dagNotes: on the failure(s) of social justice
I know we live in a white supremacist society, but it’s not enough to simply point out racist shit like so many do via reblogs and what amounts to little more than stupid taunting or lame attempts at shaming. It would be nice to work together to articulate what it is that’s occurring and what to do about it.
I’m trying to address a specific problem—how concrete details about everyday life are overlooked by design to permit abstract representations of everyday life in open public discourse about significant events. This is an outline for a bigger discussion. Feel free to participate.
I have no doubt in my mind that Trayvon Martin was shot because he was black. Is it possible that Trayvon was shot because he was black and, once killed, he ceased being black and became a much more abstract representation of how white supremacist culture sees black male bodies? Thus, he became fully interpellated as a white subject when he died. Black bodies cannot be white subjects. Not really. Hence public discourse focuses on what he was carrying and wearing rather than a discussion about the young man himself. White people and their bodies are certainly never investigated with such scrutiny. (I’m thinking of the problem Richard Wright illustrates very well in Native Son.)
It didn’t take long for Trayvon to become a symbol, did it. I don’t really know anything about Trayvon. At all. He’s been fully abstracted. He’s now nothing more than a hoodie. Were we to actually address Trayvon, we’d address much more than a victim, much more than a consumer, much more than a young black man. And we’d have to address his violent death. The symbolic Trayvon may inject vigor and vitality into a social justice movement for a few weeks, but I wonder if that’s a good thing. We want to discuss the order in society that permitted unwarranted violence to occur. It’s understandable, but it may be the first step for excusing the man with a gun who stalked and killed Trayvon—at least, may be inadvertently allied with the racist police response.
We are so dependent (lazily dependent) on the liberal social order the police felt the need to conduct a thorough examination of Travyon’s corpse in order to determine (and this is an important word here) what Trayvon did to have earned being shot by George Zimmerman. You may not think the police department’s actions are representative of yours and my participation in the liberal social order, but I do. Trayvon must be guilty of something because George Zimmerman doesn’t appear to be the kind of subject who shoots others for no reason. YOU might not believe Trayvon was guilty but our society had already determined his guilt. It’s as if everyone from the police to the protesters accepts that the shooting is, in fact, his destiny.
We’re so invested in the social order that protests have embraced a consumer product as the most concrete representation of Trayvon’s killing. They decided to wear hoodies. I imagine hoodie sales are up while Trayvon’s family and friends mourn. In fact, everyone but them profits from the unnecessary discharge of a weapon. Trayvon’s death is now a style that can be worn to represent something that no one has yet been able to utter in a precise and accurate manner.
In this manner, the social justice community as much as anyone else seems to naively embrace a kind of social determinism that they would otherwise claim to reject…and let’s tie this to my previous post. White people are never examined as socially determined white bodies but as free individuals who are passively embraced in a white supremacist culture and, thus, are unexamined. People of color are not easily interpellated into the white order, especially if they break the rules or misbehave or protest or speak to white power. In this manner, most people of color are always addressed as people with colored bodies that must be examined in order to discover what’s wrong with them, or for social justice whites, what’s wrong with us. It’s flat out racism.