Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Problem With Vick

Some crimes don't go unpunished.

OK. After having an interesting series of mini-debates with a dear friend - who, in the interest of disclosure, is a white dog owner who also happens to a) embrace race and gender conflict theory and b) have the good sense to agree with me most of time - I feel the need to clarify the comments that I wrote concerning Michael Vick in my previous post.

I'm truly not defending Mike Vick's criminal actions. I don't believe that he should somehow escape penalty simply because of the color of his skin or the fact that his most vocal detractors are white. Nor do I believe that dogfighting isn't a serious matter. Just because I find the doggy-love in this country excessive doesn't mean I wouldn't want to see some sadistic animal torturer brought to justice. But, as I wrote, I simply am not comfortable with the way this sad little episode is being publicly played out. At any rate, here are some additional thoughts that I have on the matter.

Despite the facts of the case, this is being viewed as a media/government witch hunt by most black people. Undoubtedly, part of the reason that blacks and whites are interpreting this so dissimilarly is because black people see Vick being prosecuted by a predominately white, historically inequitable criminal justice machine, skewered by a predominately white, rush-to-judgment media and kicked around by a predominately white, credulous and seemingly hypocritical public. When this happens, the actual crime becomes a secondary consideration for us. For further proof of this phenomenon, examine the case of one Orenthal James Simpson (if you're one of the last few who hasn't lost all stomach for it - or if you happen to be Nancy Grace).

Regarding the hypocrisy of the American public, black people see a LOT of it bubbling under the surface of this issue. For one thing, we Americans seem to be selective about what will and won't register emotionally with us. The same dog-lovers who allow themselves to be worked into a lather of righteous indignation over the brutal killings of scores of dogs don't seem to bat an eyelash over the brutal murders of millions of dark-skinned people in Darfur, for example. Or, if international ethnic cleansing is too unpalatable for consumption, how about those athletes/entertainers who are given a pass when they abuse and/or rape women? Or how about (and granted at this point it's officially become personal) R. Kelly? Roughly five years ago Robert Kelly filmed himself urinating on a 14-year-old girl. Since that time he's made five or six albums, one of which, released shortly after the incident, was entitled, The Chocolate Factory. This is pretty salacious shit. Yet, as of this post, he has yet to go to trial. And just as I can't help wondering if Peyton Manning or Tom Brady would be getting the same treatment Vick is, I can't help wondering if Kelly would be treated with such kid gloves if he'd chosen to film himself urinating on a blond-haired, blue-eyed white girl. Dogs, it appears, are more worthy of protection in the minds of the American public than little black girls.

Less importantly, like it or not, PETA and similar groups have become the public face of the Stick It To Mike Vick movement. Yes, the very same PETA members who are screaming for Michael Vick's blood and who would undoubtedly hurdle over a homeless man on their way to the vegan deli without losing a step. I would also argue, that many animal-rights activists are driven, to one degree or another, by an unsettling blend of self-righteousness, misanthropy, elitism, and yes, racism. I've read and heard many of the arguments explaining why I should stop eating meat and encourage others to do the same. I just can't reconcile those arguments with the people who make them - people who equate the meat industry with the slave trade and the Holocaust. Recently, I completed Pamela Rice's 101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian. Although I feel she could have just as easily whittled it down to four or five reasons, I must admit that I mostly agreed with her. So much so that I visited her vivavegie website and found this bullshit, in which she stupidly likens vegetarians with other historically marginalized groups, puts insults to vegetarians on par with racial slurs and openly wonders "where's our Al Sharpton?" Do black folks want the fate of Mike Vick decided by these people (who, it quickly becomes clear, are more interested in letting you know exactly how much of an asshole you are for enjoying your chicken kiev than they are in broadening their membership base)?

So with the Vick case, we've once again found ourselves at that messy intersection on the American social landscape where race and class collide. Predictably, we've also come to the point where we're left divided cleanly along racial lines with regard to how we see things. And since I don't hold out any hope that white folks won't recognize anything but moral absolutes, I guess I can't expect black folks to stop defending a criminal.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vick Kills Dogs, DL Sticks it to Sisters

Is this the new face of Free Speech?

A number of people have been asking me to use the blog to respond to a myriad of current events. Usually, I can sidestep these requests with skill and ease. However, there are two pop issues that I probably should address.

Here goes...

1) I don't really like dogs. I once owned a mixed breed (I grew up using the term "mutt" but, apparently, dogs deserve as much respect, with regard to how they're labeled, as humans) named Tank, who, somewhat ironically, was run over by a Ford Fairmont station wagon. Ever since, it's been difficult for me to bond emotionally with canines. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate them. I merely believe that they occupy far too much real estate in the American consciousness. It's as if Americans, weaned on the legend of Old Yeller and television reruns of Lassie, assume that there is a direct correlation between their patriotism and the number of times they've allowed Max to climb up on their beds and kiss them in the mouths. And when dog owners invariably compare their living property with children....don't even get me started on that.

Having made my bias crystal clear, I have to admit that I don't exactly hate Michael Vick. Am I an apologist for him? Absolutely not. The crimes for which he'll be entering a plea are both morally repulsive and prosecution-worthy. But I, like many others, have certainly noticed the, let's say complexion of the disdain for Vick and it makes me uncomfortable. It also raises another issue. I don't think many white Americans, particularly sports enthusiasts, have ever felt loose and easy with Number 7. Michael Vick's style of play - decidedly athletic and freewheeling and, let's face it, BLACK - has engendered a reaction from some whites that ranges from curiosity to outright contempt. This isn't a non-issue. I believe that if a traditional quarterback like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady had committed these atrocities, the public call for blood would be noticeably more muted. For Joe Sixpack, Vick's more significant crime might be not learning to stay his ass in the pocket. As always though, I could be wrong.

2) I think that the outrage borne out of DL Hughley's comments is deserved and righteous. After having read a combative and pointedly unremorseful interview with him, I'm even more disappointed. Let's keep in mind that Hughley chose to dog these women on the most popular late night television in the country, and did so in front of a predominately white audience. This ain't the Chitlin' Circuit to which he's accustomed. Furthermore, Hughley's "truth" - that these women are "some of the ugliest women I've ever seen" - is completely subjective and undoubtedly colored by white, racist standards of beauty. Also, his statements were fresh on the heels of the Imus debacle. Haven't these women had to endure enough public ridicule? AND, despite his poorly thought out intentions, the shit that he said wasn't even funny.

Before you Free Speech absolutists start foaming at the mouth, I'd argue that this isn't a free speech issue. No sensible person makes a Free Speech Mountain out of a Faux Pas molehill. Did DL Hughley have the right to say what he said? Damn tootin'. Should his social responsibility as a black man living in a historically and presently racist country outweigh his desire to sneak one in at the expense of black women in general and the Rutger's Women's Basketball team in particular? Hell yes.

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