“The Black Guy Did it”
Netflix’s Making a Murderer and Justice in North America
Netflix’s new original series Making a Murderer has been doing the rounds over social media over the last month or so. It’s become one of the newest water cooler topics of conversation, amidst Star Wars and the like. Hell, I even saw that an internet petition is trying to get the subject of the documentary pardoned. Wow. Great. Activism in the digital age is a funny thing. Occasionally effective. A few people have highly recommended the documentary to me. I don’t really watch much television, especially not things that are tremendously popular at the time. Star Wars? Nah. Game of Thrones? No thanks. You get the idea. But hell, I gave it a go. Started watching the first episode. And almost immediately I felt sick to my stomach.
Was it because of the apparent gross injustice perpetrated by law enforcement? Against a kind and simple man. A family man. A misunderstood family man.
It was because he’s white.
If Steven Avery was black, there would be no documentary, no internet sensation. In fact, there are thousands of Steven Avery’s every year in North America, who ARE black. Who are constantly thrown in jail on spurious charges. And that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re not so lucky, they’re just shot. In the street. Like dogs. And the police officers get off scott-free. For fuck sakes, we live in an age of Ferguson, of Michael Brown, of Trayvon, of #blacklivesmatter, but all of a sudden, we get this documentary about a poor white dude getting fucked over by the cops, and we’re all suddenly in a collective rage? What the fuck guys? How does this make any sense at all.
President Fucking Obama goes on national television and cries about gun violence. A black president, in an age of #blacklivesmatter. And really, what’s important is exonerating this poor white guy.
Now don’t get me wrong, any instances of injustice and corruption, especially involving law enforcement are serious fucking problems, and we should be morally outraged, and doing everything we can to fix these problems. But.
If we’re talking about abuse of police power, the conversation HAS to start with the way law enforcement treats visible minorities. And that’s not a sexy or interesting conversation. It won’t sell. A conversation about a poor innocent white guy, embroiled in class warfare, with a nice conspiracy to boot? Now that’ll sell. So we make a documentary about it. And all the well-meaning white people, the internet over, clamber onto their pulpits, and rage against the machine. Because a white guy got fucked over.
I tried to keep watching. Couldn’t even get through episode two. Ended up on NPR, watched a performance by Christian Scott, a trumpeter from New Orleans. He told a story about this time he was driving home from a gig and was tailed by cops. Then pulled over, had a gun pulled on him and told to strip. He argued, and got racial epithets and death threats in return. One of the cops was black, and stood in the back and didn’t say a thing. Despite his overwhelming anger, he decided to write a song about it. Called it Klu Klux Police Department. (Skip to around 16:00 to hear the story)
Because, as he said, this is something that just happens every day to people with brown and black skin. I got stopped in the airport twice on my trip to London. Because I have brown skin, a muslim name and a beard. Where’s the best selling Netflix documentary about that?
Now how about that famed criminal defense: “The black guy did it”.
This little news story simply highlights a very evident and troubling trend, and one that’s been perpetuated for generations. Generations.
I watched Straight Outta Compton a few weeks back, and again, the theme resonates. Yes, it’s a Hollywood movie, so one would assume there’s a degree of sensationalism, but when it comes to the way the police treat African Americans, there’s no sensationalism, just cold hard truths. The cops will harass African Americans. That’s a guarantee. They will threaten them. They will try to abuse and mistreat their bodies. They will assert the authority of the state, a state that says a black life doesn’t matter. You know, as great as the #blacklivesmatter movement is, I can’t help but reflect on the age old saying: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. You think of the riots in Detroit in the 1960s, but then again in LA in the 1990s. You think of the riots in Brixton in the 1980s and then again in Hackney in the 2010s. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. When a culture, and a country have a history of segregation and racial hierarchies, especially ones that have an entrenched economic bias, these issues don’t go away any time soon.
I could throw a hundred different statistics at you. But you know the ones. The ones about incarceration rates for African Americans, the ones about median household income, the ones about educational attainment. We’ve heard them all before. And yet, still, today, the one thing that really gets people angry, is some poor white hick being screwed over by the justice system? I guess its easier for people to sympathise with someone that “looks” like them. Because as much as we want to talk about post-racial societies, there’s one statistic I will throw your way. 75% of Canadians are white. 65% of Americans are non-hispanic white (Christ, what a mouthful that is. Boy are we funny when it comes to ethnic categorization. Post racial my ass). Over 85% of Brits are white. What does that mean? It means the majority of the population, the majority of consumers of media, are white. This is why Aziz Ansari’s show, Master of None, had no chance of being made by a major network. Because a show about non-white people is really hard to sell, en masse, to a largely white audience. And as long as the media perpetuates this image, not much will change culturally.
Thank god we have a black president. Because at least, figuratively, there’s a black man in charge. All we can hope for and yearn for is the next generation. The generation growing up with a black president. But then I remember Dylann Roof, 21 years old, mastermind of the Charleston Massacre. White supremacy holds deep, holds strong.
You just have to listen to a speech from dear old Donald Trump. And then remember his millions of supporters, all so happy that someone is finally saying all the things they’ve been thinking for years, but have been too scared to utter in our politically correct society. No joke. That’s Trumps supporter base. Basically closet racists. Trump’s father was taken to housing court in the 1970s because he was discriminating against black tenants. He told his supers not to rent to blacks. And if you think Trump’s father is an isolated case, hah! Think again. This is systemic.
So what does this really have to do with Netflix’s Making a Murderer?
So we’ve got a massive online petition, trying to free a man who’s been potentially (probably) framed by the police. In other, we have a man who went free after shooting an unarmed 18 year old black boy. Where’s the petition guys? Yes, Ferguson spawned #blacklivesmatter, but where’s the petition to re-indict Darren Wilson? If we internet-age moral crusaders are trying to right purported wrongs, where’s the petition guys? Why does Steven Avery get a petition? Where’s the documentary about Darren Wilson, about abuse of power, about institutional racism. The kind that takes lives away from black people. Consistently.
That’s the issue. And it’s something you don’t, can’t and won’t understand unless you have black or brown skin. Where’s the empathy guys?