Blame game adds to injustice
A fundamental premise of racist analysis is to posit stereotypes as functional and descriptive of all people of color. These commentaries often employ discredited sociobiological theories to dismiss the tragedies suffered by people like Kendra James at the hands of quick-draw cops like officer Scott McCollister.
Under this guise, the James' killing is not to be understood as a miscarriage of justice. Rather, we are directed to weigh in the familial and personal dysfunctions that allegedly define James. In so doing, James is held responsible for her death at the hands of an otherwise caring and ethical policeman.
Nowhere in this distorted theorization is an appreciation for the long history of racism that prejudges and confines James to caricatures of pathological behavior. Instead, we are reminded that blacks make up the numerical majority of inmates in prisons across the nation.
The remnants of this argument are as old as the system of racism that created it. It is not too hard to dredge up similarly constructed justifications for lynching black men and women at the turn of the last century.
The myth of the black rapist, for example, with all its misguided power to conjure up the oversexed, bestial and criminal black man, is based in the same ideological architecture.
But it is exactly the callous and vengeful maligning of James' character, and that of her family, that should be considered pathological. The flimsy attempts to theorize biological and cultural dysfunction completely ignore the fact that poor white people succumb to drug addiction, commit crimes, elude police and are killed in Portland, too.
Dredging up Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 theory of a black matriarchy that causes pathology and social disruption in black communities is simply shortsighted and dated.
We can find statistics that attest to any point of view Ñ from those that say that single mothers are the root of all of society's dysfunction to statistics that argue the opposite. In particular, statistics that prove a correlation do not prove causation.
The message of conservatives (white and black) and the Bush administration would have us believe that the solution to poverty and the problems that plague black communities is marriage.
If the white, nuclear, heterosexual family is the model for sanity and stability, how do marriage proponents account for the murderous likes of Oregon's own Christian Longo and alleged murderer Scott Peterson? These men are not aberrations; they had very specific ideas about gender, family and authority that fueled their crimes. But their horrific actions are not attributed to all white men in particular, and the white family in general.
Perhaps the assumed pathology should not be confined, if at all, to any one socially constructed racial group. The failure to confront racism and the privilege of whiteness is more indicative of pathology. In this sense, the killing of James is an indictment of the American justice system and society that excuses it. And it represents yet another sad episode in a long and troubled history of structural racism.
Those who would dismiss the persistent relevance of our history, with demands that blacks just 'get over slavery and stop being victims,' are accomplices in the fates of victims like James.
Dr. Ridwan Laher Nytagodien is assistant professor of international studies and black studies at Portland State University. He resides in Southwest Portland.
Dr. Kimberly Springer is assistant professor of black studies at Portland State but will be leaving in the fall for a post in American studies at King's College London. She lives in Old Town-Chinatown.