Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Jonbenet Ramsey Case and What It Says about America (I): Race

I'm certainly not the first person to raise this issue, but suffice to say, I find it at the same time appalling and not the least bit surprising that, with the alleged confession of her so-called "murderer," JonBenet Ramsey is once again national news. Keep in mind, folks, that, as a ten-year-old murder case, this story has now outlived Ms. Ramsey by 4 years. And here we are, suddenly captivated by the murder of a white girl in Colorado - it preempts all news of how many people we are killing or who are being killed in Iraq; it preempts any attention to the continued plight of Africans in various parts of that continent, be it through disease or war; it pre-empts the death of Alfredo Stroessner, one of Latin America's longest-lasting dictators, one who set the paradigm for open cooperation with the US during the Cold War and whose privatization policies and neoliberal agreements with the US set the stage for similar policies in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere, effects of which are still felt today.

And we're concerned about some white guy admitting to killing a white girl.

All this of course just continues to show how deeply rooted our racism in the United States is. It's sinister for the way it "hides" itself. We proclaim that racial epithets are no longer appropriate, and anybody caught using them against any group in any mental state is immediately chastized.

Yet what would our reaction have been had Ramsey not been white? Again, I'm not the first to point this out, but it bears repeating as much as often - the US just prefers white. Elizabeth Smart could go missing for a few days (and ultimately 10 months) in 2002, and it was national news for good 8 weeks during her absence, and upon discovering she was still alive and the police capturing her kidnappers, it became national again. But did anybody bat an eye when a young, poor, African-American girl went missing for sixteen months in 2001-2002? No. And consider that number - SIXTEEN months. Think of where you were sixteen months ago...that's a relatively long time. And the news totally ignored (and ignores) cases like Rilya Wilson's, while becoming totally involved with cases like Smart's and Ramsey's, even though it has virtually no bearing on the direction of the nation, or even of the people beyond the immediate impact of the case.

Additionally, it's not just that Ramsey's white - what if her alleged killer had been black? The outrage wouldn't be as open or blatant as that in the fictional-yet-dead-on tale told in Richard Wright's "Native Son," but it's very reasonable to suppose it wouldn't be that far removed, either.

Racism isn't dead - it's just masked.