Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, October 01, 2004  

News and analysis: Quadriplegic's horror is not humor

There are different ways one can look at the same facts. News media can categorize the same incident as inspiration, humor, straight news or a feature story. CNN played a story about a handicapped man who was hostage to a rampaging bear as humor.

DENVER (Reuters) - It's a tale of man against nature. A paralyzed man in Aspen, Colorado lay helplessly in bed for two hours while a black bear known as "Fat Albert" went through his kitchen breaking dishes and looking for a tasty snack.

"I had four pounds (2kg) of chocolate from a ski trip. He ate it all -- it's war," Tom Isaac said, recounting with a sense of humor how the 500-pound (230-kg) bear made himself at home at his house on Sept. 20.

"I could hear things breaking for two hours," he said of the bear's "visit" to his home. Isaac's bedroom was only about 10 to 15 feet from the kitchen and he feared the bear would come in and attack him.

This time of year bears are busy fattening up before going into hibernation and residents in mountain towns often recount stories of rummaging bears.

In Fact, Isaac, who has been paralyzed since a skiing accident in the early 1980s, says his home has been invaded nearly a half dozen times by the bear Aspenites call "Fat Albert."

There are humorous aspects to the story. Fat Albert has a gentle touch. Though he has broken into the refrigerator and cabinets, he leaves them unscathed. He is also a sleepy fellow, with unfortunate toilet habits. He has stayed over night at Isaac's place multiple times. Left his business in the bed in the guestroom instead of the commode, though. But, there is another side to the incidents. The bear weighs about 500 pounds and stands six-five. Isaac is a quadriplegic.

Isaac sleeps belly down. He was unable to move as he sensed the bear six feet away on the other side of his closed bedroom door. Due to a "combination of errors," the intercom he uses to communicate with his care providers who sleep on the second floor of his house wasn't working. They slept through the bear's invasion as well as Isaac's shouts to try to scare the bear away.

All Isaac could do was lay there and pray the bear didn't burst through his bedroom door.

"It was a nightmare for sure," said Isaac. "I'm just thinking this could be really ugly if he comes in through the bedroom door. It was pretty distressing knowing the bear was there and I couldn't move."

The Aspen Timesreports that Isaac has been afraid to stay in his home because of the recurrent invasions by bears. Not that victims of spinal cord injuries have to face hungry bears to feel trapped. As singer Teddy Pendergrass wrote in his autobiography, Truly Blessed, even a trip to the mall can be a challenge. The verbally abusive stranger an able-bodied person would walk away from becomes inescapable for someone in a wheelchair. In addition, handicapped persons of all types are disproportionately victims of crimes. They are easy marks for humans as well as the occassional aggressive animal. There is a tendency to paper over differences in how people experience life in the interest of being pleasant. But, doing so can be a mistake when the differences matter. This is such a situation. What would be a nuisance for someone not in Isaac's situation is a tragedy waiting to happen for him. Sometimes, we use humor to distance ourselves from realities we are uncomfortable with. One of the realities that make many people uncomfortable is disability. Playing this incident as comic does create distance from Isaac's experience. Being harassed by Fat Albert is not funny if the victim cannot run away.

posted by J. | 8:00 PM

Thursday, September 30, 2004  

Commentary: Oh, those colored criminals!

The first career I became interested in was anthropology. When I was eleven or twelve, I read several books by or about Margaret Mead. I was also curious about how human behavior developed. As a witness to group conflict in the South -- class and racial -- I was already in a culture worthy of study. I still find myself asking: 'What made him (or them) do that?' quite often. Earlier tonight, I was browsing blog entries when I happened across one about singer Chaka Khan's adult son being charged with murder. The blogger, True Focus, had plenty to say about 'bad' celebrities.

Living in a time in which the line between truth and fiction has virtually disappeared, as evidenced in recent events, one can never be too skeptical. Let's remember that today society says "it's ok, even expected, to use whatever and whomever you can to succeed." As a result we have Britney Spears, who marries twice (or at least pretends to marry) for publicity; not to be undone, Janet Jackson grabs the headlines with indecent exposure before the world for publicity; Michael Jackson flirts with the charges of pedophilia for a chance at 'wowing' a crowd dancing on a hood of an SUV for publicity; Martin Lawrence was arrested for erratic behavior just days before he had a new movie coming out for publicity; Kobe Bryant is accused by a woman who could not have had a spottier background -- he got publicity; Snoop Dogg arrives at an award ceremony in a swat-like style armored car while the blinding camera flashes capture cops drawing guns. . .and when it's all over (you know the story, charges are dropped, settlement is reached, or case is dismissed on a technicality) we glorify them. They are bigger than ever. We've all played our small parts in a 'reality' movie that will play on a global scale, and we didn't even know it.

