In Darren Wilson’s Testimony, Familiar Themes About Black Men


In Darren Wilson’s Testimony, Familiar Themes About Black Men
November 26, 2014 3:11 PM ET
FREDERICA BOSWELL
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Sid Hastings/AP
After Michael Brown was shot dead in August, his mother, Leslie McSpadden, said, “My son was sweet. He didn’t mean any harm to anybody.” He was, she said, “a gentle giant.”

But when police officer Darren Wilson fired the shot that ended Brown’s life, he saw things differently. “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” he said in his testimony to the grand jury. “That’s just how big he felt and how small I felt.” Wilson said “the only way” he could describe Brown’s “intense aggressive face” was that it looked like “a demon.” He feared for his life.

Many observers, such as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Vox’s Lauren Williams, pointed out that Wilson’s testimony has historical echoes of the “black brute” caricatures that portrayed black men as savage, destructive criminals.

After the Civil War, many white writers argued that the institution of slavery was what kept the supposed savagery of black men in check and also justified the punishments that they met. In the Reconstruction-era novel Red Rock, for example, Thomas Nelson Page wrote of a black politician — a “repulsive creature,” Moses — who tried to rape a white woman: “He gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast.”

But these depictions haven’t just been banished to old books. On Twitter, the hashtag #Chimpout started trending this week as tweeps used it to describe those protesting the grand jury’s decision. Again, drawing upon animal imagery, Urban Dictionary defines the term as “used to describe the bad behavior of black people, especially when they behave like animals.”

Contemporary studies suggest that language like this, as well as the language in Wilson’s testimony, has deeper psychological roots.

Take, for example, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology earlier this year. The report, titled “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” found that African-American boys as young as 10 were significantly less likely to be viewed as children than were their white peers. Philip Atiba Goff, an assistant professor of social psychology at UCLA and one of the lead authors of the report, spoke to NPR’s Michel Martin when it came out. “In black boys’ lives, what we know from developmental psychology is there are more situations that demand that they be adults than there are in the average white boys’ lives,” he said. “And the problem is we rarely see our black children with the basic human privilege of getting to act like children.”

As an example, Goff mentioned the death of Trayvon Martin after he was shot by George Zimmerman. “All of a sudden a 17-year-old boy was portrayed as a manly thug. He was seen sometimes by people to be older than he actually was,” Goff said. ” ‘He was a boy in a man’s body’ was something I heard multiple times. And you don’t hear that when it’s white children in the same context.”

Adam Waytz, a psychologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has looked into why this happens. He points out psychological studies where “people demonstrate a racial bias whereby they believe black people experience less pain than white people.”

Waytz also points to literature and pop culture that depict African-Americans as stronger than whites. “Spike Lee’s famous terming of — and I quote — the mystical ‘magical Negro’ as a stock character comes up in a lot of films,” he says. “And even Melissa Harris Perry’s done some academic work on the myth of the strong black woman, which is … this popular trope in American culture of black women being superhumanly strong and being able to keep the family together and all of those things.”

Based on all this, Waytz recently co-authored a study, “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks.” It examined whether people were quicker to process words related to supernatural concepts like “wizard” and “magic” compared with words related to humanity like “person” or “citizen” when looking at black or white faces.

“Essentially what you see is that white participants in our studies were quicker to process superhuman words when these words were preceded by a black face,” he says. Participants were then asked which face — black or white — would be more capable of possessing superhuman strengths, superhuman speed, the ability to withstand heat or to suppress hunger and thirst in a more-than-human fashion. More than half the time, the black face was assumed to possess superhuman capacities.

Participants who made these assumptions were also more likely to think the black people shown were less sensitive to pain. And Waytz says this is not a good thing.

“We know dehumanization often emerges as people treating others as subhuman, like vermin in the case of the Holocaust, [or] as apelike in depictions of African-Americans in U.S. history, and that denies people humanity,” he says. “What we’re saying is that superhumanization is another way of denying humanity and ‘othering’ African-Americans by saying that they exist sort of outside the human realm.”

Waytz also says he recognized much of this language in Wilson’s testimony. “Superhuman strength, superhuman speed, this idea of him as a demon; this depiction of Brown as Hulk Hogan versus a child,” he points out. “All of this was exactly consistent with the types of capacities that we were asking about in our studies.” And Waytz says there are reasons why he might draw upon these depictions. “The other side of the superhumanization coin is you believe that black people are less sensitive to pain, and perhaps [Wilson] is suggesting that because of the superhuman nature of Brown in this moment, which he perceived, more excessive force was required.”

