Alex Blaze

Shame on, shame on

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 24, 2007 7:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Chris Crain, hate crimes against LGBT people, HRC, Jena 6, Joe Solmonese, Louisiana

Michael Crawford posted last week about HRC's defense of the Jena 6, where Joe Solmonese gave a speech about how we know bigotry and bias, and the Jena 6 know bigotry and bias, and Black people in general know bigotry and bias, and we should all work together. Pretty basic stuff, right?

Well, it's not good news to Chris Crain, who's decided to heckle the HRC for jumping into the fray. Reading his attack on Joe, one has to wonder what exactly he's getting at. Buried beneath layers of "shame on"s, "I'm sorry but"s, claims to perpetual victimhood, and other annoying and obfuscating argumentation techniques is a rather bizarre rendition of the events in Jena that effectively erases about 90% of the story. His understanding of the events in Jena, in fact, is so erroneous and so biased that one has to wonder which axe exactly it is that he's grinding here.

The normative claims in Chris's post center around the idea that HRC should focus solely on (white, middle class, legal/textual, cis) LGBT issues. But his factual rendition that renders the Jena 6 uncontrollable and violent criminals who should be thrown in a trash heap, that hearkens back to fantastic nightmares and cultural fears of black men with all their "macho bravado", and that ultimately enables him to identify with the white victim of one of the beatings (he posts a picture of himself after he was beaten to secure his place as a victim as well, and, apparently, to posit himself beyond criticism) is what makes me question his motives as being something more than the usual blindness to the larger goal of shifting paradigms for social and criminal justice.

The only two facts about the Jena 6 item that Chris seems to be able to pass along are the parts about the nooses that the white kids hung from the tree and the six black kids who beat up the white Justin Butler. (Chris said that it required "hospitalization", although it definitely wasn't inpatient as Justin was at a school function later that same day. Not to say that the kid should have been beaten up, but that detail is quite important when it comes to deciding whether to charge the perpetrators with battery or attempted second-degree murder.)

Chris doesn't seem to recall the story the way NPR does, forgetting that the white kids who beat up a black kid at a party, the white kid who pulled a gun on several black kids, and the district attorney of LaSalle Parish who told students while addressing them after the nooses were hanged, "With one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear." Chris forgets the fact that the kid who pulled the gun on the black students at the convenience store wasn't charged with anything, while the black students who pulled the gun from him were charged with theft of a firearm and second-degree robbery. Chris forgets the fact that the white man who beat up the black person at the barn party was only charged with battery and got probation, while Mychal Bell was charged with the attempted second-degree murder of Justin Butler, a charge later reduced to "aggravated battery" (which requires the use of a deadly weapon, so the prosecutor argued that the tennis shoes worn by Bell were deadly weapons), was found guilty by an all-white jury, one member of which was a high-school friend of the father of Justin Butler, and was sentenced to 22 years in prison (which was later reduced).

This is rather different from Chris's description. But the point isn't that he's inaccurate, but why? Why change the events so drastically to prove his point? Is this an outgrowth of the conservative need for clean narratives with perfect victims and perfect victimizers, or just a chance to trash the HRC?

The rest of his column relies mostly on the former, constantly writing as if the victimization went one-way here (or that it can anywhere) and that when someone has broken the law, they pretty much deserve anything that the prosecutor can pile on them no matter what the crime. No one who's protesting the prosecution of the Jena 6 is saying that they shouldn't be punished or that they didn't do anything wrong. They're saying that the system was biased, very strongly biased, against the students of African descent, and that comparing the Jena 6's punishment to what the students of European descent received and didn't receive, is a story that very plainly shows that the criminal justice system in this country is soaked in racism.

His statements that this isn't an LGBT issue might make sense if we could somehow separate racism and homophobia, if our criminal justice system could solve systemic bias against queer and gender disconformist defendants and victims without addressing bias against defendants and victims of color, if our schools could stop the harassment of gay, bi, and trans boys and girls without addressing the harassment of non-white boys and girls, and if our understanding of difference and Otherness could be ameliorated for the LGBTQueer but not addressed for people of color. His understanding of focusing-on-our-own-issues might also explain this whole thing if it also weren't for his insistence that the "T" is silent in LGBT.

