Friday, July 14, 2006

A Particular Strain of Whiteness

I am coming to/blogging on this very late though I've been following it since the start. First with my jaw dropped and then head shaking. I have reasons for the delay. (Even now I am multitasking, playing all roles at once in person and via Firefox tabs and email accounts and trying to think, hence the following incoherence and typos.)

First, the interview:




Yep. Is there anyone he does not insult? And day after day, news story after news story, Strain has stuck to his guns (pun intended).
"I don't want to get into calling people names, but if you're going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy."
"Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' " -- July 8

He sees no problem targeting hairstyles as if hair is as strong a piece of evidence as DNA. As Jarvis DeBerry points out in an excellent column "Black hair is always suspect," this is not the first or last time African Americans have been targeted in St. Tammany parish (or elsewhere) because of hair. DeBerry starts his column recounting a case in St. Tammany in 1996:

St. Tammany Parish prosecutors were trying to convince a jury that [Ronnie] Johnson and an accomplice had shot two men dead outside a Slidell sweet shop on July 12, 1996.

The problem facing prosecutors during the August 1999 trial was that their evidence sucked. Each of the state's alleged eyewitnesses fell into one of two categories: They either gave a version of events that was contradicted by the autopsy report or they were in prison and, thus, had reason to curry favor with the state.

With his case clearly falling apart, the assistant district attorney tried to arouse the mostly white jury's prejudices. He asked Ronnie Johnson why he wore his hair that way.

Johnson's hair was cornrowed.

Think Leroy from television's "Fame." Think D'Angelo of the album "Brown Sugar." Think Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers or Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets.

The prosecutor wanted the mostly white jury to think "gang," to think "violence," to think "incorrigible criminal." In short, to think "nigger." And to send Johnson to prison for the rest of his life.

Someone had told me, only half-jokingly, that the typical juror in St. Tammany says, "Well he got arrested, didn't he?" before quickly moving to convict.


That case turned out for the better despite the plan of the prosecutor. ("Not these 12. Closing arguments ended, and 45 minutes later they were back with an acquittal.")

Strain equates "thugs" and "trash" and "spillover crime" with "New Orleans" and "Katrina evacuees," following the age-old local belief/worldview that New Orleans, specifically Orleans parish (not the Jefferson parish suburbs), is not only "black" but "crime-ridden" and "dangerous" so people move out of town to "be safer" and have "better" schools (another race-based delusion). "Crime" and "black" are used synonymously by some here. You see it everywhere in the area but especially in the expanded metro area. Letters to the editor from St. Tammany and other outer parishes (talkign in a very New Orleans-centric way) generally support Sherrif Strain and his worldview, like this example fromthe Times-Picayune dated July 14:

Re: "Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist,' " Page 1, July 8.

If you are offended at being stereotyped because you wear dreadlocks or a "chee-wee" hairstyle, then cut your hair. Stop living the stereotype. If you don't want people to think you are a gangster or a punk, stop dressing like a gangster or a a punk.

Besides, what has St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said that hasn't been said by the New Orleans police, Mayor Ray Nagin and various members of the City Council? If you are going to commit crime, we don't want you here. Black, white, red, green, yellow -- doesn't matter. I, for one, will cast my vote for Sheriff Strain whenever he is on the ballot.

Tony Arnold

Mandeville


Strain tries to defend himself by saying he has never been accused of a civil rights violation. As I would say to students while teaching argument, that is weak and specious support. Conversely, I could say that since I have never been accused of lying in public that I have never lied. A student could say because she has never been caught plagiarizing that she is clean as fresh-fallen snow. Not being accused or found guilty in public does not mean no codes or mores or ethics or civil rights have been violated. Strain's refusal to see any problem with his statements is what is most alarming to the ACLU, the Covington NAACP and others. He does not see how targeting individuals because of hairstyles, not because of physical description or DNA or MO, is problematic, does not see that there might be a difference, as Donatus King, president of the local New Orleans NAACP chapter, said, "If the suspect is a 5-foot-tall male with dreadlocks, that doesn't justify stopping a 6-foot-tall male with dreadlocks." Only someone who thinks blacks are interchangeable, who could believe that collective punishment is a crime-fighting technique (or method of diplomacy) would defend the statements made.


additional reading:

Black hair is always suspect by Jarvis DeBerry *

Sheriff's remarks called 'overtly racist' *

ACLU: Sheriff's hairstyle comment racist *

Sheriff isn't backing down at all *

Hume defends racist remarks -- Brit Hume defended Strain's comments on July 11

A 'strain' on relations from The Louisiana Weekly

Sheriff Strain defends his statements -- from KLFY in Lafayette

* items all at Nola.com (registration required--pissants)


10 Comments:

Blogger Professor Zero said...