So could that be right? And do these perceptions usually affect police officers? “Of course,” says Tracie Keesee, a 25-year police veteran and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity and the director of community outreach. “We’ve always talked about those social stereotypes that go along with aggressiveness,” she says. “How do you describe what aggressiveness looks like on a black male versus a white male?”

Stereotypes, implicit biases and media images, Keesee says, factor into the decisions officers make. “Your mind is trying to make sense of those things in a very rapid and quick fashion. And so what we always like to train, and fashion our training around: Are you reacting to the correct thing?”

That is on the mind of police chiefs across the country, she says. “How do we not only identify that we are engaging in this type of behavior, but how do we fix it?”

Amruta Trivedi contributed to this report.

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When will our society respect the humanity of ALL people?

Namaste,

Barbara

Why is Racism still an issue?


 

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I have written about war and peace, I have written about gender equality. I have written about people living in violence. Today, I am writing to the world about yet another human tragedy. I don’t know how bad racism is everywhere in the world, but I feel it is getting worse in America. I am an old lady, but I have a black hoodie that says peace on the front. When I wear it, I wear it with the hood up. I wear it that way for Trayvon Martin.  I wear it because I realize that more people will look at it on the body of  a 5’2″ blonde white woman.  I wear it because my grandfather told me about the Holocaust when I was nine years old. He gave me a book of photographs in black and white of the piles of dead Jews, Poles and Gypsies. He sat me on his knee and told me that we can never forget or it will happen again. I have never forgotten this experience. It has influenced a lot of the work in my life. He died in 1972, and I have told this story in schools, at battered women’s shelters, Holocaust museums and to mean hearted people. I have mentioned it before, here on my blog.

 

Injustice begins with seeds of hatred, intolerance, and ego. I have worked so many places, with so many different people that I can quite honestly tell you that we are all the same. Our hearts beat in the same rhythm, our eyes show us the same world (for good or bad), we all get hungry and tired. We all need to prevent dehydration by drinking fluids. Except for multiple births, we all look different and sound different. We could all die from a barrage of bullets. Why is it that small differences frighten people so much? My nose is different than yours, should that make me feel better than you? No. My skin color is different from many other Caucasians. It depends on the nationality of your ancestors. The people in my family do not all look alike. The DNA is different for each of us. This is true except for identical twins, like my grandsons.

 

During a lifetime, events happen that are not fair. They are not just. If you have a bad interaction with someone of different skin color does that mean that all people of that skin color are a threat? No, of course, not. The human species is more than capable of turning a person or a people’s life into hell. Genocide of any race or religion is a hideous crime without any justification.

 

Morgan Freeman was on a talk show today and Queen Latifah  put a question to him.  She asked him if he believed in intelligent beings in other universes or places in space. He thought a moment and said, “Yes, I do.” She then asked him if those beings would have a god. He again answered yes. I got to thinking about alien life. We are so hateful as a species that I tried to imagine what would happen if people with green skin, or antennae for ears, or even has three arms came to Earth and I think we would kill all of them without a qualm.We would justify it as the only way to keep human beings safe. I think we would never accept them and would destroy them without hesitation. Add in the concept that they might have a god or a goddess. Or better yet, what if our “God” was also their god. I think it would be ever so sad and might even destroy our souls. We can’t even allow other human beings to believe in a god/goddess who they are comfortable with if it is not our god. We want to kill them. It is time to stop sowing the seeds of discrimination, intolerance and hatred. It is time that we got back to the garden. The garden, yes the Garden of Eden. The place where it all began, if you believe that. (Don’t start about Eve. She offered Adam a piece of fruit, he chose of his own free will to eat of it. That is on him. And it always was on him.)

 

 

 

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I am dedicating this blog to every human being who died due to hatred and intolerance.

 

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What a Wonderful World


 

Life is a glorious adventure. We are given opportunities to learn lessons and to face challenges. We are given happy times to make joyful memories and we are given times of such amazing joy, we need to pinch ourselves to see if it is real.  Life is golden and bright white light and it is such a good thing to be alive.

 

Life is also like that coin in your pocket. The one you flip and choose heads or tails with. Life can be painful and terrifying, it can be a waking nightmare. Ask a veteran what they think. Life can break your heart into small pieces. You can hear it crack open in the silence of your life. Life can produce as much darkness as it can light. It can take away your ability to trust and it can give you the friend who will be by your side for a score of years or more. Life can bring you shock or happy reverie and smooth sailing or rough seas.

