Rhetoric Should Be Used Sparingly and Honestly

I like the ultimate point being made in this opinion piece: that “the rights [we] take for granted are only valid if [we] fight to give those same rights to others.” Although I could nitpick and say “give” is the wrong word to use.*

In fact, I really like the author’s point, that’s why I’m so disappointed in his beginning, which is full of exaggerated rhetoric.

I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie, a pair of jeans and white sneakers on…in fact, that is what I wore yesterday…I still will never look suspicious. No matter how much the hoodie covers my face or how baggie my jeans are, I will never look out of place to you.  I will never watch a taxi cab pass me by to pick someone else up. I will never witness someone clutch their purse tightly against their body as they walk by me.  I won’t have to worry about a police car following me for two miles, so they can “run my plates.”  I will never have to pay before I eat. And I certainly will never get “stopped and frisked.”  I will never look suspicious to you, because of one thing and one thing only.  The color of my skin.  I am white.

He’s apparently so delusional that he doesn’t realize that a white man walking around in a hooded sweatshirt (imagine hood up, not down) is suspicious, especially if he tries to hide his face. To a woman, it is extremely suspicious – it has “potential rapist” written all over it. To many others it would be extremely suspicious. Even a teen-aged white boy would look suspicious.

The difference is that a white boy in a hooded sweatshirt wouldn’t face the same kind of  suspicion. It is unlikely that any white person, with the exception perhaps of homeless teens, will ever face a situation in which someone is so suspicious of them that unprovoked violence ensues. In one sense the author is right when he says, “White people, you will never look suspicious like Trayvon Martin!” And yes, he is right that it is because Trayvon was black.

But it does no one any favors to exaggerate. Exaggerating makes people look discreditable. Exaggerating and saying white people never look suspicious, even when wearing a hoodie and jeans and white sneakers, just makes you look like you’re trying to vilify white people. Doing such risks alienating a significant group of people who might otherwise be allies against racism.

It is more honorable and credible to admit that yes, teenaged white boys will look suspicious when dressed in a hoodie with the hood up, but they will not likely ever face the threat of violence because of it. It is more credible and honorable to point out that suspicions faced by black and white teens is very different – the former is more likely to be suspected of dangerous or violent crime while the latter is more likely to be suspected of vandalism. And thus the former is more likely to be faced with dangerous, suspicious people while the latter is likely to be faced with nothing of the sort.

I think honesty is extremely important in cases like this. Tragedies like this. It does only a disservice to exaggerate claims. Does racism exist? Very much so. Is it a major part of what happened in Trayvon’s case? Yes. Do we need to wake up (again) and try to change that? Yes. Does it help to lie and say white people never look suspicious? Not at all.

It is far more illustrative to point out the difference in the type of suspicion faced, than to try to force the situation into opposite type terms – as in one is seen as suspicious while the other never is. By pointing out the differences without denying the truth, we can highlight the actual effects of racism. And by so highlighting, maybe we can figure out better ways of combating it.

*If we fight to ensure those rights belong to everyone equally, without question. They are not my rights to give, I can only help to empower others, enforce equality, and make sure everyone is invested with equal rights.

**That’s right, I used the word hooligan.

***That’s so f***ed up. Seriously. Such blatant racism just flabbergasts me. All racism is disgusting, but it amazes me that people still get away with such blatant demonstrations of it. What the heck is wrong with us?

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One thought on “Rhetoric Should Be Used Sparingly and Honestly

  1. Jimi says:

    I particularly like the argument that is going around “Zimmerman is Hispanic he cannot be racist.” The implication there of course being that only Caucasians are capable of racism.

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