Colorism Schism

So Jesse Williams, of “Grey’s Anatomy,” was awarded the Humanitarian Award at the BET Awards last week and gave a blistering speech about black people’s impatience with the slow tide of change in the racial landscape of America.

In a plain, tailored black shirt and pair of slacks, with none of the ostentatious jewelry that a rapper of his generation or pay grade might have worn, none of the extraneous entourage members in tow, and without the infantile antics that so many black entertainers display at award podiums, Williams took the stage and dropped the mic:

Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday, [he said] so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12 year old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better than it is to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

His speech was so timely, so honest, unapologetic, and smart, that a transcript was posted on Time.com; it was written up on the New York Times website; and it was written up on the Fortune website.

Even mainstream media could not ignore its import.

However, on Twitter and several blogs and alternative news sites, black cultural commentators questioned whether Williams should be lauded by the black community for giving the speech or even considered a legitimate voice of the black community.

When I saw visual whispers of this backlash on my Facebook timeline, I initially decided to ignore them. I grew up brown-skinned in an all black suburb, so I know how “we” get.

We shade across shades, and it didn’t surprise me at all that people had a problem with this light-skinned, light-eyed actor being placed on a pedestal above more deserving and darker-skinned activists.

But I reasoned that the BET Awards are for entertainers–they are for entertainment. 

It made sense to me that Williams would be classified, in the world of the awards, as a humanitarian, and his work within the community, against police brutality, would stand out in comparison to that of other less vocal and less active entertainers.

Then, I went onto one of my routine black websites–Clutch Magazine–and saw a headline that made me suck my teeth in disbelief and then irritation at this backlash that Williams is receiving.

“On Jesse Williams and Biracial Black People”–it read–“Are Biracial [sic] Even Black People?”

I just thought this was stupid and needlessly divisive.

So here’s what I have to say. It’s mainly aimed at non-biracial and darker-skinned black people. Like me.

Yes, biracial black and lighter-skinned black people are treated better than we are by white people.

Yes, it’s unfair.

Yes, some biracial and lighter-skinned black people milk this privilege. Some biracial black people even self-identify away from their black parentage or “side.” Some lighter-skinned black people place a high value on their physical similarities to white people.

But let’s be honest here.

So do we.

One of the main reasons that biracial and lighter-skinned black people enjoy such immense privilege inside and outside of the black community is because a lot of non-biracial and darker-skinned black people place a high value on these biracial and lighter-skinned people’s physical similarities to white people.

In 2016, our community is still rife with plantation issues.

We still use terms like “good hair” and “pretty eyes” to describe hair that is fine rather than curly or coarse in texture and eyes that are any color other than dark brown.

We still fetishize women that are a mix of black and any other race or ethnicity, particularly Latinx or Asian.

We do things like deifying Ayesha Curry for her beauty, gentility, and class while we ignore equally beautiful and elegant women like Savannah James.

We downgrade dark skin and diasporic features, whether we know it or can admit it or not.

Then, when decision makers in entertainment and media follow behind our wrongheaded actions and give us the imagery we seem to want, i.e. their job–put biracial black people like Williams or Amandla Stenberg in a spotlight–show us a reflection of our own predilections for light or lighter skin, we do a swift 180. We turn right around and get mad.

Tiffanie Drayton, in “On Jesse Williams,” explains the root of this anger–what impels darker-skinned blacks to point and/or wag their fingers at lighter-skinned blacks for ostensibly hogging the spotlight or displacing more deserving darker-skinned people when it comes to receiving certain forms of recognition or accolades:

Though Blackness is not a monolith, it is an experience, it is a circumstance. One shaped by facing harsh discrimination, a lack of access to basic necessities and constant psychological warfare. Those who have existed on the fringe of blackness (or were never even black at all in the first place) most certainly should not be used to represent others who are engulfed in it, and far too frequently, they are.

I don’t disagree with her, but, one, I think it’s unfair to declare that all biracial black people or light-or lighter-skinned black people are on the “fringe” of blackness when it comes to racist mistreatment.

This is an oversimplification that ignores class and other intersectional identities like gay or trans that mitigate light-skinned privilege.

Two, policing blackness on the back end of privileging light skin ourselves is disingenuous.

It ignores the consistent role that the black community plays in valorizing light skin and European ideals of beauty.

That’s right. I said it.

When we treat biracial and lighter-skinned blacks like they are horning in on “our” stuff, or they have put themselves above us on the totem pole, when we have put them above us, it is irresponsible and unfair to them.