 

So, in reality, life is a combination of events which can enrich and strengthen us or break us and leave us like a wounded bird at the bottom of a tree. What makes the difference?  We do. We are responsible for the outcome. We are not responsible for what life drops in our laps, but we are responsible for what we choose to do with it

 

Some people have rough lives and have a struggle year after year. Some of these people will rise up out of the mire and pull themselves up. Some will reach up to pull another person down with them. Some face terrifying heartache and loneliness and will do all that is humanly possible to make everyone around them as miserable as they are. Some choose to fill their hearts with an acid that damages their broken hearts even more than they were and are guaranteed to make someone else’s heart hurt as much as their own heart does.

 

Some people allow themselves to be so damaged, and seek no treatment for their damaged bodies, hearts and souls. Others will choose to seek help. To seek medication if necessary. Some will turn from the light that is in their lives and will seek to blot out that light wherever it can be found. Science hasn’t figured out yet why two people can go through the same horrible experiences and yet one will become a serial killer and one will spend their life trying to make the world better. Doctors and scientists are trying alternative measures to help people completely heal so that the remainder of their years on this plane can be filled with more light and love than they would otherwise have. Some choose to sneak around in the dark and making others suffer for what has happened to them. It is the innocent that they hurt. Perpetuating the problem and the pain.

 

It doesn’t matter if you believe in God, or which God you believe in. It doesn’t matter if life bent you or broke you. Each day is your choice. What are you going to do to make this world a wonderful place for yourself and for others? Tomorrow morning is a chance for you to make a new choice or to reinforce the ones you have all ready made.

 

No one can make this choice for anyone else. Never allow anyone to make it for you, even if your life is on the line. Each day wake up knowing you are what you are and you will make life easier, smoother and more loving for someone else. Or you will wake up, angry, resentful, bitter and try to make someone else feel the same way you do. I choose the love, joy, compassion, kindness and peace. That is my decision every day no matter what happens.

 

 

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Our Passion for Justice


Justice is part of the foundation of our civilization

Justice is part of the foundation of our civilization

Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling, not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends and enemies. Love creates righteousness, or justice here on earth. To make love is to make justice. As advocates and activists for justice know, loving involves struggle, resistance, risk. People working today on behalf of women, blacks, lesbians and gay men, the aging, the poor in this country and elsewhere know that making justice is not a warm, fuzzy experience. I think also that sexual lovers and good friends know that the most compelling relationships demand hard work, patience, and a willingness to endure tensions and anxiety in creating mutually empowering bonds.

For this reason loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice–not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity–a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.
——Excerpted by Carter Hayward from Our Passion for Justice

Photo by Barbara Mattio 2010

Sunset Black Mountain, North Carolina Photo by Barbara Mattio

Gandhi had the Right Idea


New thoughts for 2013

New thoughts For Some People In 2013

Gandhi was a very spiritual man and he taught the concept of passive resistance. Historically, he showed the Indian people how to be free from injustice and oppression. They received their freedom from the United Kingdom without a big, serious, bloody war.

We, the women in the world, have a war to fight. The War Against Women. We need to win this war without bloodshed and violence. But we need to win it. For ourselves and our future generations of men and women.

What is the War on Women? It is the oft-held notion that women are second class citizens here in America, in India, in China, in Russian and every country on this planet. Are we? No. Why do so many men and some women think we are? Because we live in Patriachries, where men rule by means of a hierarchy. Women have been at the bottom of that pyramid for so long, some don’t understand that this is where they are. Some believe what they have been told over and over in life: that they don’t deserve anything better. Their life is to consist of housework, sex on demand and having as many babies as possible.

Education is an enemy to the Patriarchy, because the more the women who become literate learn, the more they want  for themselves and their children; and the more danger they are to the patriarchy. Women are divided into two categories: the trophy women, the beautiful and young women that men like to have on their arm to show their success and power; and the others, there to perform menial labor and have children.

Popular thinking says women can't take care of themselves and need a man.

Popular thinking says women can’t take care of themselves and need a man.

The War on Women includes the fact that we do not receive equal pay for equal work.  It includes the idea that we, as women, need to be taken care of; that we can’t make our own decisions. It’s the idea that we, as women, really can’t run a company; that is the job of  men who are better suited to leading.

The War on Women includes rape. All rape is” legitimate rape.”  There is no instance of rape which is the will of the Divine. Women are victims and not enticing sirens that men can’t possibly control themselves around. Rape is not an act of passion but of power and control. Gang rape is the worst kind of rape. Male after male entering a woman’s body and using a woman and then finishing with her so another can  take a turn.

