always talking about race, I doubt she has taken one sociology course, African studies course or just a simple statistical research course that would show why our country is the way it is today.
Jesse Williams was “called out” the systematic oppression, cultural appropriation and overall lack of care that black people face in this country during his BET Awards acceptance speak last month. Using 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a young black boy playing with a toy gun in a public park who was shot by a police officer without question, an approach or even the toy gun pointed at them, Williams brings light to the injustice. Rice’s death was one of many police brutality cases that has been shared and talked about on social media, and is certainly one of the most shocking, heartbreaking and infuriating stories out of the bunch.
“Yesterday would’ve been young Tamir Rice’s fourteenth birthday. So, I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and going home to make a sandwich,” Jesse Williams said after accepting his humanitarian award for being an educator of African studies and being an activist for black rights. He also sited Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Darrien Hunt as victims of police brutality.
After the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two separate police-on-black shootings, Lahren tweeted:
It takes a special kind of person to put on a badge & serve those that seem to care so little. Back the Blue. https://t.co/G8aA1lUW4b
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) July 8, 2016
Care so little about what? Their lives? The lives of their loved ones? The lives of people who died because they were of a darker complexion, one closer to their own? If they hadn’t cared #BlackLivesMatter wouldn’t exist. It isn’t like the hashtag says that those of other races don’t matter— you don’t have to be black to matter. There is no need to pretend the word “more” is at the end of the hashtag. So, why is a movement that is demanding equality such a big problem? Innocent people shouldn’t be dying by the hands (or guns) of the police no matter what race they are. It just so happens that black and Hispanic people are disproportionately targeted, which is shown through stop and frisk and police traffic monitoring.
I do want to mention that I started writing this article as a response to Lahren’s comments about the BET Awards and police brutality, but two more black men were killed by police officers
According to the videos and a number of the news articles published, Alton Sterling was selling CD’s outside of a store with the owner’s permission, in a tip by a homeless man said that a man had a gun and held it towards him, the cops came, saw him, tackled him to the ground, one cop shouted that he had a gun and threatened him so he could stop moving, he didn’t stop moving and the other officer shot him. The store owner said that Sterling, who made a living by selling CD’s, started carrying the gun after being mugged. Sterling does have a record and shouldn’t have had the gun, but he wasn’t holding it in his hand, couldn’t reach for it and was being held down with knees in his arms. It’s not like the cops knew his history and said, “He is a criminal. He shouldn’t be doing this.” And if they did, that would’ve been an assumption based off of his looks? His red shirt, gold tooth, dark skin? Furthermore, regardless of his criminal history, his life shouldn’t have been taken away. Whether he was black, white, Asian, or Hispanic, it’s a life.
However, the end result of the cop shouldn’t have been killing him. The cop can easily shoot him in the arm that was reaching for it. Death was completely avoidable.
In addition to Sterling, Philando Castile was shot by an officer while his girlfriend was in the passenger seat and his girlfriend’s daughter in the backseat. The cop pulled him over for a broken taillight. As Castile was reaching for his wallet, he told the officer that he had was a licensed carrier and had a registered gun in the car with him . But before Castile could retrieve his driver’s license, the cop shot him because he believed that Castile was reaching for his weapon. His fiancee went live on Facebook while it was all happening.
Although Sterling wasn’t innocent, Castile was with no criminal record. Also, to put the cherry on top, he was killed in front of his girlfriend’s daughter who can be heard saying, “It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”
It seems to me as if cops are finding ways to keep white men who are in possession of a gun alive more than they are for black men. For instance, a man in San Diego was waving and pointing his gun at the cops and he managed to live. Neither of these black men had a gun pointed at a cop.
According to the United States Census black people make up around 13 percent of the country’s population, and white people 61 percent. However, black people make up 40 percent of prisoners and white people make up 38 percent. Black people don’t exactly commit more crimes, they just get caught and charged more often, according to research and reporting done by the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Washington Post and other major news outlets.
Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post says, “White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population…. that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”
Such statistics are also seen in arrest and prosecution rates.
A great example of these statistics is marijuana. Although people of both races smoke marijuana at the same rate, blacks are prosecuted more often. Ian Urbina of the New York Times reported that black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Police monitor urban areas than suburban areas as stated in Kim Farbota’s Huffington Post article on black crime. Urban and densely populated areas have more people in poverty who are mostly black, Hispanic or recently immigrated. Rarely do I ever see a cop car parked at the corner of a street in a suburban area that’s not monitoring traffic. However, go to the projects or urban area in any state, there are at least two cop cars patrolling the area or parked and waiting for something to happen. Of course crimes done by a certain race would get arrested more often if cops are almost literally targeting them. Who are the ones fighting stop and frisk? The people who are getting stopped and frisked: black, Hispanics and those who are assumed to be or are Muslim.
“If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record and critique of our oppression,” Williams said in his speech. In other words, if you want to comment and say how #BlackLivesMatter is racist, exclusive and making the racial divide even more apparent, you have to acknowledge that black people in the United States get no respect unless they are assimilated into white culture. People want Beyoncé to be a better black leader and not use a “terrorist group,” The Black Panthers, as inspiration for her “Formation” performance. What else do you want Beyoncé to do? Ignore the fact that black lives aren’t treated the same as the lives of other races? If Michael Brown or Eric Garner were white, Asian, or maybe even Latino, would he have died? Or if Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old white boy, would the cops have waited more than two seconds to shoot as he approached them? Would they have even shot him? The thing people don’t really know is that black people and the criminal justice system aren’t exactly best friends.
