Thursday, September 18, 2008

Race and Privilege and Violence

There has been a really interesting series of posts over at The New Gay in response to the violence that has occurred recently in DC against several gay men. In Self Defense, Ben writes about considering whether or not arming oneself in an appropriate response to the fear of hate crimes.

I’ve read the many “buy a gun” comments seen on this blog, and I can only imagine how many people are contemplating their safety and reshaping their perspectives because of these beatings. I don’t have the answers. I don’t feel comfortable telling you that buying a gun is dumb because you can’t reasonably carry it around with you, you’re more likely to get caught with it than with other alternatives, you likely won’t be able to access it in time to defend yourself, you run a great risk of harming yourself accidentally or losing this weapon to your attacker, and because Hollywood tells you its easy to use one on another human being but not nearly so easy in the real world when you’re scared and possibly drunk.

While Ben clearly has some concerns about choosing to brandish a weapon, he is also worried about being vulnerable and open to attack on the street. He continues:

I’m also not comfortable telling you that if you choose to defend yourself, a knife is your best option for concealment, quick-strike capability, and efficient disposal of a threat in close quarters. I’m not comfortable telling you that you need a weapon with a good gripping surface, and that you should pay particular attention to how well it fits your hand so that your fingers don’t slide onto the blade during a stab or thrust, or whether the knife has a finger groove for the index finger that will provide no-slip support for either your index finger during a thrusting motion, or your pinky during a stabbing motion, both of which respectively take the majority of the force of the stab during these motions. I don’t feel comfortable telling you that a good blade design will be one that is decently thick, with the tip being wide enough or strong enough to resist breaking if you were to, say, accidentally punch it into a hard surface such as a brick wall or asphalt, or that the tip of the blade should also be able to easily pierce any part of the human anatomy and be long enough to reach vital organs (3.5-4 inches), nor am I comfortable telling you that your knife should have a strong locking mechanism, because without one you run the risk of severe personal injury to yourself should the mechanism fail or collapse. Finally, It troubles me to tell you that a fight involving a knife is most always ugly, quick, and messy, and that you should be mentally resolved to strike efficiently and that you should learn beforehand how to use your weapon tactically if you are attacked.

I understand Ben's fear (although I suppose that's open to question since these attacks have been against men, and I am a woman). However, I cannot see myself choosing to carry a weapon, in part because I can't see myself safely using one. And I know that it is in part because I maintain a sense of safety even though I have read these stories. I do feel safe most of the time in my neighborhood.

There are tons of comments on his post, many addressing the delicate balance that exists in gentrified/gentrifying communities between those who have been there and those who are moving in, often a balance between black and white. Largely in response to these, Meaghan wrote Being Gay in DC: Defending the Offense. Her post addresses really important issue about what it means to be the folks moving into these neighborhoods.

To be general, indigenous Black populations in all of the neighborhoods listed above (and many more that I haven't listed) are being pushed out on the wave of gentrification that DC continues to experience. Imagine living in a city you can no longer afford and being pushed out by people who, for most intents and purposes, are white. Imagine a gay bar being built within the four walls of your childhood caregiver's home, or your mother's hairdresser, the corner store, or even your church. Imagine your most vibrant and foundational memories being pushed aside for money. Then imagine living in a city where random acts of violence occur regularly and trying to discern whether someone is out of their mind on drugs or just simply pissed off.

And a bit later,

To shave off the inherent complexities of racism and privilege and call these hate crimes is to not acknowledge the hate crime that is gentrification. Gay white people of DC, you are still white. There is an obligation bestowed upon us and privileges extended to us by virtue of being white. Effectively negating the existence of your own racist fears and the reality of our harsh economic climate, and how it affects our neighbors, is ignorant.

All I ask is that we examine our white privilege before we brandish weapons in honor of our sexuality. I find too often that the bliss of ignorance prevents us from extending an ounce of empathy or compassion to the people we are consistently disempowering. Our obligation as gay people is to raise injustice from the maddening hush and call attention to it. And our obligation as white people is to do the same. We are responsible for acknowledging our role in this city's gentrification and we are responsible for aligning ourselves with justice and not revenge.

One of the comments on her posts acknowledges the truth in much of what she says but states that violent criminals should still be punished and that there is no excuse for the violence that has occurred. I do not want in any way to trivialize the harm that has occurred to the communities that have been displaced by gentrification. Those people have a right to be angry. I know that the situation is really too complex to point fingers or to lay down clear lines of right and wrong, but I can't say that it warrants physical attacks against the people who now inhabit the places that they used to call home. And I don't know that we can even say for sure that that is the impetus for these recent attacks. I'm not sure what the answer is.


Dakota said...

Really interesting (and disturbing) topic. I like Ben's point about even minoritys can be in a position of privilege. Not that intellectualizing it helps at all when being violently attacked, but maybe it increases understanding for those here and in other parts of the country who are in positions of power who can make a difference.

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