The Oppression Olympics

A few days after news broke about BET anchor TJ Holmes getting pulled over by the cops, I wrote an article for Ebony describing my own recent “Driving While Black” experience.

In it, I described how those situations have become so engrained in our (“our” in this sense means “Black males”) collective consciousness that for many of us, you’re almost shocked when you see a cop and you don’t get pulled over.

Surprisingly, being racially profiled didn’t annoy me too much. Getting stopped and questioned by the cops is basically the Black males’ Bar Mitzvah. The stories are so ubiquitous that you’re almost surprised when it doesn’t happen to you.

After it published, I received feedback from several different sources; some friends, some comments on our Facebook wall, and even a few emails. After a couple dozen or so of these replies, I noticed that the type of feedback I received was mostly split along gender lines.

(The typical response from the men)

“Damn, dog. I remember when that shit happened to me. Glad you at least lived to share the story.”

(The typical response from the women)

“Did you get his badge number? File a report? I would have cussed that motherf*cker out”

Now, I know that the men who read the story also felt anger, just as I’m certain that the women were also glad that I made it home in one piece. But, whenever you hear stories like this, stories about Black men getting harassed by the police, you usually see the same pattern, and the stark difference in the base reaction wasn’t anything new. And, while there are many possible reasons why this occurs, one stands out a bit more than the rest:

Black women just aren’t perceived as immediate threats in the same way that Black men are.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Duh, motherf*cker. Of course not.” But, besides the obvious, the fact that Black women just aren’t perceived as threats in the same way allows them certain leeways. One of these leeways is that their antagonism in this type of situation probably won’t cause most cops to react the same way they would if we were just as antagonistic. Basically, they’re much less likely to get arrested/beat up/shot/killed after cussing a cop out than we would be. And, while we’re thinking “I should probably chill right now and address this later because one false move could make me the new Sean Bell,” this lack of negative reinforcement allows them to think “This wrong is going to be righted right now.”

Obviously, this theory is based solely on anecdote. And, I’m (obviously) speaking from a collective sense. Every Black woman and every Black man won’t react in a gender-assigned way. Also, I’m (obviously) biased. But I think I’m a bit more right than wrong with this, and I also suspect that most of you would agree with me.

Usually, when these types of discussions/conversations — where someone compares the plight of one plighted entity to another — take place, they’re prefaced with some variant of “I’m not trying to start the Oppression Olympics or anything, but…” — a statement which lets the people involved with the conversation know that the conversation starter knows that playing the “Who has it worse?” game is pointless, impossible, and even insulting.

You will see no such sentence from me today.

Regardless of the topic, much of the conversation we have here ends up basically coming down to the men stating that the women just don’t understand how it is to be a (Black) man, and the women arguing that what (Black) men collectively experience pales in comparison to the obstacles (Black) women have to overcome to survive and succeed.

So, instead of imploring each other to take the gloves off and try and find some common ground, today I’m interested in seeing exactly how people feel and why. Considering all factors — sociological, biological, cultural, psychological, whatever — whose navigation through life is generally more hazardous: Black men’s or Black women’s?

And, most importantly, why?

Let the Oppression Olympics begin!

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

If Profiling Was Juan, I Don’t Wanna Be Right: Why I “profile” with no problem

If I were to show you pictures of her…

…and her…

…and asked you to guess which of these women lists “poetry slams, Hill Harper, patchouli, Bell Hooks, and frappuccinos with soy milk” in her likes section on her award-winning pop culture blog, you’d probably choose the first one.

Now, for all we know, ol’ girl with the fro could be a Waffle House waitress in Gary, Indiana who goes by the name “Tabasco Sauce” when she strips at bachelor parties and baby showers on the weekends, and the woman with the multiple chest tats and “don’t you dare hire me!” eyebrows could be the president of the Harvard Law Review. But, our experiences have told us that certain looks also usually bring certain characteristics, we’d be fools to disregard and/or completely ignore this knowledge, and when having to make a split second decision/judgment about a person, we usually go with our gut feelings.

This brings us to Juan Williams.

