Racism, white supremacy and white privilege are often hard for the average person to see. Luckily (or unluckily, as it were) all three happen to be the gifts that keep on giving. Convicted rapist Brock Turner is a swimmer, an Olympic hopeful and former student of Stanford University, but according to much of what the media has put forward, the latter three labels and not the first are what matter when he is sentenced for the crime he was convicted of (which, need we remind you, is rape).
It took public outrage, outcry and digging for Turner’s mug shot to be released and used — months and months after his arrest. That right there is white privilege in action.
Meanwhile, for people of color, our mug shots, criminal records and the most unflattering photos are one of the first — if not very first — things to be dragged out. Even when we’re the victims.
Consider this: James Holmes, the 20-something white man who committed mass murder at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, was called a loner and a brainiac, with his yearbook picture often used instead of his mug shot. Meanwhile, people still think black teenager Michael Brown held up a convenience store in 2014, causing his own murder by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson soon after, thanks in part to a widely spread photo of a boy with a gun, a boy who wasn’t actually Brown at all.
While Holmes may be both smart and a loner, both pieces of information are irrelevant to his crimes. The positive spin on his life or character does not negate the atrocities he committed. Conversely, past and sometimes fake criminality is often used by the media and in countless memes to indicate a person of color deserved what they got (even if that means being unarmed and killed by the police for no reason).
— With Love, (@svmmievrnold) August 11, 2014
What is left out of descriptions of Turner (like his rape conviction) this week is just as important as coded language and what is being said about him. Scott Herhold from The Mercury News staked the claim that because of his lack of priors, what he interprets as “genuine remorse,” and his history of accomplishments, Turner deserves county jail, rather than prison — for rape.
Michael E. Miller of The Washington Post describes Turner as an “all-American,” rather than a rapist, describing his “extraordinary yet brief swim career” which is “now tarnished, like a rusting trophy.”
Descriptions like “all-American” are nearly always code for white — often the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, conventionally attractive, status quo and accomplished variety of white. Which isn’t to say it is a label that is only used for white people; this coded language in context, is clearly meant to mean a certain kind of person (much like “thugs” is used for Latino/a and black folks).
Speaking of Latino and black folks, men especially, we are stereotyped (and have been for centuries) as rapists and criminals (looking at you, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton). So why then, when white people also commit these crimes, and even when they are specifically convicted of those crimes, are they still not described by the media as a criminal, or in Brock’s case, a rapist (which he literally is)?
Racism is Trayvon Martin — a child killed because of those aforementioned stereotypes — being dragged through the mud in death even though he is a victim. White privilege is Brock Turner — a convicted rapist who raped an unconscious woman in an alley — having his yearbook picture used instead of his mug shot, being called an all-American Olympic hopeful, and escaping with hardly any punishment.
You’d do well to remember these phenomena are alive and well in 2016.