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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 7.3.08




Hate The Crime

Love the criminal

by Mark Harris

I started writing this on Father’s Day after thinking about what kind of father raises a kid, or what kind of hunger for an absent father drives a kid to beat someone else’s father with a baseball bat, or in the Eugene scenario, a fish club. Though the victim does not recall racialized language, the number of assailants and the weapon used bring to mind an earlier scenario. 

What other scenario involves multiple armed white assailants against a single black one? Unlike the 1988 Portland murder of another father, Mulageta Seraw, by skinheads with a baseball bat, this latest beating hasn’t resulted in death, but not for lack of trying. It’s a signature crime, much like a burning cross, a hangman’s noose, lynching photography or a gang tag I found in a local park: KKK.

Cornel West sang on “9/11” from the CD Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations that as a result of 9/11, all Americans feel “unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hated.” Indeed he said, “To be a Nigger in America is to be unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence and hated.” And “since 9/11, America has been niggerized, then America feels the way Black America has always felt.” So he suggests that a nation with the blues can learn from a blues people how to deal with such circumstances. 

For my personal sense of safety, nothing has really changed. There have always been certain Eugene neighborhoods that I personally wouldn’t walk late at night, but more from the sense that I would be considered a danger, not because I felt unsafe myself. 

To be sure when a mixed race child beat another mixed race child’s grandfather to death in this town a few years ago, I thought about my own grandfather, who was a surrogate father to me when my own father was absent at medical school. 

Raised as I was in an extended family with only my maternal grandfather (a kinder, gentler version of the Rev. Wright), I tended to think of my elders as a necessary and valuable natural resource. Raising a hand to one was fairly unthinkable. But in these days of video parenting through Grand Theft Auto IV and the Internet, it seems today to be a different story. Kids spend more time interacting with technology than with living systems, whether human beings or nature.

While the hands that raised me used books as well as the proverbial peach switch as part of my edification, the peach switch was used to instill a certain discipline that preserved life when one was unsafe, unprotected, subject to random violence, hated. While we omitted the peach switch in my generation, the book and our various people’s histories helped raise my daughters to be the women they are.

Who raises a kid to hate, and how does a kid come to hate their own family? My own father, a psychiatrist, remarked that it wasn’t so much a kid’s parental upbringing as the rearing by the larger parent: Society. If Society taught you to use your anger against your weakness and taught you that weakness was ignorance of yourself, then that points you towards a certain inner strength through self-knowledge. The only reason I take this quasi-philosophical bent is that the Aramaic translation of “love your enemy” is instructions on how to do it. Those instructions require you to see into your enemy’s heart. But the path to seeing your enemy’s heart lies through your own, wherein you see that your enemy and you are intrinsically connected; in fact, you’re part of the same being. 

But what kind of society can teach three skinheads how to see their common humanity in an older black man they encounter late at night? And maybe they’re not skinheads but simply imitating a tradition that once was common here in Eugene — an incident that even if reported to the police would not be responded to, one that the paper would not report on and the mayor would not comment on. These events happened within the living memory of Black Eugeneans, and though it’s different today, clearly some individual parents or societal parents need to change their parenting style yet. 

 

Mark Harris is an instructor in ethnic studies and substance abuse prevention at LCC.