But Chris's "shame"s on Joe Solmonese and Donna Payne, HRC's associate director for diversity (seven total), his use of a "morality" that doesn't care much for factual accuracy, and his transparent attempt to get as much attention with this column as he can all point to the latter: that this is part of a long-standing grudge.

Not that there's anything wrong with a grudge. It's just that there's a time and a place for them, and, in this case, the Jena 6 come first.

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Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | September 24, 2007 10:36 AM

Chris Crain has had a vendetta against HRC for years. He also never shown a real understanding of how race and racism are connected to homophobia or why its necessary for LGBT to spoke out against both.

He post also fits in with an attitude that is prevalent among a lot of white gay men in that if it dies not revolve around them, it does not matter and should not be dealt with by LGBT organizations. Bull.

HRC did the right thing standing with the Jena 6 and Joe's speech and HRC's increasing work around issues of diversity deserve wider coverage in the LGBT media.

These white gay men you often talk about are mostly the ones who dare come out, instead of staying closeted in their church-enslaved culture. While I agree that racism and homophobia are of the same vein of hatred, many, if not the majority of your culture, seem to disagree. Instead of focusing on the few white men who dismiss your issues, perhaps you should focus on the very same culture that popularized the term "that's gay," and who so willingly will stab you in the back despite your support at the Jena 6 as soon as the unjust charges are brought in-line. Same should be done with my equally retrograde Hispanic culture, instead of disingenuously complaining how "the white man throws us away."

By the way, one of the hate crimes Chris ranted about being ignored by the HRC in favor of some frivolities on their part was that of *gasp*, surprisingly, Michael Sandy, an African American gay man!

I feel wary about Chris's disdain for "PC," as it often means that quite a bit of insensitive comments will ensue. However, I do agree with him that HRC's time and energy could be better spent. There is minuscule to nonexistent coverage of violence against LGBT or bullying in schools on TV; and where there are anti-gay elements in crimes (e.g. the Nazi gang that went to Israel to beat up select targets), they are for the most part straight-washed (they did not bother to mention some of those beaten up were gay, only that they were Jewish). This is what HRC needs to be fighting. As long as our intense victimization keeps getting shoved under the rug,nobody will care enough to support us.

Focus on the same culture that popularized "That's gay"? I don't really know how you're making that a racial issue - I heard that one from pretty much everyone when I was in school. Unless, of course, it's convenient to retroactively blame a certain race for it now, but I don't even know what you're talking about.

Ummm, and I'm going to guess that you just don't understand "Hispanic culture" (whatever that is) if you're just going to make fun of it as some sort of monolith. (Wait, if it's so retrograde, then why is Argentina debating gay marriage at the national level in their parliament? Why was Colombia one of the first countries in the hemisphere with a sympathetic trans character on TV? Trust me, I'd take my chances with those "retrograde" Hispanics than with the likes of the perpetual victims of the gay right any day.)

Or that these are simply convenient targets to pit "gay" against. I don't really know where you're coming from, Lucrece, except that you have problems with people bringing up race issues. Or not, are you saying that HRC is racist to ignore Michael Sandy?

Whatever. What was I responding to? Oh, right, right, your insistence that "black", "Hispanic", and "gay" are discreet categories with no overlap, the idea that white people can do no wrong, and that people of color are the source of homophobia. Well, um, time to come up with some proof!

But Chris's "shame"s on Joe Solmonese and Donna Payne, HRC's associate director for diversity (seven total), his use of a "morality" that doesn't care much for factual accuracy, and his transparent attempt to get as much attention with this column as he can all point to the latter: that this is part of a long-standing grudge.

I agree, Alex. He submitted it to us as a guest post, but I chose not to run it. I was going to respond to the post on the blog, but now that you have I won't bother; you said basically the same thing I would have. This seems more like a vendetta against HRC than anything else. His post today about Marti's Saturday entry and his comments about the site tell me that he's not really interested in sparking conversation so much as causing strife.

I'm saying that issues pertinent to the LGBT community are far more complicated than a disingenuous comment blaming a single race of gay men for the misfortunes of another. It is irresponsible to make blanket statements about how white gay men are egocentric and whatnot. It's called stereotyping, and I'm sure you, as a gay man, have noticed how damaging an effect it can have.

