Today we celebrate our nation’s birthday and usually on birthdays, it’s a time for contemplation and celebration. I am thankful for the miraculous experiment that is the United States of America. And as we look on 244 years of history as a country, I wonder about the danger of the new faceless oppressor that has led and controlled our language on some of the most pressing issues of our time; the one that encourages us to vilify and destroy one another in the the name of justice.
The machine has taught us to look at this video and see a hero and a villain.
It has taught us that, in situations like these, a gun is both the problem and the solution.
It has taught us that making a definitive assumption about someone is both racism and justice.
The miracle of America, is that our heterogeneity, in all it’s ugly glory, made us who we are and has not killed us….yet. But the machine’s power is using strength and turning it into weakness. A place where once, opposites could co-exist, now a place where you can either stand as black or white or a muddled gray. What makes America great is how well we’ve evolved towards ‘e pluribus unum’ without collapsing on ourselves. But the machine learned that money mattered most and that perhaps our motto was the only thing standing in it’s way.
The latest installment in the media driven narrative of LWB (Living While Black) focuses on Jermaine Massey, a guest at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – Portland. The incident took place on December 23rd after Massey returned to the hotel from a concert. He claims he received an urgent call from his mother and went to a quiet area in the lobby to take the call. It was then that he was interrupted by a security guard, requesting his room number. Much of the furor surrounds the video Mr. Massey took after police had been called. Within a week, the two men, identified as ‘Earl’ and ‘Luis’ in the video, were fired. Thus far, no report has surfaced inquiring as to what their view of the event was because, apparently, that doesn’t matter. Mr. Massey says that he was discriminated against, so therefore, he must be right. The hotel chain was swift with public apologies and promised to work with ‘diversity experts‘ to rectify the situation…whatever that means.
How long have ‘Luis’ and ‘Earl’ worked there?
How many times have they called police on guests? Were all those guests black?
How many other guests did ‘Earl’ request information from?
Is ‘Earl’ (within his authority as a security guard) allowed to ask individuals questions to identify if they are guests or not?
Is not identifying yourself to staff, grounds for removal?
Why did the guard call the police on Mr. Massey?
Why was Mr. Massey, a registered guest, taking a personal call in the lobby instead of his room?
Why did he not show is room key or state his room number when first asked?
These questions matter because in situations as sensitive as this, nuance matters, context matters. In light of how quickly corporations rush to squelch (i.e., quietly settle) damaging incidents gone public, Mr. Massey has something to gain from this (not implying, however, that that is his motivation) and the current atmosphere of ‘question nothing’ leaves businesses (large and small) vulnerable to opportunists looking to cash in without being challenged.
Here it is…
I believe Mr. Massey when he says he was irritated by ‘Earl”s interruption and I believe ‘Earl’ when he said Massey refused to give his room number which led to the police being called. I don’t believe the video circulating on the networks now is all there is to the story. Especially since along with the publicized clip, Massey posted a few more, since deleted videos, to Instagram in which he gave further commentary on the event. In one, he stated he was in his room and then went to the lobby to call his mother. In another, his description of the initial word exchange between himself and the security guard is vague at best and offers no insight into how things escalated so quickly.
The two men fired in this video have had their faces shown to the nation and been labeled racists, a scarlet label not so easily removed. This is not a trial, so it is not a matter of due process, but proper investigation. For the sake of everyone involved, as much of a complete version of events should be presented so that judgment doesn’t just come swiftly, but accurately.
I was on Larry Elder’s twitter to prepare for this post (believe me, I don’t go looking for Larry Elder quotes) and noticed his reply to one of the comments made about him: ‘What’s the difference, between calling a white guy a “nigger lover” vs. calling a black an “Uncle Tom”–as you’ve just done to me?’ I’ve heard lots about Elder over the years; his ultra conservative perspective and sometimes, seemingly anti-black sentiment is tough to sit through, especially when he’s spouting his ideology in front of a white viewership. I used to think he was an Uncle Tom until I realized how much that played into the stifling mainstream perception of black people as monolith.
Folks (of all ethnic backgrounds) get away with calling out black people for not being ‘black enough’. This kind of shaming is still acceptable because we still intrinsically believe there are certain things that allblack people do and say, after all, that is a form of solidarity, no? NO! It’s actually called groupthink. The past couple of months, I’ve seen the ‘blackness’ of popular Twitter targets, Don Lemon and Raven Symone, called into question. When Stacey Dash endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, the b(l)acklash was fierce and furious (and foolish).
There’s something unsavory about the pass we give shaming African Americans whose opinions are on different ends of spectrum. The silent endorsement shores up the idea that only certain kinds of public expression of black thought are acceptable, forcing fresh perspectives out of the spotlight and reinforcing the status quo.