Well… whatever! Although the trial is largely responsible for triggering this blog I am not about to rant about the murder of Trayvon Martin nor the American (in)justice system nor racism nor any of the shite that Facebook revolutionaries have (from the safety of their, not even in America, living rooms) been ranting about. What I want to get off my scrawny chest has more to do with unexamined groupthink and largely ineffectual, feel good activity.
Amidst the expected responses to the verdict was a status post by a good friend of mine and fellow artist, let’s call him MG; MG’s status essentially declared that he didn’t know Trayvon, that his death had no real impact on the quality of life in Barbados and that he (Trayvon Martin) was in essence the feel good flavour of the month (Marc actually gave it far less time than a month, he suggested the next fifteen minutes). Not surprisingly he was almost immediately taken to task by those who felt he should show greater sensitivity and further felt that by failing to see the wider implications of the verdict he was missing the point. Two people even accused him (by implication) of social apathy and quoted Martin Niemöller “They came first for the communist, I did not speak up I was not a communist….” Blah blah blah. (Google it you can find the quote for yourselves).
Martin Niemöller? Oh frigging please!! First of all in most instances it is highly presumptuous, at best, to call the posting of pictures or status updates on Facebook “speaking up”. It seems to me that Facebook, Twitter and other social media have bred a new kind of uncommitted, no-risk taking, virtual revolutionary who can, at the click of a button, support, endorse or express seemingly radically anti-status quo views without having to put anything on the line. This virtual revolutionary has actually managed to convince itself that reposting photographs will somehow, magically, feed starving children in Africa or that posting “threatening” comments will somehow weaken the resolve of dictatorial leaders. This kind of virtual activism makes us feel good about ourselves, which is the point of it, it’s similar to masturbation and though I have absolutely no problem with masturbation I feel it is important to know when you are merely playing with yourself and when you are actually taking impactful social action.
Because I am painfully aware of the phenomenon of “deliberate misunderstanding” let me just say that I am fully cognisant of the fact that there are social activists who use Facebook and other social media merely as tools to augment their real world activities and that they have, on occasion been able to use social media to help effect social change. It should be clear that these are not the people to whom I refer when I speak of “virtual revolutionaries.”
That aside, MG himself, was in his status post, actually “speaking up” against a number of things that are very relevant to us here on this little rock we call “Bim.”
At the risk of misrepresenting my bredren I call unexamined groupthink as one of those things. American news (and I use the term “news” very loosely) networks have far too powerful a hand in shaping the world view of Caribbean and Bajan (yes I know Barbados is part of the Caribbean) peoples’ world view. They seem to dictate with abandon what we consider important and largely what we react to. They did it a year or two ago with “bullying in schools.” Do you remember when bullying in schools was the issue all over American news and then all of a sudden we in Barbados were spending money on a study of bullying in our schools? Wasn’t that some bullshit? They did it again when Paula Deen said “nigger” and we were all up in arms about that, even though most of us don’t even know who the hell Paula Deen is (Who the fuck is she???). Now we are being told that this trial/verdict is one of the most important issues of the day. I am sure that when the ratings dictate the American networks will find another hot topic to occupy us with, and the Trayvon Martin affair will fade into obscurity as we get all caught up with something else.
Again for the “deliberate misunderstanders” let me just state what I am NOT saying.
I am not saying that we should not care about the gunning down of a seventeen year old (unarmed) child, we should, as human beings we should, as fellow descendants of the survivors of one humanity's several holocausts (as wunna choosing to invoke Niemöller), we absolutely should, however where we place is this concern in our list of priorities is very important.
Which leads me to my next point (of contention) ever since the Trayvon Martin story broke many of my country folk have posted his pic or blacked out their own profile pics or declared “I am Trayvon Martin”. I have seen discourses about the broken American justice system, about profiling and racism (institutional and individual) in America, but when it comes to real discussion of these issues as they exist here, at home, in Bim THE SILENCE HAS BEEN DEAFENING!!!
Let me say this since our ancestors traveled together through the middle passage before branching off to their divergent destinations I am completely willing to accept that I am Trayvon Martin, but long before I am he, I AM I’AKOBI MALONE, I AM MENELIK ARMSTRONG and many more sons and daughters of this here soil who have suffered gross injustice right here in Barbados.
Again what I am NOT saying.
I am not saying that we must ignore the plight of others in order to focus on the plight of our own.
I am not saying that we must fix everything at home before turning our eyes outward.
What I AM saying is… It seems a bit hypocritical and self-defeating to be so deeply engaged in the social issues of another’s culture while pointedly ignoring similar issues in our own back yard.
Take the I’Akobi Malone story for instance as it is so similar to the Trayvon Martin story. In my opinion the I’Akobi story constitutes a far more obscene violation of citizens’ rights. I’Akobi Malone did not lose his life at the hands of a private (and possibly disturbed) citizen, he lost his life at the hands of the police force; the very people mandated by law to protect his life. I know his mother I have watched her unrelenting struggle for the simplest justice of a satisfactory and transparent investigation into the bizarre circumstances of her son’s demise.
It doesn't seem a lot to ask. It seems to me that this is a moment in which mass posting on Facebook could be meaningful. In the context of a small island space we could actually spread the word and generate the critical mass to persuade the relevant authorities to take appropriate and responsible action. Wouldn't that be more meaningful than offering support to a victim thousands of miles away in another cultural space? Again, not that we can’t offer support there too, but shouldn't we address our own gruesome travesties first??
After news of the, now infamous, verdict broke I read a few (quite frankly irritating) posts that said thing to this effect... “Zimmerman found not guilty, only in America I’m glad I live here (Here being Barbados)” Not a true direct quote but you get the gist.
I tried to post similarly but sadly this is all I could come up with.
“George Zimmerman was found not guilty, I’m glad I live in Barbados where a young man with a bright future can die under questionable circumstances in the “presence” of the police and there is no real public outcry, where a young boy can be brutalised by a security guard and there is no righteous indignation, where a black youngster can be severely beaten in Sandy lane by two white Bajans (for stealing if memory serves) and it sparks no real discussion on race relations in Barbados, where there can be clear abuse of authority and no one and I mean no one is never even reprimanded.”
I found that a little too cumbersome so I edited it down to this.
“George Zimmerman found not guilty. I so glad I live in Barbados where that could never end up on CNN”