Sure, how could I possibly understand my own culture. Certainly I should get lectured by someone who has most likely remained sheltered in the dandy and far less oppressive American society. Surely 18 years spent living and being raised in Latin America is not valid as reason to possess cultural insight. Argentina, along with Chile, are the more moderate countries in Latin America, and yet what you conceive as a debate is simply just that:political play. For the most part, the population and culture still remains fervently homophobic. There is no such thing as separation of church and state in these countries. The reason no hate crimes are reported is because no such thing as a hate crime exists in such countries. Colombia's move for civil unions, not marriage, is a valiant stance on Uribe's part, but I assure you that his view is not as candidly shared by the legislature. Novelas have included gay characters for years. Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with a large part of the writers and the entertainment industry being members of the LGBT community. However, I'd love it if you could find me authors dealing with LGBT themes in respected literary circles in Colombia.You also neglect the many other countries who stand in contrast to these three, namely Peru. And trust me, you wouldn't last a day in Venezuela before you came back to the right wingnuts.

HRC is far from racist. I pulled up the example because Crawford should be more careful when calling another person ethnocentric, especially when this person's post that is being criticized actually seems to contradict the claim. Curiously selective is what I'd call the HRC, considering their neglect of these gruesome hate crimes in favor of issues which already have no problem in achieving media coverage. Jena 6 has gotten weeks of public attention; the fallacies of gay panic defense and ongoing victimization of gay individuals without cover from hate crimes legislation has not. A strong case was already established against the racist DA in the Jena 6 event; we need to focus on the issues that remain invisible.

As for the idea that white people can do no wrong, fight my arguments, don't create a straw man. Every race is capable of wrong; saying that the white race is the origin of all evils pestering other races and ethnicities, however, is also wrong, if also lazy. Homophobia is certainly more prevalent in Hispanic and black culture, cultures which are chained to religious doctrines more tightly also because of the higher average poverty and incompetent education that plague these communities. Find me traditionally white music that has spread in global levels, containing ridiculous levels of sexism and homophobia, it simply doesn't come up. Hip hop and reggaeton, on the other hand, have spread over to countries like Italy and Japan, and with them they take such messages. As detestable as the bible-beating, condescending-towards-women country music is, its songs comprise sexist and homophobic language far less often than do hip hop or raggaeton; and, unlike those two, country still is rather alien to this generation's musical and pop culture.

Furthermore, I find it silly that you put words on my mouth about the overlapping of ethnicity, race, and sexuality. It'd be pretty ludicrous to say gay and Hispanic don't mix, otherwise I wouldn't know how the hell I could exist. Also, what I said about the black community, and by this the black heterosexual community, is that they have contributed inordinately to the fashionable use derogative phrases of the homophobic and sexist type in our youth. The masculinity crisis has worsened in those silly white boys who imitate hip hop figures in a caricature-esque manner. Thus, rather than worrying about some self-absorbed white man that comprises a smaller part of the LGBT community, he should be focusing on shaping a community which would as soon throw him into the fire. I'd much rather spend time with these selfish gay, middle-class whites than the far less welcoming black/Hispanic heterosexuals. I'll find Crawford hard-pressed to assert that any of those Jena 6 is not guilty of homophobic bullying. My outrage stems from the incongruent legal treatment, but I bear no sympathy for these individuals who are made to be looked as saints by the media.

P.S. I keep getting the error message whenever I post, so please excuse any double-posts that take place; they are unintentional.

Lucrece, I don't really know what you're saying. I guess you've dropped the "Hispanic culture is monolithically retrograde" track. OK. I know there's overlap as well because of my background. I was just wondering what it was you're saying.

In the end though, it's been my experience that "Latin" does not mean homophobic, but does imply a different relationship to non-normative sexuality than anglo folks have.


Different is a rather flattering way to describe such relationship.

No, I haven't dropped my view that where social issues come to hand, especially women's and LGBT issues, the black and Hispanic communities are rather retrograde.

I'm sorry if you can't pick up what I'm trying to convey. Experience outside of America seems to be where the barriers between your perception and mine establish themselves. I wouldn't wish even my worst enemy life as a gay man in Latin America, though. Keep in mind, though, that US media is rather lacking in its representation of Latin American issues.