An analysis by the New York Civil Liberty Union shows that more black and Hispanics get stopped and frisked. Black people were more than five times as likely to get stop and frisked than a white person in 2011 in New York City with a count of 350,743 versus 61,805. Although the percentage of people getting stop and frisked has lowered, blacks are still five times as likely to be stopped by a cop. Saying that black people smoke or carry more pot than white people is like saying that a rose grows faster than a dandelion when you water the rose five times a day and the dandelion once a day. Yes, the rose is black people growing rapidly in behind bars and in prison cells.
Even if white and black people are arrested at the same rates, black people get harsher and longer sentences as reported by the Center for American Progress. You’ll have two men of the same age but different races, statistics show that the darker skinned person will have a longer sentence. There are lists of comparable cases. One famous example is the case of Tyrone Brown, a black 17-year-old who robbed a man of $2, which he returned, and an older white John Alexander Wood, son of a baptist minister, friends with congressmen and a murderer. Brown and the man received probation. Both violated probation, Brown with marijuana and the other with cocaine. Brown received 17 years in prison, while the prosecutor simply told Woods no to do it again. I believe that these disproportionate sentencing were caused by class. Brown was poor and Woods was rich. However, most black people are in poverty and live in poor areas.
Not to ignore the fact that there are higher rates of overall black crimes, which also have its own set of causes. As a result to systematic racism, black people are put into this cycle of poverty. It isn’t like “criminal” is a gene that all black people automatically have—unless you consider skin complexion a crime. There are lots of black people who victimize themselves and use their “black privilege,” if you would say, to put the blame on the reason they didn’t get something they wanted on their blackness. If you show up somewhere in a mini skirt and halter top asking for a job, you won’t get it. I’ve seen it, a lot of people see it.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case, white privilege is a very real thing. It’s seen in Brock Turner’s six month, three on good behavior, sentence for sexual assault. The prosecutor says he had a bright future and that jail would be too traumatizing for him. I’ve bore witness to many, many forms of white privilege, from being looked at as more attractive, smarter and better candidates for a job or place at a university to being looked at someone who is safe to be around. How often do people cross the street when strange white men walk past them compared to when strange black men walk past them? I’ve heard stories from my black and Latino friends who are looked at oddly when they walk into a “high class” store or place.
Just a few months ago, I was trying to buy a Trek bike for my father for Father’s Day and the European (he had a thick Scandinavian accent) store was questioning my credit and identity— even after I showed both my state and school ID— to the point where he called an hour later asking me to bring in a passport to check if the Trek credit card (which I had to use my social security number to pull up) was actually mine.
I thank those who recognize their privileges as human beings, as The Young Turks do in their commentary, whether they perpetuate some liberal stereotype or not. It’s a privilege to live in America whether or not your ancestors were the ones that built this country with their blood, sweat and tears or they were the ones to rub it in the soil. Whether you were born across borders and in another country, it’s a privilege to live in a country that allows you to freely criticize its president without being imprisoned. Once you recognize your privilege, you recognize that you have to grow as a person and help those who don’t share them. That’s how social change happens: not by ignoring problems like race and culture, but by talking about it.
Cultural appropriation has occurred for many, many years. It is when one race that has more influence than the other uses parts of a culture from the other race as their own discovery or creation. It has happened to Native Americans, Latinos, black people, Indian and Hindu culture and probably many, many other minority cultures. Examples of cultural appropriation are: Native American war bonnets, black face, Hip-Hop culture (Hip-Hop and rap wasn’t cool until Eminem started rapping), dreadlocks, blues and jazz, the bindi, rock & roll, Chinese characters and more recently, cornrows. If someone of that culture does it, it is either ignored or seen as a negative thing, but if a more affluent culture does it it’s cool. Before you think it, perms and straightening one’s naturally curly or kinky hair is actually assimilation— where those who have straighter or looser hair types are seen as more beautiful.
Why do black women get angry when you wear cornrows? Because you wear the style, give it an entirely new name (“boxer braids“), discrediting decades and centuries of carpal tunnel hands braiding back rows of thick hair, call it a new trend and click “like” and maybe share a video about #blacklivesmatter before quickly moving onto the next thing. Or not defend your black friend who is told that her hairstyle isn’t appropriate for work or is seen as “ghetto,” while you have the same hairstyle and it’s seen as cool. That’s basic cultural appropriation: CAP 101. They’re not asking you to die on the front lines of BlackLivesMatter protest or cry out for black domination, but to open your eyes and see that there’s only been surface level social change since the 1960s.
It doesn’t hurt to take an extra step and Google a question or tell a friend that you support the movement and share a conversation. Some cops are just rougher and harsher when the person they’re against isn’t their race or has biases against a specific race, unfortunately. Cops are individuals with their own thoughts, beliefs and prejudices. Everyone has some form of bias towards someone who is different from, whether it’s something they are aware of or not. We as humans with functioning brains are constantly taking in information and forming the bases of an opinion about something. We naturally generalize and categorize things as bad or good. Google released a video based on research conducted by T.V. Raman on racial bias called, “Making the Unconscious Conscious,” which is about bringing awareness to ones unconscious opinions on things like colors, styles, phones and just about anything.
To see Tomi Lahren neglect her privilege as a white woman in America, and completely call a black empowerment movement a way for black Americans to victimize themselves is very sad— especially when she is in the place of a journalist and not even using facts or statistics to support her opinion. It’s people like Lahren who make white people look like victims in a battle that isn’t exactly theirs.
Disclaimer: This is a blog post in which an opinion is established. We encourage our readers to reach their own conclusions based on reading several articles that support and refute an opinion. The opinions established in this article do not represent the beliefs or ideals held by the Stony Brook Independent.