Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Reading

Cruelty — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the way some people are using Trayvon Martin as an excuse for their racism.

Among the many reasons I hoped Barack Obama would not weigh in on Martin’s death, was the sense that for racists–closeted and otherwise–it would represent an escalation. By making the obvious plain–that the president is black, and that the days of small town justice are at an end–I thought he would invite the full brunt of racist bile to be heaped, not upon the president, but upon the parents of Trayvon Martin. What I forgot was that racists need no reason to justify themselves. They are what they their actions say they are.

I would not withhold the life of Trayvon Martin from scrutiny and investigation. When someone claims a vicious assault upon their person–as George Zimmerman has–it is only intelligent to investigate the relevant background of the alleged assailant. It certainly is relevant to ask what, precisely, Martin was suspended for. It surely is important to ask if Martin had a history of violence.Whether or not Martin had a criminal record, most certainly is pertinent.

But what, precisely, is the relevance of wearing gold grills? What, specifically, is the pertinence of having once given an obscene gesture? Why, exactly, does it matter that Martin’s imagination sometimes ranged into profane thoughts of sex and violence? How does any of this help us understand his killing at the hands of by George Zimmerman?

It does not–unless you believe that the fact that Martin once gave a middle finger to a camera somehow proves that he is the sort of person who would saunter up to a man who outweighs by nearly 100 pounds, summon the powers of Thor, deck the man with one-shot, and stove him against concrete. We do not draw such conclusions from most teenagers, or even most people. That those who see nothing wrong with labeling a black man as a “Food Stamp President,” would draw them in the case of young black boy cannot be dismissed as coincidental.

The Daily Caller is published by Tucker Carlson. Tucker Carlson is a man who once informed us, on national television, that he’d assaulted a gay man for subjecting him to the sort of treatment which nearly all of women-kind experiences hourly. This is not the assumption of a violent handle, or the quotation of rap lyrics it is the admitted commission of actual violence. Moreover, it’s the kind of violence that’s routinely dismissed as pathological in black boys, as well as the kind that had it ever been committed by Trayvon Martin would immediately serve as irrefutable evidence that he deserved to slaughtered in the street.

It’s worth discerning the subtle differences between the actions of The Daily Caller, Michelle Malkin and Stormfront. But it’s also worth seeing their actions as they are–points on the continuum of racism delineating the cloaked and covert from the naked and profane.

It is cruelty to sneer at the unguarded thoughts of dead children. But it is the specific cruelty of racism that prevents so many from ever seeing Martin as a child.

Bully — A.O. Scott reviews the new documentary by Lee Hirsch about school bullying and the clueless adults that enable it.

The feeling of aloneness is one of the most painful consequences of bullying. It is also, in some ways, a cause of it, since it is almost always socially isolated children (the new kid, the fat kid, the gay kid, the strange kid) who are singled out for mistreatment. For some reason — for any number of reasons that hover unspoken around the edges of Mr. Hirsch’s inquiry — adults often fail to protect their vulnerable charges.

Alex, a 14-year-old in Sioux City, Iowa, whose daily routine includes being teased, humiliated and assaulted (especially on the school bus), cannot bear to tell his parents what is going on. He even sticks up for his tormenters, who he says are “just messing around” when they stab him with pencils and call him vile names.

“If not for them, what friends do I have?” he asks his distraught, confused mother.

It’s a heartbreaking moment. Equally sad — and also infuriating and painfully revealing — is a scene in which an assistant principal at Alex’s middle school tries to settle a conflict between two boys who apparently had been fighting at recess. When she insists that they shake hands, one eagerly obliges, with a smile and an apology. The other sullenly resists, and as she scolds him for his noncooperation (letting his antagonist go), it becomes clear that this boy is the victim, and that the assistant principal’s rushed attempt to be fair is in fact perpetuating a terrible and continuing injustice.

Later, after this same well-meaning, clueless educator has similarly mishandled a meeting with Alex’s parents — showing them pictures of her grandchildren; chirpily insisting that the bus where Alex has been terrorized is “good as gold” — Alex’s mother says “she politicianed us.”

There is more “politicianing” on display in “Bully” than actual bullying, though Mr. Hirsch’s camera does capture a few horrifying episodes (one of them so alarming that he shared it with parents and school officials). In spite of its title, the film is really about the victims, their parents and the powerful grown-ups who let them down.

A school superintendent in Georgia denies that bullying is a big problem in her district, in spite of the suicide of Tyler Long, a 17-year-old student who took his life after enduring years of harassment and ostracism. A sheriff in Yazoo County, Miss., tallies, with dry, bureaucratic relish, the 45 felony counts faced by Ja’Meya Jackson, a 14-year-old girl who pulled out a gun on a crowded school bus. Nothing can justify such a crime, he says.

That may be true, but his insistence on a narrow, legalistic understanding of Ja’Meya’s case betrays a profound lack of concern about the sustained and systematic abuse that she experienced at the hands of her schoolmates.

The Loneliness of the Hair Care Guru — Marcus Russo, the CEO and president of Pantene, laments the lack of luster.

Today I saw a woman whose hair had incredible potential. With a little effort and the help of quality hair-care products, she could have had glorious, bountiful locks—the kind any man, woman, or child would kill for. I do not exaggerate when I say she had a head of hair that was a gift from God. But it was all a tragic waste, because atop her head sat a nest of horrors: flyaways, frizz, dry ends. Pure natural beauty ruined by pure neglect.

At times like this, I often stop and ask myself: Am I the only person left in the world who still gives a shit about rich, lustrous hair?

Even at the headquarters of Pantene, a 65-year-old institution dedicated to shampooing and conditioning, I see the erosion of this basic aesthetic value. Many of my colleagues arrive at work each day with limp, lifeless hair. This at a company dedicated to creating pro-vitamin formulas that moisturize hair and, within a week, strengthen it by up to 99 percent!

Yet I realize the parade of sad, oily heads through my workplace is merely symptomatic of a larger trend—part of a culture in which people no longer give a flying fuck about undoing the damage caused by everyday brushing, blow-drying, and styling.

What kind of world is this? What happened to shimmer? What happened to shine? The hair I see these days belies any true commitment to natural glow and gloss. Do I have to ascend Mount Everest and shout, “People, let’s come together and make our hair salon-quality again!” Because if that will fix this epidemic—and that’s exactly what this is, an epidemic—I’ll do it. I’ll book a flight to the Himalayas right now.

Apparently things have gotten so bad our nation can’t even drag itself into the shower to rejuvenate its hair with a simple application of Pantene Moisture Renewal 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. We have things down to a one-step solution. We’ve made it easy, for God’s sake—a single product that repairs chemically damaged hair, prevents breakage, and provides root-to-tip protection with lightweight body boosters and vital nutrients such as lipids, which weatherproof your hair at the cuticle, where it counts.

Are you listening? I just said lipids! In case you didn’t know, lipids coat your goddamn hair and protect it from the elements. How many times do I need to say this? The fact that I even have to tell you this at all is the real problem. In fact, it is the only problem, as far as I’m concerned.

Doonesbury — Pledge-athon.