We’re throwing the rock and hiding our collective hand.

Three, ignoring the attempt of a biracial black person to locate himself or herself within the black community and struggle–where we acknowledge they don’t necessarily have to be–and where we know they will suffer from not just racism at the hands of white people but also colorism at our hands–is petty and wrong.

It’s also wrong for non-biracial black people to force biracial black people to “qualify” as black with certain credentials, as Drayton posits.

She writes of Williams’ so-called “qualification status”:

A man from a working-class family of public high school teachers, a double major in African-American studies, teacher of African studies in Philadelphia . . . who sits on the board of the Advancement Project, a civil rights think tank and advocacy group and openly advocates for black women, it may actually be safe to consider that Williams has earned his place in the spotlight.

She is correct that all of this qualifies Williams as a humanitarian, but the implication that all of this is necessary to qualify him as black is ridiculous.

He is part-black because his father is black. He is black if he says he is black. He is black because he looks black, despite being light-skinned.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we know that blackness is rarely optional in America. White ethnicity is, but blackness is not. Blackness is denoted by skin color. It is in the eye of the beholder.

Many of those biracial black people that don’t self-identify as black still look black. They may be privileged in certain quarters, but there will always be those white people that see them as black and black only and treat them with contempt, hatred, and, in the worst cases, violence. That is just as much a part of the reality of race in America as those things encountered by non-biracial black people.

No, lighter-skinned blacks are not exempt from police brutality or other forms of discrimination, big and small. We know this.

Tamar Rice was light-skinned. Rekia Boyd was light-skinned. Jasmine Abdullah is lighter-skinned.

The list goes on.

Biracial black people are not biracial by choice, but they are activists by choice. They choose to involve themselves in black movements. They don’t deserve more recognition than non-biracial black people for their involvement in black culture and politics, but they don’t deserve to be derided because they are only half-black, either.

The same with light-skinned people.

I understand that darker-skinned black people feel badly about how we are sidelined in so many ways–even by our own people–but spreading our pain, anger, and resentment to others is not the way to fix the problem.

We can’t fix colorism by throwing it back on lighter-skinned black people.

Inverting a power structure doesn’t eradicate it.

If we allow it to remain in place in any iteration, we allow for reversals of reversals.

We allow for cycles of oppression that simply switch off rather than ending.

Yes–lighter-skinned people dominate entertainment for the most part. This is because white people run the mainstream entertainment world for the most part. Even BET is owned by white people, and I suspect that a white person or committee of white people greenlights, edits, and censors whatever appears on the network.

One way we can work around the saturation of light-skinned imagery in our community is to stop looking to white-run entertainment to make our art and pick our stars for us.

We need to make our own art and pick our own stars.

Look at Viola Davis and Idris Elba. Black people have thrown our support behind their projects consistently over the last five or so years, and we have made them into big names.

We can do this with other black celebrities if we want. We can change the cues we give white decision makers and gatekeepers, if we are going to continue looking to them to produce TV and films for us. And we might be able, in this way, to make representations of black people more integrated or diverse.

Black people also have to be real about how much work we are really doing on the whole to fight racism.

A lot of us are “woke,” but we’re lying in bed, figuratively, watching on TV as others fight the battle to change the racist paradigm.

Jesse Williams went to Ferguson during the thickest time of unrest and protest and rallied just like everyone else out there in those streets. Other celebrities had the money to fly out, and they didn’t. They had the fame to draw attention to Mike Brown’s murder, but they didn’t. They put up some tweets, posted a few pictures on the ‘Gram, and called it a day.

So all shade(s) aside, Williams did something to earn his humanitarian award. He didn’t just get it because he’s biracial or an actor.

Yes, there are darker-skinned activists–“legitimate” activists–that did more and deserve accolades for what they’ve done, but they’re not entertainers.

BET Awards are handed out to entertainers, again, for the sake of entertainment.

Maybe the problem here is we’re asking BET to do the work that the larger community needs to do, which is to valorize our real-life heroes and make sure that their names are known, their work is appreciated, and their accomplishments are awarded.

Williams said in his acceptance speech at the awards, “Just because [black people are] magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”

I say–

Just because lighter-skinned people are privileged doesn’t mean they’re not embattled.

Just because darker-skinned people are embattled doesn’t mean they’re not powerful.

Just because colorism is real doesn’t mean it’s not killable.

No, black people are not a monolith, but we do need to be a unified front.

