Monday, March 26, 2012

We wear the hood but "hood remains unchanged

Sylvester Brown, Jr.

by Sylvester Brown, Jr.

Originally posted by Op/Ed News 

As a long-time writer honed in the industry of print & ink journalism, I am in awe of social media. The quick-fast global distribution of news and images via Face Book, Twitter, YouTube and other Internet sites utterly fascinates me. The phenomenon, basically driven by youth, has fueled revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, made or maimed celebrity careers and has empowered a generation of tech savvy journalists and dedicated followers who now set the pace for news that matters.

This old school journalist, however, is also leery of social media. Like the youth who drive it, there's a flighty, faddish feel to viral jornalism. It's a bittersweet sphere where tweets, pings and postings dictate the relevance of information. Its news in a hurry for hurried people conditioned to sound bites and under 500-word summaries. Social media can instantaneously motivate millions to action but that figurative moment also allows people to superficially adopt a cause or respond to a crisis without really understanding or addressing root causes or the bigger realities of societal issues.

Consider the case of 17-year-old high school junior Trayvon Martin. The unarmed Florida teen was shot dead in February 26 by George Zimmerman, reportedly a neighborhood watch captain. When police arrived, Zimmerman told them he had shot Trayvon in self-defense after a physical altercation. Police, who only found a can of iced tea, $22 and a pack of Skittles on the dead boy's body, seemed to have accepted Zimmerman's version of events.

By Florida law, residents can use lethal force if they are at risk of being killed or seriously injured by an assailant. Zimmerman had a permit to carry his gun. If not for social media, the story may have taken the typical "vigilante kills violent black youth" angle. After all, the teen was wearing a hoodie, which according to Fox News host, Geraldo Rivera, was "as much responsible" for the boy's death as Zimmerman's gun.

Friends and family members used Facebook to mourn the teen's death and demand justice. Weeks after the shooting, the tragedy blossomed into a national concern mostly because witness accounts, Zimmerman's call to police before the shooting and the questionable behavior of police officials all went viral.

On the upside, millions who found the story relevant used their voices and actions to speak to an apparent injustice. People donned hoodies, bought bags of Skittles and showed up at many of the "1,000,000 Hoodies" rallies across the country. The attire has become a national symbol of injustice with notables such as Muhammad Ali, LeBron James, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, P. Diddy, Jamie Foxx, Ludacris and others have all demonstrating their outrage with clothing.

Hoodies and candy may be an effective way to voice indignation about the death of an innocent child but this contemporary application pales in comparison to the brave souls who faced club-wielding policemen, slathering dogs and torrents of skin-pealing water hoses to challenge Apartheid in America. Today, Internet-savvy folk can simply purchase a hooded sweatshirt, a bag of Skittles, show up at a rally, post a picture on Facebook and PRESTO, they are bona fide activists.

This type of protest underscores the mindset of a consumer-driven, quick-fix generation. They are in-it-to-win-it" ... for the moment. With Internet-driven activism there really is no long-term commitment to eradicate racism or societal injustice. It provides the illusion of progress. Addressing the deeper issues of poverty, racial profiling, police corruption, unfair sentencing and prisons filled with almost a million older Trayvon Martins are too complicated and require the staying power that symbolic activism does not foster.

With Internet-driven activism there really is no long-term commitment to eradicate racism or societal injustice. It provides the illusion of progress. Addressing the deeper issues of poverty, racial profiling, police corruption, unfair sentencing and prisons filled with almost a million older Trayvon Martins are too complicated and require the staying power that symbolic activism does not foster.


It's a sad commentary when far-right extremists such as the Tea Party have more in common with civil rights-era leaders than today's Facebook activists. The Tea Party's message may be goofy, but strategists have a long term, well-funded machine that influences politics and demands conservative change by any means necessary.

If George Zimmerman is charged with a crime, today's Smart Phone protestors will declare victory and move on to the next topic du jour. Yet, in the wake of their triumph, neighborhoods will still be impoverished, childhood will still be threatened and the quest for true brotherhood will become abandoned endeavors...until the next sensationalized heavily-tweeted incident.

National outrage personified by symbolic objects will result in symbolic victories. Quick-fix solutions will satisfy a quick-fix generation of Internet activists. They will eat their Skittles and shed their hoods in victory while the "hoods remain unchanged.
 
Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a St. Louis, MO-based writer and founder of When We Dream Together, a nonprofit dedicated to urban revitalization.

6 comments:

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

This from Ian P. Buchanan:

At this point, I really wish we could have a two-pronged approach to this issue. I’m extremely troubled by the homicide (possibly) of Trayvon Martin, but I’m really struggling with the genocide (both literal and methaphorical) of a generation of black youth at the hands of an aberration of hip hop culture that contributes to our downfall as a people. When I think about the stance that so many have taken (and rightfully so) regarding Trayvon, I wonder why it’s as quiet as a library when it comes to critiquing the impact the music/media has on the lives of our youth. I keep thinking about Beverly Tatum’s “smog-breathers” metaphor.

Phil Hunsberger said...