The blog entry is poorly reasoned and badly written. But, another aspect of it stands out, as well. All of the celebrities the fellow is taking to the woodshed, with the exception of Britney Spears, are African-American. Considering that most public figures are white, including those who may be guilty of bad behavior, one wonders why he chose to flagellate black celebrities.

The blogger does not stop digging. He goes on to accuse Chaka Khan of having her son kill someone to obtain publicity for her new album.

Will Chaka Khan, a celebrity in grave need of some publicity-rev draw the line at the attention that a murder charge against her son may bring her way?

. . .Oh by the way, Damien Holland is an aspiring music producer, whose superstar mother Chaka Khan has a new CD release due out October 5, 2004 on Sanctuary Records.

Blogger Casper, of Chromatic Musings, responded that the charges had already been dropped against Holland because of a lack of evidence. It appears that Holland and the young man killed scuffled over possession of a shotgun. The gun went off.

So, we have a blogger who singled out African-American celebrities for accusations of criminal behavior. He then molded a claim that the black celebrity mother of a biracial man is so depraved she would suborn killing to promote her work. To an unbiased observer, there is no for reasonable basis for his behavior. If he is going to criticize celebrities, he should have a legitimate basis for doing so. And, he should not decide who to criticize based on the color of the person's skin.

I am much too squeamish to be an anthropologist. The first time the indigenes wanted me to eat an insect or I couldn't get a nice, warm shower, that would be all she wrote. But, studying behavior in any microcosm, including the blogosphere, can be enlightening. What made him do that?

posted by J. | 11:15 PM

Monday, September 27, 2004  


News: Experts say race is not real

Bad news for folks who are deeply invested in the popular conception of race. The most recent national conference on the topic, attended by experts in genetics, history and anthropology, reports that 'race' doesn't exist. Again, people in the know say that what most Americans think of as race is a cultural construct, not supported by biology.

The Washington Post was there.

A professor who argues that race is a biological myth sat next to a professor who wants the U.S. government to pay reparations to African Americans. Their positions are not inconsistent, but they require a bit of explaining. Race is complicated. Nothing in the discussion is black and white.

"It doesn't exist biologically, but it does exist socially," said Alan Goodman, incoming president of the American Anthropological Association, which sponsored the meeting at the Holiday Inn in Old Town.

The event served as a brainstorming session for a $4 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation, to create a traveling museum exhibit on race. If all goes well, the exhibit will debut in two years at the Science Museum of Minnesota, in St. Paul. The working title is "Understanding Race and Human Variation."

p>What this means is the bedrock claim promoted by racists -- that people can be divided into biologically exclusive 'families' based on superficial aspects, such as skin color or whether they have epicanthic folds -- is false. For example, a person who shares your height, particularly if you are tall or short, has more in common with you biologically than other people who share your skin color or eye shape.

If there was a consensus that emerged from two days of conversation, it's the notion that race is a cultural construct. Investigations into the human genome have so far failed to turn up any evidence that there's such a thing as, for example, a Caucasian. Human beings are genetically rather homogeneous compared with other animals. But the lack of biological support for traditional categories of race does not change the fact that race is a lived reality. The exhibit should discuss this "paradox of race/no-race," in the words of anthropologist Micaela diLeonardo.

But, how did the terms most Americans think of as defining race come into being? The term Caucasian originally referred to people who lived in the Caucacus Mountain area near the Black Sea. Oriental meant the direction, East, where the people who would be called Orientals, dwelt. Africans were merely anyone, from Egyptian to Zulu, who resided on the extremely diverse continent. Only with slavery, colonialism and imperialism, did the terms take on the value judgments now associated with them. A hierarchy needed to be established to try to justify the domination and exploitation of some peoples by others.

The conclusion reached by the conferees is not news to me. However, it strikes at the heart of what our racist brethen hold dear -- the belief there is a 'better' race and they are members of it. Harry, the blogger at Little Geneva, is an adherent to Christian Identity ideology. He is not pleased with what the experts at the conference decided.

“Conservative, traditional values “ without racial inequality? As I’ve said, this is like calling use of the Internet traditional. "Nobody wants to return to a time when blacks or anyone else were second-class citizens." It’s common for knees to jerk over that term “second-class citizen.” My suggestion is to revoke the citizenship of anyone who is not white and Christian -- that is, if the desire is to have a real nation rather than a proposition nation. . . .

Members of the Christian Identity movement believe not only that white supremacy is right and proper, but that it is ordained by God.

Do I expect people to start greeting their height mates as members of the same 'race' within my life time? No. But, the work of the National Science Foundation is worthwhile. It will help dispel at least some of the confusion about what 'race' is.

What's the art?

A picture of a child.

Reasonably related

In the interest of brotherhood and sisterhood, I have decided to extend the hand of fellowship to all persons who share one of my physical characteristics -- crooked little fingers. Welcome to my 'race.'

posted by J. | 9:23 PM