We need to acknowledge all the ways we are divided, refute all of those divisions, and come together to mobilize and do better for ourselves.

Just like Jesse Williams said we should.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#PrayerforOrlando

In the wee hours this morning, when those of us intrepid enough to get out and party are winding down, closing out our bar tabs and deciding where we’re going to go for pancakes and eggs–gossiping and laughing about the night’s festivities and fuckery–Omar Mateen invaded the Pulse nightclub in Orland, FL and opened fire.

He killed 50 people and injured 53 more before police shot and killed him.

This is now America’s deadliest mass shooting after Virginia Tech.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw the hashtag that I used for my title.

I was up at two, but, thankfully, I was lying in bed, playing games on my Kindle and snuggling up to my little sleeping girl.

She’s going to camp this week, staying with her grandmother so she can get her there at 8:30 since I have to be at my job at 8:00.

So I let her sleep with me, to stretch time together until she has to leave.

I was oblivious that this horrible thing was happening, and, even though I feel bad about it, I’m sort of glad I was.

I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I’d heard about this shooting then.

I would’ve been too angry.

I’m angry now.

Pulse was a gay club.

Mateen’s father told the press that is the most likely reason Mateen targeted the club.

He denies that Mateen was part of an international or domestic terrorist group, but I beg to differ.

He may not have been part of an organized group of homophobes with an established ideology or agenda, but he is part of a segment of society whose wrong-headed notions of morality and/or religiosity make them dangerous as hell.

They are the scourge on our society that they imagine the LGBTQIA+ community to be.

Ostensibly, Mateen was a straight man, and he’s the killer. He’s the terrible influence.

Not the lifestyles of any of the people he massacred.

I can’t help thinking, though, of that scene in “Higher Learning” when Remi (Michael Rappaport)–the scrawny, scared white kid turned supremacist–ate his own gun after shooting Deja (Tyra Banks) at the rally, rather than be arrested and face jail for what he’d done.

His boys watched the news report later on, in their hideout or whatever, and hailed him as a hero.

I’m sure there will be some crazies that oppose homosexuality that think the same thing about Omar Mateen.

But he is not a martyr or hero of any kind.

And if religion is his justification for killing these poor people, he’s wrong.

Especially if that religion is Christianity.

One of the things that makes me so reluctant to follow the teachings of a denomination of Christianity is the skewed ways in which the Bible is interpreted and taught under just about every Christian denomination.

According to the Word, Christ represents a new covenant between God and his people.

Romans 10:4 even says “Christ is the end of the Law, in order to bring righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Acts 13:39 says “Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.”

Leviticus is the law–the book of the Bible in which the rituals and legal and moral practices of the Israelites are laid out.

Leviticus is a part of the Old Testament.

Christ–his birth, death, and resurrection–constitute a new covenant.

It is in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 that homosexuality is deemed an abomination.

But, according to Romans and Acts, after Christ, all that is required for a follower of Christ to receive grace and salvation is belief in Christ.

So homosexuality is not something that Christians should hate or for which they should hate or kill others.

The actions of others of your tribe can no longer block your blessings, as under the old law. Your personal belief and adherence to faith determine your relationship with God.

That’s the thing about living according to doctrine.

If you’re going to do it right, then you have to do it to the literal letter.

You cannot conveniently skip over the books and verses of the scripture that prevent you from acting out of your own personal distaste or disgust for certain behaviors.

Human beings have deeply engrained concepts of femininity, masculinity, so-called “decency” and “propriety,” that combine in ugly ways with our deep-seated needs for acceptance, approval, and love.

We are great for picking out behaviors in which we don’t engage and labeling those behaviors as “bad” so that we can be “good.”

We are even better at labeling behaviors in which we don’t engage as “nasty” or “toxic” so we can pretend that the nasty and/or toxic things that we do aren’t hurting anyone.

We’re excellent at scapegoating each other.

The fucked-up thing about this tendency is it culminates in horrible, hateful shit like this Orlando shooting.

Fifty innocent people are dead because one man decided they were “bad” or “wrong” to live the way they do.

Yeah, I’m sure mental illness probably factored into his decision, but homophobia is the hand the pointed the gun in this case. It’s what determined who Mateen would hurt once he decided that he needed to hurt someone.

Homophobia is what aimed his sick ass at Pulse and those poor, innocent people he killed.

That’s why I think that we all need to really examine–deeply–our relationship to homophobia, and we need to accept that sort of discrimination is just as sinful as anything else.

