Ken Screven was, according to the Times Union newspaper’s Chris Churchill, “the most recognizable black person here in one of the nation’s whitest metropolitan areas,” i.e., Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY, for most of his 34 years as a now-retired television reporter. Having lived here for most of this period, I daresay Churchill was right. Screven even covered a couple of stories I was involved with, notably the January 1985 Rock for Raoul benefit, honoring the late Albany cartoonist/FantaCo employee/my friend Raoul Vezina.
I had this, literally, a nodding acquaintance with Screven when I’d see him in Albany’s Center Square, sort of the curse someone who has met a LOT of people (Ken) go through. We’ve more recently become Facebook friends, sometime after he became a blogger for the Times Union website, as I am.
Churchill reported: “Cellphone footage of the [Arbor Hill street brawl among black teens]… has circulated widely by now. Screven saw it shortly after it happened — on Facebook — and decided it would be provocative material for [his] blog… So he posted it, along with his reaction.”
Part of the narrative was that Screven found “the fight troubling — and, as an African-American, embarrassing.” And I totally GOT that, because I tend to feel that way. My late father most assuredly did.
Churchill noted that he doesn’t feel embarrassed by the stupid things white people do – such as the Kegs and Eggs riot of 2011 in Albany – and I’m sure that is true. Screven noted, “It just takes one black person to do one bad thing and the whole culture is demonized… The white culture is going to say, ‘There they go again.'”
Churchill is technically correct when he suggests that “not the entire white culture” reacts that way. It happens often enough, though, that this cartoon by Keith Knight feels very true, particularly the comparison between a misguided youth and a thug.
I remember reading a black columnist back in December 1993 – William Raspberry, perhaps? – talking about how much he, and black people he knew, hoped that the Long Island Railroad massacre shooter was not black. Of course, he was.
In an interesting variation, I’m now seeing this narrative, after the recent shootings near Santa Barbara, California, about some men feeling a sense of entitlement when it comes to access to women’s bodies. #NotAllMen, the Twitter hashtag reads; some guys are decent, sensitive souls who fight sexism with every fiber of their being, and surely that is true. We should not castigate an entire gender, because isn’t that prejudiced?
Yet #YesAllWomen resonates as true. I know a strong, independent, accomplished, married woman who has recently noted: “an innate instinct of self-protection around, yes, most men learned very early.” Women give out wrong phone numbers, tell guys they have a boyfriend (this piece notwithstanding), avoid eye contact with men lest they think you’re “interested.” You don’t even have to be in conversation with a guy; the drive-by schmucks are alive and well.
How is it that rape and sexual assault are so common on college campuses and in the nation’s military? Why are women demanding the same access to contraceptives as men do to Viagra met with slut-shaming? How is it that “gun extremists” target women with spitting, stalking, and threats of rape?
What has prompted someone to initiate a petition to stop sexual harassment at the San Diego Comic-Con and to create a formal anti-harassment policy, a document I signed, BTW? Maybe it’s Yes, All Men? Or as Louis CK put it, “There is no greater threat to women than men.”
No, most men are not rapists, or deadbeat dads, or mass murders. But almost all mass murders are men, and, in the United States, white men at that. Maybe that’s a good thing, because, perhaps, the situation will spark enough concern and outrage to aid in dealing with mental health issues, and controlling the sale of guns to people who are deranged. Nah, I’m just messing with you; we’ll have the same damn conversation after the next massacre.