Syvester,

It is always good to read your writing. I do feel compelled to reflect on this one because Travyon Martin has been on my mind and lately even more.
The travesty of his story is thick with both the present realities of racism, and the manner in which this oppression consistently and effectively is able to rename itself in order to carry some apparent reasonableness. Certainly the second sentence of an amendment to end slavery allowed it to continue to live under the disguise of “law and order”. So now we move from Jim Crow laws to Stand Your Ground legislation both examples of a dominant white group maintaining control and sadly allowing the illusion of order at the expense of justice.
But this week Albert Florence has also caught my attention. A black man again the victim of suspicion merely because he is black, and yet another story of present day racism. Mr. Florence was unnecessarily placed in jail for six days because of an error in recording a paid traffic violation in the state of New Jersey. Regardless that Mr. Florence carried in his car a statement attesting to the payment on a paper with the New Jersey State seal, he is isolated from his pregnant wife and child. While in jail, he is also forced into a strip search, twice, as a result of this misplaced incarceration. Yes, unlike Trayvon, his life was not taken from him, but instead the system assaulted his dignity. His response to the search led to feeling in his words to be “less than a man”. And this week, the Supreme Court of the United States, again ruled on the side of “order” rather than “justice”. The majority opinion of this conservative court was to defer to the policies of jail as Mr. Florence was held as an inmate of the general population.
I am haunted again by WEB Dubois’ duality of consciousness that Black men still encounter in this racist society. Though I would like to think otherwise, the truth is that I as white man will never truly feel what Dubois suggest, that I will never carry within my consciousness that feeling of suspicion that others may hold for me, that I will always be given the privilege of benefit of doubt, and that my voice in opposition to an injustice thrust upon me will not be ignored or silenced. That though I have encountered struggles, obstacles, and unfortunate life difficulties, my privilege has always remained intact with regard to any assault upon my humanity.
Sylvester, I cannot share that sense of futility that you may indeed encounter as a result of these kinds of events. As well to know that though Mr. Martin and Mr. Florence are not the exception but instead the rule and the only difference in their stories is a “flash” across a network of Facebook, Twitter, tweets, and pings. And I agree a “flash” that may not have the diligence and persistence of transformative efforts necessary for change. They may fall again into the trap of “the next topic du jour”. I do hope, however, that these events will move white men to acknowledge their power as the dominant group and “flex” it in ways to interrupt and dismantle the institutional elements that serves order rather than justice.

Phil Hunsberger said...

Syvester,

It is always good to read your writing. I do feel compelled to reflect on this one because Travyon Martin has been on my mind and lately even more.
The travesty of his story is thick with both the present realities of racism, and the manner in which this oppression consistently and effectively is able to rename itself in order to carry some apparent reasonableness. Certainly the second sentence of an amendment to end slavery allowed it to continue to live under the disguise of “law and order”. So now we move from Jim Crow laws to Stand Your Ground legislation both examples of a dominant white group maintaining control and sadly allowing the illusion of order at the expense of justice.
But this week Albert Florence has also caught my attention. A black man again the victim of suspicion merely because he is black, and yet another story of present day racism. Mr. Florence was unnecessarily placed in jail for six days because of an error in recording a paid traffic violation in the state of New Jersey. Regardless that Mr. Florence carried in his car a statement attesting to the payment on a paper with the New Jersey State seal, he is isolated from his pregnant wife and child. While in jail, he is also forced into a strip search, twice, as a result of this misplaced incarceration. Yes, unlike Trayvon, his life was not taken from him, but instead the system assaulted his dignity. His response to the search led to feeling in his words to be “less than a man”. And this week, the Supreme Court of the United States, again ruled on the side of “order” rather than “justice”. The majority opinion of this conservative court was to defer to the policies of jail as Mr. Florence was held as an inmate of the general population.
I am haunted again by WEB Dubois’ duality of consciousness that Black men still encounter in this racist society. Though I would like to think otherwise, the truth is that I as white man will never truly feel what Dubois suggest, that I will never carry within my consciousness that feeling of suspicion that others may hold for me, that I will always be given the privilege of benefit of doubt, and that my voice in opposition to an injustice thrust upon me will not be ignored or silenced. That though I have encountered struggles, obstacles, and unfortunate life difficulties, my privilege has always remained intact with regard to any assault upon my humanity.
Sylvester, I cannot share that sense of futility that you may indeed encounter as a result of these kinds of events. As well to know that though Mr. Martin and Mr. Florence are not the exception but instead the rule and the only difference in their stories is a “flash” across a network of Facebook, Twitter, tweets, and pings. And I agree a “flash” that may not have the diligence and persistence of transformative efforts necessary for change. They may fall again into the trap of “the next topic du jour”. I do hope, however, that these events will move white men to acknowledge their power as the dominant group and “flex” it in ways to interrupt and dismantle the institutional elements that serves order rather than justice.

phil brown said...

Brother Sylvester,

I have just become aware of your writings through the post on GBI Thinkubator Farsight Institute. As I read this article, I could not help from reflecting back to the video clip you posted "when we dream together.” Specifically, the quote from Buckminster Fuller "you never change things by fighting the existing reality...to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Here-in' lies the opportunity for a generation that has an historic perspective, such as yours and mine...Collaborating like-minds, with varied experiences and talents, to use these 21st century new media tools collectively to begin a movement, to build a new economic model for urban communities, that makes the existing model obsolete...

First, on film in a scenario motion picture, to show case "our collective better future"...how can you be what you cannot see?

Just a thought,
philbrown2020@yahoo.com

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

Phil, you are exactly right. Although I am cautiously optimistic about the power of social media I view it as a valuable tool in making the old system obsolete. With necessary collaborations and respectful engagement of tech savvy and old school activist, we have an opportunity to challenge and replace the counterproductive economic, political, educational and incarceration systems. Thanks for the reminder. -- SBJ