Sydney Jace took her son Cayden with her to work. Her colleague Geris Hilton (also known as Gerod Roth) took a selfie with her son in the background and made it his Facebook profile picture. Roth and his (white) Facebook friends then made racist jokes about Sydney Jace’s (black) son.
The words “racism” “white supremacy” and “privilege” have gotten tired in online discourse. Because of their perspectives, powerful and vulnerable people are sensitive about and find humor in different things. If I had a white kid wearing a Yamaka in the background of my picture and made jokes about gas chambers, I am sure I would receive a long, harsh lesson on sensitivity. Make it a black kid, and the offense would probably not be as vivid to (some) white minds because where media has made white experience “default,” “normal, “universal” and “human,” black experience awkwardly tries to elevate itself to a similar status by repeatedly reminding everyone that black lives matter. I imagine grasping black people’s experience of reality (and the moral imperative to do so) does not come easily to all white people. But I can only imagine.
I was once struck by something said by a black female commenter speaking from a live TV show audience. Among the topics they were discussing anti-Semitism. She corrected the panelists’ popular description of Hitler’s extermination pogrom by adding two words to it: “The Holocaust was simply the biggest atrocity on film.” She then pointedly added, “Ours was not filmed.”
This really speaks to a broader, more global context so it sweeps over a lot of nuances. But I have noticed this:
Genocide perpetrated on white bodies on ethnic grounds: evil.
Same thing happens to black bodies: it’s a mistake. It’s called genocide only if it’s perpetrated by the dictator of an African country only known for what has gone wrong with it since it gained independence, in which case consciences can release a secret sigh of relief. At least it wasn’t us this time.
Anti-Semitism happens to human beings so it’s insensitive and we must never forget.
Racism against black people happens to a previously disadvantaged focus group so it’s un-PC, tasteless and embarrassing; everyone wants to forget.
The approach to the first crime against humanity is humanizing and humanized; the approach to the second is clinical, political, token and perfunctory.
What I find disturbing is how that segment of society that is statistically most likely to subscribe to fearful stereotypes about black men, is also the demographic represented here as turning a black boy into the butt of a joke. So which is it? One cannot expect a ghetto of fully realized black men who contribute meaningfully to society and dehumanize, fetishize or trivialize black boys at the same time. It’s got to be one or the other.
The tragedy of racism is that many of us may never become truly human to one another. The greater tragedy is that many people go through their whole lives never seeing that they’re incomplete without the fullness of the human race in their hearts and minds.
In the end, Cayden’s Mom posted pictures of her son as she knows and loves him, and reminded her friends, family and supporters that that’s how she wants her son seen and experienced: as the lovely and lovable (but, I would add, very, very impressionable) child that he is. That way, by the time society’s snickers and voices make sense to him and he comprehends the incomprehensible, he will know better than to believe people’s stereotypes about him and his potential.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex
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