Damn.

Other useful info on St. Tam. is, if arrested there, don't refuse a drug test (although you may have learned it is your constitutional right to do so). If you do, they can then make you come back each week to be tested, until your case is closed.

This turns out to be legal, although I couldn't believe it when I heard about it. Apparently, it is legal statewide, harebrained scheme of one of the sillier legislators, but only St. Tam. enforces it.

Must remove this sherriff.

Fri Jul 14, 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger quakerdave said...

I don't think he's (only) "overly racist."

Let's be precise in our use of language here: He's "overly" an ass. People like this should never be allowed near guns or children.

Fri Jul 14, 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger ChasingMoksha said...

Not to assert that racism has not existed all along, but have you noticed since Bush has been in office, how some people are becoming more comfortable transitioning back from subtle racism (trying to hide it) to overt racism. That reader who argues that everyone should stop living the stereotype if he or she does not desire to be criminalized is supremacist at best. Did it occur to him or her to perhaps stop perpetuating the stereotype? Or examine why the stereotype ever became a stereotype.

Strain is a RACIST and is dangerous in his position.

Fri Jul 14, 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

That reader who argues that everyone should stop living the stereotype if he or she does not desire to be criminalized is supremacist at best.

Yes (and yes on the since Bush got in thing, also). Strain actually says not to come into St. Tam. in dredlocks, and not to be a defense lawyer in St. Tam. Unreconstructed Jim Crow in St. Tam., then.

Maybe the new bridge they are building to Slidell should be revised, and go all the way to the state line. St. Tam. sherriff/polic e could be banned from it, and perhaps only Black LSP could police it. That way we can all be protected while traveling in St. Tam.???

Fri Jul 14, 09:50:00 PM  
Blogger CP said...

God, that just really ties my tits into knots, G Bitch. The fact that this person is in a position of power and allowed to carry a handgun really frightens me. As a white Jewish woman, I have seen my share of prejudice upon moving down south. The mentality of is devastating and it absolutely horrifies me that this animal is allowed to remain as sheriff.

Then again, maybe he is the lesser of all the other evils there.

His replacment might be even worse.

CP.

Sat Jul 15, 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Bardiac said...

Just wow. Terrifying.

I agree with Moksha: it seems that more people think racism is "okay" now, rather than knowing it's not and so trying to be less overt about it, or actually being ashamed about it.

Sat Jul 15, 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

The last time racism was this "accepted" among white folks was the Reagan-Bush pere era. I remember the chill increasing. It abated some with Clinton. It has been strongest in the South this time, connected to a vocal and public push of and for evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

Using all the usual code words, Strain says if you're not white, fearing his God and working as anything but a defense lawyer, stay out or he will put your ass in jail. That is hardly democratic or taken out of context or being whipped into a needless frenzy. He said it. He meant it. And too many folks agree with him.

Sat Jul 15, 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Bardiac said...

This seems so hard to fight on so many levels. And it's in the north, too, I think, just maybe less obvious.

Tue Jul 18, 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

It's only hard to fight because those who think, either for a living or to improve themselves and the world in which they live, are not the dominant voices in the national discourse. Coded language is approved of and used extensively, not just by Strain and not just in St. Tammany. Also in the Midwest. Also in cities--housing patterns, distribution of services, schools, grocery stores, etc. Too often, racism is seen as one single thing in one single area that is the problem of black people or Latinos or whoever. It is not an easy thing to fight within oneself and that above all is avoided by many. It is not about guilt, it is not about retribution, it is not as much about the past as it is about the present and future, especially the present. Assuming the Other causes its own problems and therefore should suffer the consequences--leaving NO to founder, leaving Rwanda to stew in genocide, ignoring Darfur, allowing schools and neighborhoods to crumble for generations, on and on and on....The near-abandonment of NO must be seen in terms of a national aversion to helping "poor" and "black" and especially "poor black" people who of course cause their own problems by choosing to stay poor and not have a good car or mutual funds. Too many heads are stuck in sand and up asses. And proud of it, proud of how narrow-minded they are. That is the conservative strain dragging shit down.

Wed Jul 19, 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Absorbant said...

What an excellent site.

Strain's words show me that there is a new form of 'Politically Correct' :
Its the language of the right-wing, and they're coming with a whole new/old set of euphemisms.

Who is the problem exactly??

Time to dig out my Public Enemy records again.

Fri Jul 21, 07:29:00 AM  

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