Oh, here we go again. This week brought us another sports fueled violent white riot after Kentucky won the NCAA Basketball Championship. The riot, which many had predicted would happen, came just 60 fires and two days after the first one where Kentucky fans burned cars to celebrate its win over Louisville.
The Final Four riots came just months after Penn State fans took to the streets, crashed down lamposts and flipped over trucks after football coach Joe Paterno was fired for not using his power to prevent the rape of young children.
The Penn State Riots came a year after the Vancouver Canuck Riots which came a year after San Francisco Giants fans cheered their World Series win by looting, setting fires, and attacking cars — or as The San Francisco Chronicle put it — “joyful mayhem“.
And when the games are over, there are the other crowds reacting to real life problems such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the larger criminal justice system his death symbolizes. Led by, but not limited to a divisive conservative media, many have wondered: “Is The Media Inciting Violence?” and “Is Spike Lee’s Tweet the Same kind of Violence That Killed Emmit Till? while “Sanford Frets About Prospects of Riots Over Trayvon Martin Killing“.
Ironically, while thousands of mostly white Kentucky fans were tearing up their campus this weekend, more than 1400 mostly white people were gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico for The 13th Annual White Privilege Conference. At WPC13, participants attended four days of workshops and supportive caucuses to better understand what white privilege is, what it is not, what’s inside the “invisible knapsack” of privileges, and using this knowledge to facilitate positive social change.
Saturday’s keynote address on “Intersectionality in the Age of Post-Racialism” was given by law professor Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw. Besides being a pioneering scholar, Dr. Crenshaw also happens to be a big sports fan rooted in childhood heroes named Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali. I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Crenshaw to get her thoughts on today’s sports landscape. In part of the interview which took place just a couple of hours before the first Kentucky riot, she had this to say in response to The Penn State Scandal and protest of Joe Paterno’s firing:
“Fundamentally, we see the difference between how outrage, hurt, and pain is framed sympathetically when it’s about white pain, white institutions, white patriarchs, white heroes, and how just the fear of that kind of acting out [by African-Americans] will create such reactions.
So nothing bad has happened around all of the protests around Trayvon Martin, but everybody is saying: ‘just so it’s non-violent’… ‘just so it doesn’t get out of control’… and ‘let’s not desecrate his memory’.
Well, nothing has happened.
So that very disparity represents precisely the disciplinary fear of Black people that led to Trayvon’s death in the first place.”
By calling into question the inner fears that produce greater concern for imagined Black violence over real actual white violence, Dr. Crenshaw questions the sort of mindset or “gutset” that continually produces so many variations of Trayvon Martin (see Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Kenneth Chamberlain, Howard Morgan, etc.).
Her comments were in line with the goals of The White Privilege Conference which served as an introspective and productive ”gut-check” for white people (and others) to help eradicate harmful biases by first recognizing their existence .
Says WPC Founder and Program Director, Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr.:
“The White Privilege Conference is designed to critically examine, critically push, and critically challenge participants amidst a loving, family-oriented, and community environment.
In that context, it is important to look at white privilege in comprehensive ways so when you look at Trayvon, you don’t say “I AM TRAYVON MARTIN”, but instead you explore the various ways in which you could identify and say:
“I AM GEORGE ZIMMERMAN”.
Dr. Moore’s statement signifies an honest recognition of everyday skin privilege, even if it means getting away with less than murder. This declaration also means identifying with George’s stereotyping of Trayvon, even if his gunshots are replaced with disapproving stares. While identifying with Zimmerman may not be quite as comforting for white participants (including this author) as throwing on a hoodie in symbolic support of Trayvon, it’s definitely necessary if we are going to get real about about racism.
In this broader context, recognizing white privilege includes questioning ”the white right to riot” while the larger white community never has to pay a racial price. Those guys who set all those fires in Kentucky? “It wasn’t me — not my problem.” Being white means the privilege of never having to suffer from “group punishment“.
In her analysis of the OJ Simpson Trial, Dr. Crenshaw explains that African-Americans received “group punishment” by whites in the aftermath of the case. Despite legitimate reasons for doubt (and a nazi lead cop), African-Americans were viewed, discussed, and punished as a group — both socially and politically — for the celebratory response to ”The Verdict”.
Conversely, the immediate response to Joe Paterno’s firing drew no group punishment or even group analysis of “white culture” or a “culture of white male privilege”, but instead focused on every conceiveable “sub-culture” besides race.
Even after months of reflection, a recent poll found that Pennsylvania voters favor changing the current stadium name to Joe Paterno Stadium. The poll wasn’t just college fratboys — but registered voters. And while none of those “yes votes” were likely cast by the then-child victims of rape that Paterno had the power to protect, the life-long trauma of those victims might be worth a national discussion.
But honest national conversations by white people about white people as a group just don’t happen.
At least not in too many circles outside of The White Privilege Conference where I learned at least three things:
1) I have largely taken my hoodie-wearing for granted like I’m Bill Belichick.
2) ”Errupt Big Blue” means the right to riot twice in 48 hours without racial group repercussion, and
3) “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN”
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