I want to punch Daniel Holtzclaw in the throat. I say this with some frequency even though I’ve never punched anyone in the throat. I just have a rich fantasy life in which I seek violent retributive justice that does nothing to restore the victims to their full humanity.
The Daniel Holtzclaw case should be about how society (and our laws and law enforcement) see and treat vulnerable people, such as the black women who were victims of his violence. We in the U.S. fail again and again, usually protecting the interests of the few over the good of all humanity. If we were a truly good and faithful country, we would have no sexual violence. We would have no homeless people. No child would go to bed hungry.
I know I’m not the only one who hears news of a shooting or a bombing or something really bad, and hopes the perpetrator is a white Christian man. Not because I want someone to do these things at all, but because I know white Christian men will never suffer increased surveillance or profiling as a result of the crime.
And every time the perpetrator is a person of color or a person who isn’t Christian, that person’s community (or perceived community) suffers backlash in the form of policing or vigilante violence and hate crimes. Every. Time. So you know I was mad when I saw his picture.
Former officer and now felon Daniel Holtzclaw is the son of a white police officer and a Japanese mother. Anyone who knows anything could see that Holtzclaw is multiracial, but he has been consistently identified as white despite court records to the contrary. It’s interesting that his court records do not mention that he is white, instead identifying him as Asian or Pacific Islander (let’s think about that). It’s unclear as to whether he personally identifies as white or not.
Kathy Khang (@mskathykhang) tweeted about the verdict on December 10th, saying, “Isn’t #Holtzclaw biracial?” and “Dear #AsianAmericans #DanielHoltzclaw is biracial. What does it mean that he is considered white? What are we avoiding?”
We had some conversation on Twitter with others, including Bruce Reyes-Chow (@breyeschow), and Bruce hosted us for a BRC and Friends conversation
I recommend you watch it, because Kathy is awesome. One of the questions I mention, that I always keep in front of me, is “who benefits?” She refined that question to ask “how does white supremacy benefit?”
I have the feeling that white supremacy wins when someone identified as white is caught and sentenced. It relieves the system from having to take a good long hard look at itself, because it provides the system with a scapegoat. Holtzclaw is the one “bad apple,” as it were.
It’s reminiscent of the same pattern of the uproar that happened when Paula Deen was caught admitting she says things that are deeply offensive, which gave white supremacy a scapegoat. “Look how bad Paula Deen is!” is easier to handle than “Look at how people of color, and in this case black people specifically, continue to face verbal abuse grounded in centuries of oppression, poverty, marginalization, and curtailed civil rights!” and even easier than examining how every person in the U.S. participates in racism.
Don’t get me wrong. Holtzclaw needed to be caught and sentenced, and deep respect to the women who came forward to report the police to the police. What a horrible thing to endure.
But racializing Holtzclaw as white also exempts all of us from a difficult conversation. I know from experience that people in the United States persist in believing racism is primarily about individual acts, instead of about a legal system and an entire culture weighted in favor of whiteness (legally defined) and against those who are not white (legally defined).
It’s easier for us to talk about Holtzclaw’s horrific acts than to talk about what in the culture of the U.S. and in the particular culture of that police department would have allowed this to happen (his father was also a police officer).
It’s easier to say a white guy was a bad apple than to delve into how everyone, including people of color from every racial background, participates in systems of white supremacy (even when this participation does not always translate into personal gain).
It is overly simplistic to say that other communities of color participate in anti-blackness. (Of course we do. And every single community participates in the marginalization of immigrants. Every single community participates in the model minority myth.)
Every community participates in making Native American communities invisible, and erasing ongoing activism and fights for self-determination.) How white supremacy functions is by having diverse participation in upholding a system that ultimately dehumanizes all of us, but kills some of us faster than others.
I know from experience that no community of color wants to be responsible for having in its midst a serial rapist who abused his power (and then got really upset when he was convicted for it. Come on, dude.).
But while Holtzclaw is a spectacular example of broken humanity, he is but one piece of an entire country founded on broken, sinful principles, that began when the continent was invaded by Europeans empowered by Papal bulls to dehumanize and decimate the people (which later evolved into the Doctrine of Discovery).
He was the perpetrator, but this country set up the circumstances for him to become a predator. He isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last.
We didn’t stop him before he hurt people. We must stop the next Daniel Holtzclaw.
And it should go without saying but let me say it again: Rape and other sexual violence are bad. I mean, they’re f-ing terrible. They are a horrible violation of a person’s humanity. Rape and sexual violence aren’t about sex. They’re about power. It doesn’t matter who the victim is, or what s/he was wearing, or what s/he does for a living, or what his/her history is, or whether or not s/he is using drugs. Rape and sexual violence are still wrong.