To be honest, I didn't want to ride down this road, and I hadn't written it for almost five months. Just because there was a sign on the way:
Warning! Not a Turnaround!
Violaters Will Be Shot!
This sign is outside a seemingly innocuous farmhouse
on a quiet suburban
road, less than a mile from Corvallis, Oregon
, where I live. It seems like an overreaction, to say the least. And something that made me fume. Is this person really saying that the neatness of the gravel
in their driveway is worth more than human life? Its such a ridiculous statement that I don't really have any response to it. Besides this: what bothers me about it is not just the threat, but how mealy mouthed
it is. Are they really threatening people's lives? Are they really saying they are totally ready to kill someone for entering their driveway? At what level of irony is this operating? Are they really killers, or is this just some type of jocular macho
gesture that I am supposed to laugh along with? I really don't want to get shot is what I know. And I have to admit the anger from seeing that sign persisted for a few miles as I rode along.
Anyway. This relates to a rare bit of contention that I had here on e2. I have a writeup that has caused some controversy: The Myth of White Fragility. When I wrote that, I didn't know that "White Fragility" has been adopted to have a specific name to refer to white people's reluctance to admit racism is a problem. I meant it quite literally: the tacit assumption in the United States that white people are fragile, mentally and physically. Do you know the problem with tacit cultural assumptions? They are tacit. That means they are unspoken. And it is hard to find specific examples of them. Or rather, it is hard to find clearly stated specific examples of them. It isn't written in stone: "White people like mayonnaise and are bad at dancing". And even if you could find that written down, the subtext of it is is missing: "These self-deprecatory comments on our lack of physicality and emotional openness are actually self-congratulatory comments on our intelligence and self-restraint". You could go around for a long time finding examples of depictions in pop culture of "whiteness", and then finding counter-examples. After all, if American society equates whiteness with nerdiness, how do we explain Steve Urkel? Checkmate, Glowing Fish.
Anyway, so I was thinking of all sorts of ways to respond to the response. I don't feel I can do that. It would take a lot of research. In general, one of the things that I stated in The Myth of White Fragility, that police have treated white killers more gently than black non-killers is something that I feel is true. Jared Lee Loughner, Dylan Roof and James Holmes were apprehended by the police. Just the other week, a mass murder in Georgia was described by a police captain as "having a bad day". Meanwhile, you have cases like Tamir Rice where a black child is killed over a toy gun. But can I prove that? Do I have data on every police shooting in the US, let alone on the subjective decisions that led to them? No, I don't. It is a Tuesday morning. This is a daylog. I have to work in 39 minutes.
On a practical level, this is a real thing for me. Remember the story a few paragraphs up where I talk about the people with a death threat in their driveway? That isn't an isolated incident. That is a constant low-level fear I deal with: there are lots of white people who can threaten me, bully me, and even in some situations, kill me. I am a white person myself, but I still can get afraid. That there are white people who could go from threatening me to "It's Just a Prank, Bro" or wave around their guns and tactical gear until it is more convenient to be a big, confused oaf who was too naive to realize what they were doing. So while I can't 100% explain every facet of racial identity in American society, I can say that white people not taking themselves seriously is a threat I have to think about every day.
And thats all I really have to say about the matter.