Hate in NYC
After the recent spate of attacks on homosexuals in New York City, a few thoughts on the media coverage of this story. For our purposes, the “facts” in this story, such as they are, are less interesting than the larger narrative that is told by the media. In this metanarrative, again and again, we see gay men (and other sexual minorities) as the innocent victims of horrid crime, the murder of Mark Carson in Greenwich Village as told in Queerty follows this pattern,
“Carson and his 31-year-old friend were dressed in tank tops and cut-off shorts with boots. Police say when they first were approached by the suspects, Morales and pals started hurling gay epithets at them, including “Look at these faggots” and “What are you, gay wrestlers?” Even when Carson and friend started walking away, the suspects chased after them shouting “faggot” and “queer.”
Kelly (the police commissioner) emphasized, “This fully looks to be a hate crime; a bias crime. There were no words that would aggravate the situation that were spoken by the victims. They did not know the confronter. There was no previous relationship.”
On one level, of course, this man and the others attacked are victims of a horrible crimes, but there’s more to this tale than that. This story, insofar as it goes, is built using the template for all “hate crimes” ever: innocent victim + deranged homophobe = gay martyr. Notice the “turn the other cheek” meme. The victims uttered no aggravating words to the Roman soldiers. What if they had? The Christological roots of this should be obvious to anyone who delves deeper than the surface of media narratives. The fact is, all stories, like water flowing in a river, find their way along a limited number of well worn beds. They write themselves, as the Hollywood hacks say. In fact, because the victims and perps are following a certain script, the stories often tell us, rather than the other way around. Before the literal minded and easily outraged start howling: this conversation does not “dishonour” or “demean” these aggrieved individuals and their kin, rather its an attempt to understand better what’s happening here, outside the cliches of the hike to Golgotha.
The man in this video is worth listening to in terms of how “victims” might transform themselves into “agents”. Malcolm X, at least at this time, rejected Martin Luther King’s view that African-Americans had spent “time on the cross”, and through their suffering and blood they could earn redemption through peaceful protest. Malcolm X, through the very warped prism of the Nation of Islam, picked up on the Muslims ideal of jihad, but in his version, only in self-defence. In the presentation above, recorded at Berkeley from 1963, Malcolm X famously advocates for violence, cleverly using the “kill that dog” to symbolically suggest the right of blacks to defend themselves against both police dogs and the police. Yes, people relentlessly beaten, exploited, raped and killed for three-hundred years DO have a right to self-defence, violent if necessary. Is that so radical? (It is interesting to note, both men ended up slain, both claimed as martyrs, but MLK inevitably being claimed by the useful role of Christ-figure.) Retelling the most egregious martyr stories, like the murder of Mark Carson, belies the deeper currents and tensions in the city and society where this happened.
The “victim story” is persistent, not just because it has deep pseudo-religious roots, but because it is politically useful, at least in the short term. A suffering people, whether its suffering comes from slavery, HIV/AIDS or hate crimes, gains political cache in the form of public sympathy. Again, for gaining rights, this may be an effective political strategy, but there are long-term cultural and psychological consequences for everyone that are insidious.
What to do? Stop dealing in gay victimology. The story of martyrs and suffering does not help people to live well, rather in puts them in the “slave mentality” Nietzsche warns about. This does not mean ignoring violence of all kinds, but looking deeper into its root causes. The fact is, the world we live in can be dangerous, and even more perilous if one is different in any way. These attacks happened in combustive atmosphere of an armed society with an undeclared class (and race) guerrilla war going on. (Yes, even in the Elysian Fields of Greenwich Village in the shadow of the Stonewall Inn.) Conflicts are not mainly about homophobia, but deeper currents, mainly class. Add to this the explosive nature of the psychology of groups and individuals around sexuality and the story begins to look multidimensional. If we begin to respect their complexity, these stories start to be less a football for the Cause (whatever that might be) and more a complex (albeit murderous) interaction built on the shifting plates of an unstable society in deep crisis. On a practical level: teach all homosexuals, in fact, all young people, self-defence. By that we do not mean carrying guns or always running away (that’s not always an option), but bey being able to spot trouble, defuse a situation or if necessary to act effectively to defend your life and property.
Again, the point here is not to dishonour individuals wounded or even murdered in violent acts, but to question the received ideas promulgated by gays about the meaning of these acts. A creative and lively discussion should follow so that we might transcend this “martyr story” and chose more different heroes.
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