Note: there are spoilers for The Hunger Games in here, that I am trying to keep as vague as possible.
When I talk about racial issues on my blog, it’s largely because I have friends and family members who are people of color, and that to me means:
1) I want you guys to know you are not speaking into empty space.
2) When you love people, you support them.
I know my perspective is tinged with privilege, and I probably mess up sometimes, and it’s okay if you tell me I’m messing up, or if you’d rather I not talk about it.
Today was a pretty gruesome day when you start talking about white attitudes toward black Americans. We had people trying to discredit and vilify a kid who was murdered, and we had people who decided a fictional child’s death didn’t matter because her skin was the wrong color.
And these two things are related, because SERIOUSLY. Both are people talking about the death of a black child. Both involve people trying to assign a value to a child’s life and finding ways to make that value less than the value of another child’s life. And that’s pretty sick.
I’m not a published author. I don’t know if I ever will be. But when I was a teenager, I had a play produced by an off-Broadway theater company. Of course, like every writer, I had images of the characters in my head. And like many white writers, I didn’t think to specify when I imagined a character was white, because to me, white was the default. I hope you will forgive me the fact that I was young and raised in a largely white community, and I’ve since learned differently. But I gave the theater a list of descriptions of the cast, where I thought it “mattered.”
They cast a Latina girl as the protagonist, which was exactly as I had imagined her. And they cast a black boy as her romantic interest, which was not. Because I’d imagined him white. And fourteen year old me reacted a little twitchily to the idea that this wasn’t the picture of my male lead I’d had in my head. I probably had some racist inhibitions about this casting at the time, I’ll admit. And I didn’t know about things like unpacking my privilege at that age. I was just sitting there thinking, “wait, that’s not what he was supposed to look like.”
The actor was phenomenal. The two leads were both phenomenal. Getting to see my play onstage was one of the highlights of my young life, but the boy who played that character understood him so perfectly that his performance was illuminating to me as the very young writer. And I will now never be able to see that character as anyone but the young actor who portrayed him when I was fourteen. And he’s the only character I feel that for, out of the twelve characters in the play.
Yeah, I know this reads a bit like one of those white people “AND THEN I WASN’T RACIST FOREVER” things. But I felt like in the light of all this bullshit where people are shocked and dismayed and suddenly don’t care about a character’s death when they discover that that character was black, even when the author described her as black, it was worth bringing up the one experience with that that I have as an author. I don’t know if it helps. I don’t know if it does anything. It’s just one white writer’s experience.
I am getting the less horrific issue out of the way. Because I want to talk about the more horrific issue.
Since yesterday, people and news sources have been trying to “discredit” a dead child. A DEAD CHILD. Because obviously, if the dead child smoked weed, he deserved to die. If the dead child punched a man who was STALKING HIM, he deserved to die. If the dead child tried to grab the gun of a man who STALKED HIM WITH A GUN, he deserved to die.
Let’s go over this.
–If any kid who has ever smoked pot deserves to get shot, most of the people I know would not have made it to adulthood.
–Furthermore, no one had proven that Trayvon Martin had any pot. I am willing to stake money that if his EMPTY PLASTIC BAG were tested for traces of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers, it would come back positive.
–WHICH DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE SMOKING POT DOES NOT MEAN YOU DESERVE TO BE TERRORIZED AND MURDERED.
–Oh my god, Trayvon Martin may or may not have acted like a tough guy on the internet. Do you know how many teenaged boys do that? ALL THE ONES WHO HAVE ACCESS TO CAMERAS.
–APPARENTLY ALL THE BOYS WHO HAVE ACCESS TO CAMERAS DESERVE TO DIE.
–Trayvon Martin may or may not have punched, kicked, beaten up, bitten, pulled George Zimmerman’s hair and given him a wedgie. Let’s go over this again. Facts that HAVE been corroborated: George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin in his car. Then he called the cops. He was told NOT TO FOLLOW THE KID. He got out of his car and followed him anyway. Let’s say you’re a teenager, and a man who is much bigger than you starts following you, first in a car and then on foot. Would you not be terrified? If you were physically strong enough that you thought punching him might help, WOULD YOU NOT PUNCH HIM? I know I would. I’ve never been big enough or strong enough, but there have been creepy dudes following me whom I totally would have punched if I thought it would help matters.
–Trayvon Martin may have tried to grab George Zimmerman’s gun. Look at this sentence. There is something very obvious implied in this sentence. What is that thing? OH YEAH. THAT THING IS THAT GEORGE ZIMMERMAN HAD HIS GUN OUT WHERE THIS KID COULD SEE IT. So you’re walking home and some strange man who is much bigger that you is following you…WITH A GUN. What the heck would you do? Would it not be utterly reasonable to try to get the gun away?
I remember that I was nine years old when Tawana Brawley was raped. I remember seeing the photos of the pretty young woman who was not that much older than me, but at nine, she seemed like the kind of poised, sophisticated teenager I hoped to be. I didn’t really understand what rape was. I understood she had been attacked. And at first, people were supporting her, but in my mostly-white community, people started saying awful, horrible things about her. As if she deserved what happened to her. As if she would lie about what happened. As if she had a reason to lie. I remember not understanding; I remember asking why she would do that. And I remember growing up and seeing more and more young women discredited when they said they had been raped or sexually assaulted, shamed into believing it was their fault, shamed into retracting accusations, and then being turned into a pariah, told that they were the reason “innocent” women were raped, they were the reason “innocent” women were afraid to come forward.
It was my first real experience in seeing how racism could vilify a child. And yesterday and today, every time I see another article trying to discredit a dead boy who was murdered, and whose murderer has yet to be arrested, I feel the same thing I did then. I have more understanding now than I did at nine, but the chill in my bones is the same one.