Especially for Christians, if that’s what we consider ourselves.

1 John 3:15 (in the New Testament) says “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know no murderer has eternal life biding in him.”

Romans 12:19 (in the New Testament) says “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

I say–have some integrity.

Be true believers and practitioners or stop claiming to be believers and practitioners.

Trust God to do what he’s promised or stop saying that you are His.

Stop blurring the lines between religion and rationalization and creating existential space for hatred that can explode like a poorly-rigged bomb in our faces.

That’s what I pray on this Sunday–that people will stop mistaking what God intended and destroying people’s lives with their self-powered crusades against each other.

I pray safe passage of the victims of the Orlando shooting into the afterlife.

I pray comfort and healing for their families and friends–the witnesses and cops that had to see the carnage.

I pray deliverance of America from all this senseless violence and needless death.

I pray people open their minds along with their hearts and their Bibles.

I pray that we all become better than people that need, want, and feed mass shootings.

Soon.

 

 

 

Full Code

My great-grandmother is 100-years-old or thereabouts. We aren’t sure because she was born in Alabama, in her parents’ home, with the help of a midwife. Her birth certificate says she came to this world on September 8, 1915, but she was told she was born on September 3, 1916. She was well into her 90s before my mother–her eldest granddaughter–ordered a copy of her birth certificate for her, in order to help her get her Medicare in order. That’s when the family learned we had been celebrating her birthday on the wrong day. That’s when we were made to appreciate just what a miracle she is. She was even older than we thought. But still living. Still lucid. Still healthy.

Today, she isn’t healthy anymore. Rheumatoid arthritis and a stroke two years back have taken her ability to walk.

She can’t sew or cook anymore. She can’t read with the glaucoma and cataracts.

A staph infection and poor circulation have threatened the survival of her right leg. They’ve also somehow robbed her of certain elements of her mind.

She can only tell us now how badly she hurts and wants to go home, to Alabama.

She used to tell us how much she admired Obama and how frustrated she was that the Cavs couldn’t win a championship, even with Lebron back on the team.

At the nursing home where she was sent a couple weeks back, after spending two weeks in the hospital with the staph infection, she’s listed as “full code.”

This means that if she goes into cardiac arrest, the staff is supposed to call for an ambulance, and the EMTs are supposed to do whatever they can to save or resuscitate her.

She’s “full code” here, too, at the hospital where we–my mother, father, daughter, and I–are waiting right now for the surgeon to give her an arteriogram in her infected leg.

The doctor says her foot is “mummified” because of the poor circulation in her leg. The staph infection aggravated the situation to a dangerous extent.

There is no more pulse in the flesh. If the blood doesn’t start flowing more effectively, the necrotizing effect will spread. Her pain will continue and become more agonizing. The death of the leg will spread upward, to the thigh.

So if the arteriogram doesn’t work, and widen the artery in her leg, the doctor will take the leg. Her health will become even more fragile. She’ll be one step closer–in the most literal sense–to not being here anymore.

I am afraid of the doctor taking her leg. I am afraid of what the shock of the loss may do to the rest of her. I am afraid of losing her.

One of the most disappointing parts of being a person is how limited our understanding of our own lives can be.

It’s only now, as I stare down the possibility of losing her, that I realize how amazing my great-grandmother is.

Even as an infirmed old woman, she had a way of being happy. She knew how to do that in any circumstance. I think it came out of her immense appreciation of God and quiet faith that everything was happening just as it should.

When the family lost my grandmother–her only daughter–I never saw her drop a tear. She saw my grandmother in a dream a few nights after her funeral, looking like she had before the cancer had wasted her, and she was comforted.

She said my grandmother had a new body; she was in a better place; and there was no reason to grieve.

This is what woke me up to how strong and resilient she is.

This is what made me as fully thankful as I am to be her blood.

My great-grandmother once said she would’ve been a writer if it had ever occurred to her she could be.

She loved stories and always believed there was at least one in her worth telling to the world.

In my most heady moments, I imagine that I am the realization of this dream of hers: I am the writer she might’ve been.

In my more humble moments, I am simply thankful to have inherited her love of words, her vivid imagination, and her desire to create.

The nurses just took her to surgery a few minutes ago. I was hiding in the hallway when they came to get her, crying where my daughter and mother wouldn’t see me.

I want her pain to stop, but I don’t want her heart to stop.

I want to make her understand what I understand finally-that she has always been a tremendous source of inspiration for me.

