The Mechanisms at Work | Human Narratives
The murder of George Floyd has been pivoting point for many. I am included in that many. My thoughts have been focused on race, racism, gender discrimination, accountability, representation, political power, and media manipulation. I’ve been mulling over ideas from Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis in particular. Though I’m most definitely a-political in terms of political party, I am absolutely pro-representative democracy in terms of overall political structure. I say it like this because I feel that America lacks the ability to properly represent it’s people in political offices that are larger than the state level. Hell, you could even say it fails to reach over the county level. This is not where this post is supposed to be headed, so I’ll get on track.
Okay, let’s get started. So, after consuming some of Chomsky’s thoughts on the media I began to think about the role that the media plays in creating lifestyles that can be marketed to and thus can be profited from. As a black man who’s faced rejection from within the black community for being “too white” I’ve had to consider what that really means. Would it be possible for me to be “too black”? I doubt this, but I’m open to this possibility. I’m not saying that I’ve faced any particularly difficult struggles due to this rejection, but it did compel me to be reluctant to engage in black culture as a child. It felt like it wasn’t for me, or that I wasn’t allowed to take part in it. I see now that this is not only really dumb, but it also highlights issues within the black community and issues outside of it that still exist.
The biggest outside issue that I want to touch on is dealing with narratives. There are stereotypical outcomes for black people in America. Rappers, basketball players, athletes with brawn, but no brains, single mothers with multiple kids, dads with no connection to their kids. America’s history of racism and oppression plays a role in all of these stereotypes. It has only been in the past twenty-five years that black people, in media, have been shown to maneuver outside of these schemas. We are shown to be business owners like in Tyler Perry movies or shown to be kids who are tech savvy enough to use Bitcoin like in Dope. The privilege of representation extends beyond just something to enjoy in media, it becomes the limitations of what a people believe is possible for themselves. How many black kids no longer feel shame for wanting to study Astrophysics due to Neil deGrasse Tyson being so prominent on social media? How many black youths have turned to philosophy and political study due to figures like Angela Davis and Cornell West? How many black authors have been spawned due to the ease of access to interviews with Toni Morrison? Hell, how many kids have been introduced to her due to social media? I know I didn’t learn about Toni Morrison until college. Maybe this is due to my own ignorance, but maybe it’s due to a lack of representation. I can hear counter-arguments using Star Trek, and The Cosby Show, and The Fresh Prince as examples of other ways in which black people are represented in the media in non-stereotypical ways. I’ll agree with some of this, but I still want more. I want this for every under-represented group in America.
The point is that representation can act as a catalyst for imagination. Imagination is what drives possibility and possibility is the underpinning of hope. Hope is what leads to a people believing that their futures are not locked in place. I’m all about hope. That stuff keeps me going. I also believe that representation can act as preserver of humanity.
Representation can serve as a means of humanizing dehumanized peoples. This is done by making unfamiliar people and cultures familiar through minimal interaction. In this case the minimal interaction would be something like watching a TV show about a tech start-up that takes place in a Mexican-American neighborhood. The concept is immediately familiar, but the context differs. Ideally, this difference will cause a viewer to say, “Man, I didn’t know Mexicans were interested in tech companies”. Then in a simple gesture you’ve caused a person to have a new archetype of a Mexican-American registered in their mind. The goal is to have so many of these concepts that a people wouldn’t feel locked into certain life outcomes. More importantly that group of people wouldn’t eat each other alive when an individual wants to move outside of the past limitations. This is ultimately what it looks like to be humanized. It means that your existence isn’t questioned. To be humanized is to be accepted within and outside of whatever groups you belong too. Accountability also comes with humanization. This is because your actions are viewed in a wider context when you are humanized. You are viewed as a citizen of a larger community and the privilege that exists when only one or two groups in humanized no longer exists. Any fair treatment you give an animal is considered benevolent. Any fair treatment you give your fellow human is considered basic decency. When there is no barrier to cross in order to deemed worthy of basic human decency, then there can’t really be any room for mistreatment or abuse.
“In an Ideal World…”
I’m aware of how idealistic this is, but I’m also aware of how maniacally dangerous it is to dehumanize a people. I’m definitely on the side of fighting for the ideal here. There’s a small section in the book Angry Black Girl by Elexus Jionde in which she relays a segment from the WPA Slave Narrative Project. In this segment a white woman entered the slave quarters and cut the head of a baby clean off because the baby belonged to her white husband (Jionde p.28). This type of evil is freely acted out upon the dehumanized people of the world. A similar phenomenon occurred when those five soldiers committed both rape of a fourteen year-old girl and murder of her family while deployed in Mamudiyah (https://tinyurl.com/Mahmudiyah). This isn’t exclusive to recent wars, not by a long shot. However, this is further highlights how dangerous of a tool that dehumanization is. In these cases what is normally inexcusable becomes brushed under the political rug. People commit atrocities by way of claiming their simple slights (or desires) as valid justification. I’m positive it is partially why the murderer of Vanessa Guillen felt that murder was a valid option. A look at historically dehumanized groups can reveal those who have had the most atrocities committed against them. Women, dark-skinned peoples, children, the impoverished, the “foreigner”, and the “other” are groups that have been historically exploited when those with both power and schemes have been able to act out their will without being checked.
This is where I’ll end this post. I’ll be returning to this topic later on. This one is a bit short, but I’ve plenty more to expand on here. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Your time is valuable. Stay critical.