Jason Whitlock is many things, all of which have been commented on extensively on this site. But I’m not here to revisit old grievances. I don’t even really have much of a grievance. I follow Whitlock on Twitter. He’s entertaining, if not consistently insightful, and innocuous enough for the most part. I say “for the most part” because this morning he tweeted something that is neither entertaining nor insightful nor innocuous. This morning, he tweeted unadultered ammunition that will be loaded directly into waiting breeches of those with the itchiest and most dangerous trigger fingers in the countries.
Here’s the tweet:
On its face, it seems innocuous enough. Even reasonable, right? And therein lies the danger of axiomatic tweets like this: they’re strawmen. They’re a clumsy magician’s misdirection. They are a warm blanket for people to wrap themselves in to avoid seeing the blood splattered on their hands. They’re the patina of respectability on the death shrouds of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and now, Antonio Martin.
See, no one out there will actually take the opposing position. (Which is, I guess, that police should not be able to defend themselves? That police should passively allow themselves to be shot? Whatever.) So it’s not a sincere effort to educate or engage in healthy debate. At its best, this is framing the argument so that its conclusion is presumed. At its worst, it is enabling the most vile tendencies in the worst among us: the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, almost invariably accompanied by a well-documented distaste for black people, that we’ve seen from the likes of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson. It’s the rapist’s “slut-shaming” defense, but neatly dressed up for a police brutality case. If he didn’t want to get shot, he shouldn’t have been standing there...
For most people, though, it’s just the excuse they were looking for that allows them to ignore the suffering of black people in peace. It is a panacea that takes all the injustice they’ve witnessed over the past year (and which has gone on for hundreds of years before Twitter and camera phones reluctantly forced middle America to bear witness to the crimes committed in its name) and sweeps it delicately under the rug. “See,” they can think, “the police really do know what they’re doing.” “See,” they’ll sigh with relief, “the police really do shoot when they are threatened,” and not just when a black man ignores their instruction to stop jay walking, or lie face down in a subway station. For the average person, the person that Prof. Jody Armour has described as the “Reasonable Racist,” Whitlock’s words validate their unspoken, perhaps even unconscious, beliefs. Black people really are scary figures who commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Cops really are good guys who are just trying to protect hard working, honest citizens.
Whitlock’s words are a balm. They ease the troubling thoughts. The difficult questions. The occasional — quickly suppressed — pangs of guilt. That Whitlock is black only further reaffirms the conclusion of the reasonable racist. “See,” they proudly announce, “I’m can’t be a racist. I’m just repeating what a black man said.” The reasonable racist, the television-friendly casual racist — you know, the nice-looking one who is quick to point to bogus crime or IQ statistics as evidence that his fears are justified — has his signed permission slip. The injustice melts away from the conscience, like tension escaping from a muscle as we slip into a warm bath.
I don’t know for certain what Whitlock intended when he posted that tweet. But I do know for certain how it will be heard. And that will be as a license to persist with the status quo, regardless of what our lying eyes might be telling us.
Damned thing done.