Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Preconceived Notions and Prepackaged Ideas

I came across this piece by Daisy Hernandez, while reading articles about the rape at Richmond High. I remember Hernandez's work from back when she was writing for Ms.--that was back when I could still read Ms.--and now she's apparentlythe managing editor of Colorlines Magazine. I have to say that as an analysis of the role of race in this horrific situation, this article completely sucks. It's full of assumptions, bizarre statements, and half-understandings. And it makes me angry.

Hernandez writes:

The gang rape of a 15-year-old at Richmond High School last weekend has shaken many of us. The details have made us shudder. We’ve refused to read the details of the assault or we’ve analyzed more than a dozen people watched and did nothing or we’ve quietly thanked women like Margarita Vargas and Atianna Gibbs who upon hearing about the rape say they called the police. More than two hours had already lapsed.

The rape has also raised the issue of race.

Not in Richmond. Online, among the unpaid commenting classes, yes, some hideously ugly racial stuff has come up, but not in Richmond, with only one exception that I can think of. And her nephew is a suspect, so she's not entirely accountable for what comes out of her mouth.

It’s hard to figure out what’s most disturbing about this video—Kami stumbling through tears and anger to make her points but ending on an enigmatic reference to Asian students or that a white student immediately jumps to the idea of checking the IDs of Latino men as the only way to feel safe or that CNN made no reference in its written report to Kami’s insistence that school security policies vary according to the skin color of students.

Here we suddenly diverge from reality. I've watched video several times, and Kami Baker makes no reference to the race of the men whose IDs she wants checked. What she accuses the school of is allowing twelve to fifteen men who couldn't prove they had any reason to be at a high school dance, to loiter outside without being challenged. That's an egregious failure of good security practice at any high school. But we do not know that those men were 'Latino'. We don't know, because Kami didn't mention it. Because it's not important. Regardless of their race, their IDs should have been checked. Hernandez seems to want it both ways here--to acknowledge Kami's accusation that systemic racism played a part in Richmond High's lousy security, but to imply that checking the IDs of men hanging around a high school dance would be racist.

Meanwhile, the school has received emails from across the nation comparing its students to animals, forcing young people of color in Richmond to defend themselves, their school and their community—precisely at a time when they are in terrible grief and shock.

“It’s stigmatizing an entire people,” say Nicholas James, director of special projects with Youth Together, an organization that develops student leaders at six sites in the Bay Area including Richmond High School. “Why can’t we see this for what it is—violence against women of color.”


Except that the victim is white, the accused perpetrators are white, black and Latino, and the school is multi-racial, so this basically means absolutely nothing, unless you're prepared to define the city of Richmond as a 'whole people'. Seriously, what does this mean?

As of Friday morning, cops had also arrested six people including teenage boys and young men. One of them is a young Black man, whose family insists he was only arrested because he is Black, prompting comments that the family is playing the race card and leaving the rest of us to wonder how much worse this is going to get before it’s over.

You know, it's pretty bad already.

This piece angers me. It's a cheap attempt by an outsider to fit prefabricated ideas about 'young people of color' over a real situation in which a young woman living in a tough neighborhood was horribly victimized because she was a woman.
Think first, write later.
Hernandez also includes this information which I cannot better:

* * *
Donations are being taken for the victim. Checks can be sent to:
Assault Victim Fund
Richmond High School
1250 23rd St.
Richmond, CA 94804

The checks should be made out to "Richmond High School Student Fund." On the memo line, write "Assault Victim Fund."

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