In the recent reactions to local students posting racist language and violent racist threats there is one particular kind of reaction which has troubled me. When people look at the perpetrators and worry that they "might get hurt" or that they are "misunderstood" they are sending a message that they identify with these students, and not with the victims.
It may be as simple as parents looking at kids and saying, "What if my kid did some half-assed thing? How would I want them to be treated?"
But therein lies the problem. It's white parents looking at white kids and empathizing with them. How on earth should African American parents and students feel when they see that?
There is a horrific double standard in our society. When people of color are the transgressors, they are vilified as thugs, naturally criminal, a danger to society. When whites do the same they are described as loners, misunderstood, quiet. We post their graduation photos or mention their swimming medals. Let's be honest, even when people of color are the victims the same process applies: the victim is shamed, blamed, while the most unflattering photographs are selected to be shared. The implication is that, even as victims tbey were probably to blame.
In light of this deeply engrained double standard I was uncomfortable to see many of the same people whose concerns were more with the perpetrators sharing Dr. Anderson's recent video.
"I knew there was more to it."
"She just didn't know, poor thing."
"She was just trying to impress her friends."
"It's outrageous how people bullied her."
To be clear, I believe that Dr. Anderson did what he did because of his work as a Christian pastor and his deep commitment to building bridges across racial divides. My concern comes from seeing his video used by some to rationalize racist behavior and ameliorate white discomfort.
We should be uncomfortable. Please forgive me for repeating myself, but I feel the need to restate this:
Every African American student who has to deal with this is hurt. Hate speech, especially hate speech that promotes violence, is not a victimless crime. How on earth do we propose that students get a decent education if they are in an environment that threatens and degrades them? No one can thrive in a state of fear. These students' right to an education is compromised by this.
There are victims here. The first thing we should be doing is identifying with them, and with their parents who fear for their safety and well-being. If we identify with the white face (in blackface) we are deepening the damage that has already been done.