I love my great-grandmother. She helped raise and shape me.

She took care of my baby from the time she was six-weeks-old until she was four. She made me feel safe, leaving my baby in her hands while I went off to work.

She used to tell me, all the time, that she couldn’t believe how bright I am.

She used to tease me about my hair and clothes, but always make sure that I knew how proud of me she was and how deeply she loved me.

I don’t have my great-grandmother’s faith, unfortunately; I have my own rather dark sense of realism, so I can’t write with certainty that she will come out of her surgery whole, or she will recover and be even better than before.

I can say, though, that watching her cope with advanced age and illness has been hard, but it has also helped me.

I will live full code from now on, doing everything I can to be the woman I dream of being.

My great-grandmother is my model. She’s taught me.

I know better than ever now how important it is to treasure people and time.

I know better than ever how important it is to appreciate the life (the family, the story) that’s been gifted to me.

 

 

 

I Don’t Think So

When I was in grad school at University of Chicago, my brilliant friend Summer used to always talk about writing a paper on the ways in which California is represented in black literature.

Her thesis was something along the lines that race plays out more uniquely in California than it does in the northern and southern states traditionally depicted in black literature because slavery didn’t affect its development like it did that of those northern (by way of the Great Migration) and southern–and even many eastern and Midwestern–states.

Well . . .

What may be true of the California represented in black literature is not true of the California represented in the daily news right now.

In the last month, two controversial sentencings in California have made it tragically clear that as “progressive” or “different” as the west coast supposedly is–politically or culturally–it really isn’t.

First, in Pasadena, Black Lives Matter organizer Jasmine Richards a/k/a Jasmine Abdullah has been sentenced to four years for felony lynching or what the police term as “attempting to ‘de-arrest'” a fellow protester at a march in August 2015.

Those familiar with the historical definition of the term “lynching” are probably extremely puzzled by Abdullah’s conviction because no one wrested from police custody, taken to a clandestine spot, and hung to death by a white vigilante mob for committing some “crime” the mob defined for itself.

However, “lynching” as defined by California law (Penal Code 405a) means the “taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer.”

(Penal Code 405b stipulates that anyone convicted of lynching will serve two to four years.)

So, if a group of protesters are beset upon by the police, one of the protesters is grabbed up by an officer, and one of the other protesters, or a couple of the other protesters, try to free their fellow protester, the protesters can be arrested for “felony lynching.”

In fact, the protester grabbed up by the police can also be arrested if he or she appealed to the other protesters to help him or her get free of the officer.

This actually happened in a 1999 case in San Francisco, in which police cuffed a juvenile on a warrant for auto theft, and he appealed to a crowd of onlookers to help free him.

The crowd of several hundred people rushed the officers, and the juvenile male was able to break free of them. He fled that day, but, when he was later caught, he was arrested and charged with lynching under Penal Code 405a and 405b.

If a person even just tries to free someone from police custody in California, if he or she doesn’t succeed, that person can be arrested and charged with “attempted lynching” under Penal Code 405a and 405b.

So this shamefully ahistorical law decontextualizes the term “lynching,” couches the term in the adjudication of rioting rather than hate killing (Penal Code 404 and 405 state that “participation in a riot” is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, and Penal Code 404.6 states that “incitement to riot” is also a misdemeanor by one year maximum in jail), and makes it into a convenient weapon to use against activists and protesters of all colors and kinds.

The California “lynching” law allows police to violate the Constitutional rights of California citizens by exercising their discretion (labeling a protest a “riot”) and authority in discriminatory, but legal, ways; it allows the California courts to intimidate people that would participate in protests by passing down strict, undeserved sentences like the one passed down in Jasmine Abdullah’s case; and it allows both the police and courts to persecute–if they choose to–black, Hispanic/Latino, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, and other “Other” organizers and protesters.

It is a highly functional, malleable tool of institutional racism, which is the tale as old as time of American culture.

And so, too, is Jasmine Abdullah’s sentencing, under the law.

It reveals the old-school values undergirding California’s new age act, in the same way as the Rodney King and Oscar Grant verdicts.

The second sentencing that reveals that racism is alive and thriving in California is that of Brock Turner.

Brock Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault, for which he could’ve received 14 years in prison, but he was sentenced to six months in county jail and three years’ probation, even though prosecutors recommended that he get six years.

