The Reckless Eyeball

This is Matt Ingram.

In 1951 Matt Ingram drove his old car to a neighbor’s house to see about borrowing a trailer. The neighbor didn’t answer the door, so Ingram went and looked out in the field to see if the neighbor was there, but all he saw were some kids. So, he left and borrowed a trailer from someone else.

Matt spent 2 years in jail for looking at those kids.

Well, really for looking at one kid. Willa Jean Boswell, a 17 year old girl saw Ingram driving on the road and was frightened when he looked at her. She ran to the field, told her brothers, who told their dad, who told the police, and they arrested Ingram for assault with intent to rape.

That’s it. No other relevant details. No one contested or offered that there was more to the story. The entire court accepted that Matt, who had not been in, or caused, any trouble previously, never got closer to Willa Mae than 75 feet. He never spoke a word to her, never even made any sudden or aggressive movements, just a look, and the jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 2 years on the chain gang.

A series of appeals and a whole lotta pressure from… the Soviet Union, eventually brought his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court where his conviction was overturned.

That process took around two years… which Matt spent in jail.

For a look.

Or maybe rather, because he had a look.

Mr. Ingram wasn’t trying to have a look, he was just doing his thing. He was working and being himself- which is in some way the root of what makes that look “a look”. There is some form of innate coolness. Not posing. Not trying. Just being. All business.

Thing is, Ingram’s look wasn’t all that unique. He was by all accounts- normal.

For a Black man.

At that time all sorts of other folks, who were in fact trying, worked this look. In fact, that look was being imitated and replicated all over movie screens and billboards because there was, and still is, something in there, that is undeniably cool.

But cool is only safe for some.

And if that cool is innate, the sort that just is, then what do you do if you are Black? In order to be safe should someone not be themself? Tone it down? Tuck it in? Reel it back? Take what others imitate and monetize and push it down to make white people feel safe? To a lot of people, those who just wanted to get on with life, the answer was “yes”.

It was the sort of thing that when white folks do it, they are popular and get to be in movies but when Black people do it…

It was just after Ingram’s case was won, and received worldwide media attention, that a group of White men decided not to take their case to court when a Black kid named Emmet Till was accused of having that same look.

We have, in so many ways, come a long way. That was 70 years ago. So many people have marched, and worked, and changed since then.

But then I think about backwards hats and hoodies and I have to wonder.

And man, when I look at old pictures of Matt Ingram,

I can still see that cool. Plain as day.

Intent vs. Impact

When a system, or representatives of a system, attempt to explain away the racial component of the killing of Asian people because of the ‘words’ of a white killer, despite the evidence and consequences of the the killer’s actions, we are witnessing the systematic shift from white privilege up to white supremacy.

If a person enters a place primarily inhabited by Asians, and then kills several people there, the impact of the death and destruction is born primarily by that Asian community. The stated intentions of the perpetrator do not change who bears that impact.

Becoming What We Should Be

None of of us are a finished product.

When considering ourselves, or in understanding others, we should keep in mind that any finished product requires a process.

We should not expect that we can jump right to the end in being our best self. We cannot skip the building. The development.

This applies to health, maturity, or in understanding. We should acknowledge that not only do we not know things, but that in order to best understand, or know something, we will likely need to do the conceptual work of learning foundational and contextual details in order to know anything.

Or anyone.

CRT Simplified, Conclusion

That’s pretty much it. There is of course a full library of Critical Race Theory scholarship that goes much deeper, but what I have shared the past few days is enough to give anyone a working idea of CRT’s foundation and elements.

So let me add, here at the end, what Critical Race Theory is NOT.

It is not about hating America. Or hating White people.

It is not about blame.

There may be some who, thanks to these tenets, learn something about this country and then feel some animosity, anger, or possibly hatred- but those things are not principles of the Critical Race Theory framework. Those things (animosity, anger, hate) can grow from any number of sources, including from learning truth. This does not mean we should avoid truth to alleviate anger.

