Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Black Skin, White Jurors: Fanon, Juror B37, and Not Getting It

Start with the general observations already raised in Gawker: B37 consumes no media beyond the Today showno radio, no Internet news, and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot's cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were “riots” after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as "an unfortunate incident that happened."
In my previous post on this case I chose to focus on the issue of guns rather than of race, but upon hearing the revelations of the views of "Juror B37," of someone who believes that "everything is a lie," and thus "doesn’t care enough to learn that the riots she believes to have happened did not," I could not help but be reminded of Frantz Fanon's studies of the relationship between White colonizers and the Black colonized.  As Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Masks:
It is of course obvious that the Malagasy can perfectly well tolerate the fact of not being a white man.  A Malagasy is a Malagasy; or, rather, no, not he is a Malagasy but, rather, in an absolute sense he "lives" his Malagasyhood.  If he is a Malagasy, it is because the white man has come, and if at a certain stage he has been led to ask himself whether he is indeed a man, it is because his reality as a man has been challenged.  In other words, I begin to suffer from not being a white man to the degree that the white man imposes discrimination on me, makes me a colonized native, robs me of all worth, all individuality, tells me that I am a parasite on the world, that I must bring myself as quickly as possible into step with the white world, "that I am a brute beast, that my people and I are like a walking dung-heap that disgustingly fertilizes sweet sugar cane and silky cotton, that I have no use in the world."  Then I will quite simply try to make myself white: that is, I will compel the white man to acknowledge that I am human. (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967), page 98)
As Fanon is trying to elucidate, following Sartre who is in turn following Hegel, one becomes who one "is" through not merely the eyes of the other, but through simply the existence of the other.  The Malagasy is not "a Malagasy" until a European "white man has come."  Before then, the Malagasy man is simply a man who does not think of himself in terms of "his Malagasyhood."  I become an "is" therefore only when my "reality as a man has been challenged."

This then raises the question of whether the astounding disconnect from reality of Juror B37—much like the astounding ignorance of Zimmerman's lawyer, who claimed that there not only would have been no difference had Travyon Martin been white and Zimmerman black but that Zimmerman then "never would have been charged with a crime"—is not then a form of "white privilege."  In other words, not having had one's reality challenged in the way of the Malagasy by the European, or Travyon Martin by George Zimmerman, or countless minorities by members of majorities, allows one the comfort of being a denier of truths that these others do not merely believe but live everyday.

We could all learn a lot from
South Park's Stan and Token
In many ways this was explored most deftly by the recent South Park episode "With apologies to Jesse Jackson." Stan's dad goes from believing the N-word to be the right answer on Wheel of Fortune to joining a group of fellow white men who had become alienated by publicly using the N-word (insert Paula Deen joke here).  In turn, Stan tries desperately to apologize to Token (whose name is itself a perfect encapsulation of portrayals of race in pop culture) by repeatedly telling Token that he "gets" what's upsetting him but Token keeps rejecting his apologies.  Stan and Token are only able to reconcile upon this closing exchange:
Stan:Don't you see, Kyle?? I don't get it! [smiles, then walks up to Token] Token, I get it now. I don't get it. I've been trying to say that I understand how you feel, but, I'll never understand. I'll never really get how it feels for a black person to have somebody use the N word. I don't get it.
Token:Now you get it, Stan. [smiles]
Stan:[smiles] Yeah. I totally don't get it.
Token:Thanks, dude.
Imagine how differently the trial might have gone if Juror B37 had similarly been able to realize "I totally don't get it."  What's worse, imagine how differently the Zimmerman-Martin confrontation might have gone if Zimmerman had sooner been able to come to such a realization too...
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