Williams — a conservative pundit — made waves a couple weeks ago when, during a televised conversation with Dr. Caroline Helmand (a professor at Occidental College), he admitted that young black men have made him nervous.

Williams: “I can’t believe that you just said that. You think that simply saying what you think is evidence of bigotry, that all of a sudden … you were bigoted if you were somewhat nervous. Let me just tell you, with the amount of black-on-black crime in America, I get nervous and I’m a black man. So, I mean, wait a second…”

Helmand: “There we go again, Juan. I would find that to be racial profiling that’s a bigoted comment.”

Williams: “That’s a bigoted comment?”

Helmand: “Yes it is. Just like your comment about Muslims.”

Williams: “I’m the father of black young men, and I’m saying that if you saw a couple guys walking around looking like thugs down the street late at night, you’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m not going to think it through.’ Caroline, I think you are way off base.”

(Click here if you want to see the actual video)

Predictably, these comments didn’t go over too well. Just googling “juan williams young black males” gives you links to hundreds of articles, blogs, message board threads, and videos denouncing Williams, calling him everything from a racist idiot to to the “half-assed, bitch-assed product of Booker T’s century old spunk.”¹

But, while it’s always fun to make fun of slick conservative blacks with Spanish names, doesn’t Williams have a point? Okay, he definitely didn’t need to make this point in front of millions (on Fox News to bat!) and I definitely wouldn’t go as far as to say that “all young black males make me nervous.” But, I’d be a liar and a fool if I didn’t admit that there’s a certain type that experience has taught me to keep my eye on, political correctness be damned.²

What’s the “type,” you ask? Well, it’s hard to put a finger on it, but usually I make this determination by asking myself one question: “Does he look like he gives a f*ck?”

For instance, if I were walking down a city street and happened to cross paths with someone who looked like him..

…I wouldn’t blink. Why? First, I’d assume that if anything happened, I’d be able to kick his ass. Easily. More importantly, a guy dressed like this obviously cares. He cares about being cool, his waves, his fresh white sneakers, his brand new fitted, and guys who care that much about their appearance probably aren’t going to risk dirtying and bloodying their gear for any reason. True, there’s a possibility that he might be just as dangerous as Monster Kody, but that possibility is remote, and my gut would probably tell me to pay him no mind.

On the other hand, if I happened to cross paths with him…

…everything changes. Do I turn around and start running? Hell no. Do I cross the street if I see we’re about to walk past each other? Negative. Do I even tense up? Probably not. But, I definitely do pay more attention to him than I would to the Soulja Boy doppelganger, and while I’m not necessarily nervous, I am alert. Again, this heightened alertness/sensibility could be all for naught. For all I know, he could be on his way to auditions for an off-Broadway production of “Roc.” But, again when having to make a split second determination, instincts rule over intellect, and my instincts would probably tell me to pay attention.

Now, this “profiling” isn’t limited to young black males.

For instance, if I see an overtly patriotic white man (rocking fatigues in public, driving a pick-up truck with flag bumper stickers all over the bumper, etc), he could really be as cool as Michael Rapaport, but until he proves otherwise, I’m going to assume that he’s Remy. Same goes for white women in all black clubs/establishments (I assume they’re easy), black women with stupid hair (I assume they’re, um, stupid), Mexicans (I assume they’re Mexicans), well-dressed middle-aged white men with beards (I assume they’re homosexual) and many other “types” too numerous to list.

Does this make me a racist? Maybe. A bad person? Possibly. A fool? Eh. A coward? Who knows? I do know, though, that unless it’s telling me to make a 12:35 am run to Wendy’s for an Oreo Twisted Frosty and fries, my gut is usually right.

Anyway, people of VSB: How do you feel about what Juan Williams said?

Also, do you profile? If so, what types of people are usually profiled by you.

¹I made this up. Still, many of the actual insults were almost as bad.
²How is this different than racial profiling by police and/or the “legal” profiling protested in Arizona? Well, while a private citizen can feel however the hell he wants, the police force and the government have a duty to be objective, to not allow emotions/biases to rule their decisions and actions.

—The Champ