Maybe some would prefer that tactic? Willful ignorance?

Either way, angry or otherwise, a patient being diagnosed with cancer should not blame their illness on the diagnosing doctor.

CRT is very much about diagnosis and understanding what is, or has been, happening and why.I have not read a single article or study by any Critical Race Theory expert, who upon making a find, prescribed hate as a solution.

CRT Simplified, Day 7

Microagressions are small, often unintentional slights, not even necessarily insults, but little pin pricks based on a marginalized characteristic (such as race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality).

Any one instance of such would be no big deal, but the thing is, they add up.

It’s like when my older brother used to hold me down and begin tapping me on the forehead till I could name ten fruits. It wasn’t painful but man it was annoying and made it super hard to do something that was normally simple- naming ten varieties of fruit.Microagressions are just like that, except instead of my big brother its American society and instead of naming ten fruits, Black people are just trying to live life.

The concept of microagressions fit solidly within CRT in that they become very evident and pervasive (endemic) when we listen to non-white people (counter-storytelling).

CRT Simplified, Day 6

American law is based on property rights, not human rights.

If American law had been based on human rights rather than property rights, slavery and the confiscation of Native American land would have never been legal. But both happened- with official sanction.This prioritization of property over people was evidenced in proposals to emancipate slaves via slave owner compensation- rather than prosecution for a violation of human rights.

The caveat is that White people have in fact been protected under the law in a similar way to property, making Whiteness itself a form of property. This would help explain why stand your ground law tends to favor White shooters over Black victims, but not vice-versa, or, why there may be more systematic reaction to property damage from a Black Lives Matter protest than there is systematic reaction to the killing of an unarmed Black person.

CRT investigates how Whiteness acts as a form of property.

CRT Simplified, Day 5

All people generally think of themselves, and their own needs, first.

This is often an assumption when we consider the workings of both capitalism and democracy. CRT theorists have found that programs, laws, or movements directed at combating the effects of racism, usually only have staying power, or in some way “work”, if whatever is being asked also, in some way, benefits White people.

This is called “interest convergence”.

Simplified CRT, Day 4

Race is never the only thing going on in a Black person’s life.

Or anyone’s life for that matter. People “experience” race at the same time they experience sex, gender, wealth, poverty, nationality, or any other aspect of human socialization. All of those things are ever-present and must be known and addressed.

So, if we pass a law making it illegal to segregate schools by race, and then all the White people move away, we need to know that wealth plays a role, gender plays a role, sexual orientation, and many other things, all play a role.

Considering how multiple factors happen all at once, is called “intersectionality”.

Simplified CRT, Day 3

We must listen to how the non-white people say stuff happens or works.

If we want to know about the ocean, we cannot only pay attention to the water, we also need to know about fish. If the water claims it is the perfect temperature, but all the fish are freezing- there is a problem.

When it comes to racism in America, we should listen to what the non-White people are saying. There are plenty of studies, plenty of lawsuits, and lots of stories about race and racism coming from White America. CRT turns this around and centers the stories and viewpoints coming from non-White Americans.

This is called counter story-telling.

So, if we pass a law making it illegal to segregate schools by race, and then all the White people move away from the school, CRT does not begin by asking the White people what is happening but rather listens to the Black students left at the school.

Simplified CRT, Day 2

Racism is not an isolated incident, but rather, an interwoven part of everyday American life.

This is rooted in the reality that from the founding, and through the formative years of American history, being white was a requirement for American citizenship and all of its associated rights or privileges. That was racist. The consequence of this, is that society developed in a way that naturally operates to the advantage of White people, independent of anyone’s intentions.

For example, you can pass a law that makes it illegal to segregate schools by race, but that doesn’t really matter if all the White people choose to move away from the schools with Black students. It doesn’t really matter why those people are moving away, the effect remains the same.

This is what it means when CRT theorists say “racism is endemic”