I am writing this today in memory of the young woman who was gang raped on a bus in India. I have no idea who she was, what her voice sounded like, what made her smile, what made her happy, how much her friends and family loved her. What I do know is that she is my sister and yours also. Whether you are male or female, she was part of you. She was a Divine child of the Universe made of stardust, the same as  you and I. Now, she is gone. Six men remain on this planet, six men who brutally raped and used her. Beat and kicked her until the breath of life was forced to leave her body.

This year I am focusing on the needs and rights of women. Yes, I am aware that there are feminist men everywhere. So, I am writing for you also. But I am writing to the misogynist, battering, abusive, and cruel men. You do not have to act the way you are doing. You weren’t created to behave like this. You were not created to destroy lives, tear away young innocence or to beat the heart and soul of a woman to the point she wishes she would just die..

So, this year 2013 is the year of the woman. The year we look at every way men injure or kill women. We will look at why we feel fists and slaps and kicks. Why we aren’t making the same money that men are earning. In America, we will work for legal equality for women. We are the only American citizens who are not legally equal.

I hope you will stay with me on this journey. I will continue to talk about peace and spirituality and creativity also. My priorities are women and our spiritual journey. .

We Can All be a Light to Others and Work for Freedom for Women From Oppression.

We Can All be a Light to Others and Work for Freedom for Women From Oppression.

Ethics and the Heart


Presque Isle, PA.

I have been thinking about moral and ethical issues today. We get closer and closer to the election. We expect ethical behavior from our leaders and those who wish to be leaders. But, we who have private lives need to ensure that we also have ethics and good moral character.

I believe we should not shy away from raising a strong, clear, moral voice in these campaigns or in our personal lives. Jewish beliefs are that there are no short cuts to ethics and I believe that to be true. Moral principles have stood at the core of Jewish life.

The core of the Jewish people lead them to look to educate the children, to work in the community and to participate in all charitable acts. It is like breathing.

I have seen so many good works and true compassion and caring in the Jewish Community. Many Jewish teachings are very compatible with the teachings of other religions. Spiritual insights and wisdom have been passed down for centuries.

As a society, we need to teach our children character. We need to teach them to feel, to be outraged by injustice, show them dignity and an inviolable sense of self.

Whether you are Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sufi, we all have to be responsible to our communities and to the Divinity in this world to act morally and with ethics and to teach the young among our societies the concepts of heroism, justice, fairness, hard work and education.

These can make a difference in our world. These can make a difference in elections and can make a difference in the place of women in all of our countries. We each need to start with our own hearts and then allow the Divine energy to flow outward and the ripple will bring change. It does begin with each of us. And each of us can be an example to someone else. When we change, the people around us in this life journey change also.

Life and the Tree


Costa Rican Rainforest, Cleveland Botanical Gardens.
Photo by Barbara Mattio

A while ago, I wrote a blog called “For She is the Tree of Life” and it was dedicated to my grandmothers and all of the grandmas, nanas, bubes and the gifts they gave us as we shared their wisdom while at play with them, or while finishing a chore or just talking together. Their stories were magical and took some of us to other countries, for some the stories were pictures of love and loss. Other stories showed us how much strength and courage we could find inside of ourselves if we looked for it. They made us feel important and unique and cherished.

Well, now we are the grandparents. We are the ones who have lived long enough to be wise crones. We have watched wars and famine. We have seen oppression and tyranny. It is our turn to share our visions, stories and to encouraged them to be deeply rooted in our Mother Earth.

Our grandchildren will face many storms and will know fear as well as joy. They will sob with grief and they will cheer with jubilation. We need to make sure all of them — I have nine — will know how to draw strength and wisdom and courage up from the earth when it is needed. They will need to know it is the love we share, the compassion we show, the forgiveness we give to others that really counts. Not which job we have, or where the kids go to school. As grandparents, we can teach them to care, to vote, to accept responsibility for their actions. We can help expose them to the events in life that will sculpt their own lives. We need to teach them to stop injustice, help to feed the poor, work to help the world’s refugees, for among them, there could be the next Mozart, or John Lennon, or Bob Marley or Monet. We need to teach them never to settle, to reach for the stars and grasp a hold on their favorite and never let go!

I celebrate my opportunity to be a tree of life for the little ones. I celebrate your opportunity whether it is now or later on. It is a gift.

Marblehead Lighthouse, Ohio, Photo by Barbara Mattio