In a thought-provoking, mordantly funny, piece at Medium, Dex Digital writes, “Can someone just shoot Jesus Christ already?”
For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.
But that’s all been ruined.
We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.
It doesn’t matter that the many voices lining up to assure us that Michael Brown “was no angel” often contradict themselves or contradict reality, Dex Digital writes. Nor does it matter that they’re (mostly) savvy enough not to come right out and state explicitly that this litany of human flaws that they’re attributing to Brown, real or imagined, excuses his abrupt execution. (That’s too outrageous and ridiculous to say outright, so they just hint at it instead.)
But still, it was disappointing.
Not because we believed that these were reasons for the boys to die. But because we knew that so many Americans were itching for a reason, any reason, to condemn the boys to death in their minds. To make it all our fault. And by being simply human, these dead spirits gave them that ammunition.
Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant. They failed us all by not being perfect.
The only way to expose and abolish such victim-blaming, he writes — to ensure that “maybe this time … they would believe us” — would be to find a victim who was faultless, flawless and perfectly innocent. And with deadpan gallows humor, that’s what he suggests:
So maybe what all of these terrified racists need is someone that, no matter how hard they try, cannot be dehumanized. Someone beyond human. Someone Christlike.
Someone that can save them from themselves, and wash their souls of fear and hate and judgement. Someone that can bring them into the light of humanity and love and logic.
Maybe what we need is a 5’8″, light-skinned, Harvard-bound, star tennis player/violinist/poet that volunteers at the local pet shelter, bakes amazing blueberry muffins, speaks with a Mid-Atlantic accent, has a white name, who has never taken a photo with anything other than a thumbs up and a smile, and just recently published a groundbreaking cure for cancer in Science.
And we need him to die. Someone needs to find this boy, and kill him in public. It’s our only hope.
Still wouldn’t work. The same process of dehumanizing thuggification performed on Brown and Martin and Grant would soon transform this flawless saint into an unrecognizable menace.
That’s part of what makes Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant Christlike. Because the same thing happened to Jesus.
Sure, in the Gospels — written decades later by devoted followers — Jesus is portrayed as perfect and sinless, an innocent, spotless lamb. But that’s not what it looked like at the time. He was executed because he was a thug who deserved it — a seditious vandal who knocked over tables, blasphemed, and threatened to destroy the House of God. Jesus died in disgrace.
Disgrace is a vital weapon for the Powers That Be. It’s their main tool — perhaps even more than physical violence — for ensuring that they remain the Powers That Be.
There’s this mistaken idea in a lot of heroic stories that the oppressive evil villains can’t afford to kill the rebellious hero because they can’t risk turning them into a martyr. But that’s not how oppressive evil villains — or oppressive evil systems — work. They can kill without making martyrs because everyone they kill they also actively disgrace.
Thus when Ferguson, Missouri, police arrested the wrong Henry Davis then beat him bloody in a jail cell, they had to consequently thuggify him. They denied him his status as an innocent victim by charging him with a crime — four counts of property damage, because when one police officer kicked him in the head, his blood splattered onto four officers’ uniforms.
That’s a bitterly flimsy pretext for criminalizing Mr. Davis, but that’s what’s so disgraceful about this process of disgrace-ing. It doesn’t matter how flimsy or dishonest the pretext may be, it works and will keep working just as long as most people — most white people, that is — are eager to participate in the disgrace-ing and the thuggifying of innocent victims.
He “resisted arrest,” he didn’t do what he was told as quickly as he should have, he may have shoved someone, he smoked a joint, he flirted with a white girl, he broke the Sabbath and disturbed the peace. … Those are all the same thing.
One thing that’s particularly frustrating to me, as a Christian, is that it seems so many of my fellow white Christians love to imagine that they would stand beside Longinus on Calvary, saying, “Truly this man was a son of God.” Yet at the same time they’re unwilling to look upon the slain body of Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or Oscar Grant, and say the same thing.
The bitterest thing about Dex Digital’s bitter joke is that it’s already happened. And it just keeps happening.
See also: Jamilah King on “Michael Brown and the Danger of the Perfect Victim Frame.”