Tim Tai Versus Southern Mob.
A recent NY Times article covering the student protests at the University of Missouri brought to light some fascinating aspects of early 21st century racial dynamics. The story goes as follows; in the aftermath of a series of racist incidents on campus in recent years, students have begun staging high-profile protests culminating in the college's foıtball team going on strike and a protest led by a group calling themselves "#ConcernedStudent1950" in which they camped out in a public area of the campus.
It was during this camp-out that the following incident occurred.....
Naturally, the video caused quite the stir, with publications right across the spectrum of political leaning coming out to condemn the stupidly petulant and self-defeating-if-you-want-to-get-your-message-out act of hampering press freedom. From the video, you can see that a herd of rebels without clues attempt to intimidate a freelance photographer into leaving a public space that he had every right to be in, and then use physical force to eject him (which I suggest might be illegal) and deny his rights as a journalist and citizen to report the news.
The reaction of the photographer was admirable in that he refused to be cowed or intimidated and held his ground until he was faced with an increased level of aggression and the very real possibility of physical violence. Although it is racial issues that underpin the whole incident, there are - in my opinion - unique racial dynamics about it that deserve comment but which seem to have flown under the radar of people's awareness.
Keen-eyed readers would have noticed that the photographer was Asian, a guy named Tim Tai, and that his primary confrontation was with a woman named Janna Basler who turned out to be an employee of the school. Towards the end of the confrontation, the intimidation was amplified by a black student whose aggressive posturing encouraged the rest of the mob to increase their own levels of aggression.
During the course of the confrontation, Basler sets the example for the students by standing in the photographer's way and preventing him from getting closer to the camp. Then, she crosses her arms and pushes him - and at this point things become extremely disturbing. Having obviously and clearly nudged the guy - the recording captures her doing so - she immediately replies (lies) that "he had pushed her". Somewhere off camera, a guy can be heard indignantly asking "did he touch her, did he touch her?" What was going on here is clear - some guy was looking for an excuse and reason to be aggressive, perhaps violent towards the photographer.
In and of itself, it is disturbing that a college employee would incite students to violent aggression, yet, in the context of America's race history it assumes an even more dark and disgusting tone. One of the foundational pillars of white racist violence towards minorities (particularly men) has been the inviolacy of the white woman and the drive to protect her purity - as well as the purity of the white race - from contamination by non-white men. The primary way that this was achieved was via anti-miscegenation laws and segregation, but also through social acceptance of violent retribution towards any minority male who loved across the race divide. An even darker aspect of this normalization of violence against minority men, was the phenomenon of the false accusation.
American history is replete with incidences of minority men who had been falsely accused by white women of rape, and violence. This incident is a sinister echo of those dark times and it speaks volumes about the profound scar on America's racial dynamics that even in 2015 a white woman - Basler - participating in a protest against racism could clearly and blatantly lie that a minority man had physically accosted her in some way and have minorities jumping to her defence. There was a time when that would have gotten the photographer killed and quite frankly, it sounded as though there were some guys in that mob who were willing to commit violence to defend her sanctity. It is with the most ironic appropriateness that Basler, when asked by Tsai to reveal her identity, replied "My name is 1950" - a fitting reference to her use of 1950's racial dynamics to intimidate and incite aggression against a non-white man.
What this says about how America's races interact and conceive of each other offers us the opportunity for intriguing analysis. Could it be that despite years of ethnic studies courses, and a greater awareness of racist thinking, we (minorities) are still somehow conditioned to think of a white woman's word as more sacred than that of minority men? Could it be that we (minorities) still place a higher value on white women such that we are willing to ignore her false accusations and be aggressive on her behalf anyway?
But, don't get me wrong here - I'm not saying that Basler was cynically, or even consciously exercising the privilege of false accusation, merely that we as a society may have gotten so conditioned to behaving in certain ways based upon racial hierarchies that we accept the word of white people as authoritative and probably truthful even though our eyes are telling us the opposite. We are simply accustomed to accepting behaviors determined by racial privileges. Perhaps, on some deep level, conditioning leads us to understand that any accusation made against minority men by white people must - by definition - be true. Maybe the minority members of that mob felt some kind of afterglow, or sloppy seconds of white privilege by being allowed to participate in the charade, drawn by the power in knowing that they stood behind someone who, seemingly, had the power to redefine a lie as the truth.
Whatever those involved were thinking, the scenario played out like a classic of pavlovian conditioning in which no-one seemed to grasp that they were actually reinforcing the racial hierarchies of America's past with their unquestioning response to a white woman's false accusations. It, thus, may be no surprise that the group of students, teachers and Basler, for the most part, ignored the white journalist who was recording the incident and focused their aggression and false accusations on Tai - the minority.
As for the overly aggressive black dude at the end, I couldn't help but be reminded of the lyric from this song, and I quote - "black pohleess showing out for the white cop" - in which it is implied that black cops become overly aggressive when dealing with minorities just to impress, or prove their credibility to, their white peers. There is a lot I could say about that, but that is not necessary since it pretty much speaks for itself.
On a final note, it is worth mentioning another dynamic of the incident. Over the past few years, higher education and the courts have been considering the issue of affirmative action. A common refrain amongst supporters of AA has been to push the racist stereotype of the test-taking-wizard-but-unthinking Asian automatons who are unable to think critically, challenge authority, or lack the flexibility of thought necessary to contribute to a diverse intellectual environment that colleges supposedly strive for. Yet, what we see in the above video illustrates more clearly than any study, that it is the non-Asian students - at least at Missouri - who lack the critical thinking skills to challenge authority, and interact with their learning environment in a way that fosters a challenging and progressive intellectual environment.