I didn’t want to talk about the Zimmerman trial over the weekend for a number of reasons. But what I most didn’t want to talk about–because I can’t even believe people are talking about it without listening to what they’re saying–was The Riots.
My husband was at a concert over the weekend, and during the last interact break the news of the verdict hit a lot of people’s cell phones. The woman sitting next to Husband asked her companion if they should leave early “because of the riots.”
People all over were just SURE there were going to be riots…in the black community because they were going to be upset about the verdict.
These predictions ALL say the same thing underneath their seeming-sageness.
1. Black people don’t know how to handle themselves. If they did they would suck up the “disappointment” and move on.
Any time you look at another person and expect the worst out of them because of race / gender / faith categorisation you are actively Othering them. “Oh, the women are going to have a fit”; “Oh, I bet the Muslims are loving this!” It’s all this language that establishes an _appropriate_ response and then highlights the Other for not responding _appropriately_.
2. Black people’s reaction to the verdict is an over-reaction.
I’ve talked several times about my dislike for the terms “over-react” and “over-think”. Different people respond differently for any number of reasons. To say that someone is “over” reacting or thinking is another thing that establishes the speaker’s responses to the issue as a baseline and then highlights the other person’s behaviour as being bad solely because it strays from the arbitrarily-set standard.
3. The only response black people have to troubling verdicts is to riot.
Whenever anybody acts like the latest celebrity trial is going to cause a riot because of the racial component it tells me that they really don’t tend to pay attention to the legal system in general. Because if they did they’d realise that if the black community rioted in response to every unfair verdict, we’d have much of the country continually in a state of riot.
I had so many people on my FB and blog feeds over the weekend act as though riots were inevitable because of the Rodney King verdict. That verdict was more than 20 years ago, in a different community on the other side of the country. It was in a community which had been terrorised by a corrupt and abusive police force for decades. While I don’t ever excuse a riot [more on that in a minute], I can fully understand why that community erupted in an explosion of wearied rage.
In the last twenty years there’ve been a lot of disappointing verdicts. I don’t recall any riots; there may have been some. I don’t know. But this “there will be a riot” business is just insulting to everyone. And, frankly, it underscores a lot of what I’ve seen folks mention about the racial divide lately.
I don’t excuse riots, personally. In my worldview the only type of reaction that is “not okay” is a reaction that injures another person physically or emotionally. That goes for any reaction to anything, whether they are comments on Facebook or in a family discussion or in a crowd assembled to protest a verdict.
I still remain–by choice–unaware of the particulars of the Zimmerman case. I don’t think I need to be, though, to realise that predicting a wave of riots is one of the most racist responses I’ve ever heard.