I won’t detail what Turner did to his victim, but I will quote his victim’s impact statement on how the crime devastated her:

My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see.  I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells, I can tell you all the best places in that building to cry where no one can hear you,  the pain became so bad that I had to tell my boss I was leaving, I needed time because continuing day to day was not possible. I used my savings to go as far away as I could possibly be.  

I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.  

I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events with drinking among friends where I should be comfortable being. I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone’s side, to have my boyfriend standing next to me, sleeping beside me, protecting me. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry. 

You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak.  It took me eight months to even talk about what happened. I could no longer connect with friends, with everyone around me.  I would scream at my boyfriend, my own family whenever they brought this up. You never let me forget what happened to me. At the of end of the hearing, the trial, I was too tired to speak. I would leave drained, silent. I would go home turn off my phone and for days I would not speak. You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself. Every time a new article come out, I lived with the paranoia that my entire hometown would find out and know me as the girl who got assaulted. I didn’t want anyone’s pity and am still learning to accept victim as part of my identity. You made my own hometown an uncomfortable place to be. 

Someday, you can pay me back for my ambulance ride and therapy. But you cannot give me back my sleepless nights. The way I have broken down sobbing uncontrollably if I’m watching a movie and a woman is harmed, to say it lightly, this experience has expanded my empathy for other victims. I have lost weight from stress, when people would comment I told them I’ve been running a lot lately. There are times I did not want to be touched.  I have to relearn that I am not fragile, I am capable, I am wholesome, not just livid and weak.

Even though she fought through all of her pain to stand in court and read a 12-page document addressed directly to Turner at his sentencing, her suffering is obviously not what the judge took most meaningfully into account when he sentenced Turner.

The judge, Aaron Persky, instead prioritized Turner, who he determined would be “severe[ly] impact[ed]” by serving a long sentence and somehow predicted would not be a danger in the future, despite being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault (TRIGGER WARNING: The charges were assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object.)

This because Turner is a white man–a student at prestigious Stanford University–a scholarship recipient–a decorated swimmer–clearly.

Persky himself is a white man, Stanford alumnus, and 13-year vet of the bench. He obviously believed he could get away with privileging Turner over his victim, which he must have done out of empathy–out of identification with Turner–because he couldn’t have done it out of some degree of doubt.

(The verdict foreclosed any doubt that he as a judge was obligated to acknowledge or consider.)

Because Turner had been drinking the night he committed the heinous crime, and the victim was unconscious, there arose a terrible opportunity in the court proceedings for his counsel, Turner and his witnesses, and Persky to revise the truth of what happened and mitigate Turner’s culpability.

Persky took this opportunity–passing down a sentence that minimized Turner’s crime–because even though statistics show that white males make up the largest percentage of convicted rapists in the US, Persky made some differentiation–likely based on class assumptions–between Turner and the “typical” rapist.

Persky gave Turner the benefit of the doubt based on the fact that he is affluent–educated and accomplished–that Turner could be his son or maybe even could’ve been Persky a couple of decades ago.

Persky even admits that he took Turner’s age and lack of criminal background into account when he passed down Turner’s sentence, but these factors alone can’t account for his leniency in the face of 36 votes of guilty (three counts x 12 jurors each). Reason dictates there had to have been a more compelling factor.

Psychology, sociology, history, and anecdotal evidence suggest that Persky gave Turner a lenient sentence because of the cross-race effect–the influence it has on social cognition (it spurs people to think of those in an outgroup in terms of categories and those in their ingroup in individual terms).

It was Persky’s job to attempt to be as impartial as possible–to sentence Turner according to the verdict, recommendation of the prosecutor, impact on the victim, and facts of the case. But he failed.

It’s impossible not to wonder whether he would’ve failed in the same way if Turner had not been white and so relatable to Persky.

It’s inadvisable, too, for legislators, judicial officials, law enforcers, residents, and visitors of California to ignore what has happened to Jasmine Abdullah and Brock Turner’s victim because of the racism running through the state’s political system and legal culture.

The hippie movement might have originated in California, but, 50 years later, the racist establishment wields significant power over the state.

Cali isn’t the “cool” place it is so often imagined to be.

Medical marijuana may be legal there, but so, apparently, is bigoted abuse of power.

It’s outrageous. It’s not surprising in this iteration of the American landscape, but it’s still disgusting.

It makes me wonder what the people of California can do to improve the system whose darkness is sidelined by the state’s sunny image.

It makes me wonder how terribly certain laws can be twisted to serve the agendas of racists in a segregated state like my own (Ohio).