So Robin Williams has died. A much beloved comedian passed away. This is sad.
However another young black man seems to have been shot by an armed police force in the USA. These are two separate issues.
We speak about the militarisation of the police in the USA but we forget that the USA is an armed populace and we have the problem of “better to have something and not use it rather than better to not have something when you need it the most”.
The issue is oversight. The USA has little to no oversight and the shooting of Michael Brown. In the USA, the police are a symbol of distrust. Makes sense, for decades they were the tool of the people who were in power which before the 60s was effectively white people and minorities were effectively there to be oppressed and kept “In place”.
See we have a problem here. What do you do if a young man is wrongfully killed by the police and joins a litany of dead young men. We not that police are more willing to use force against people of colour. They are more willing to stop us. They are more willing to jail us. And our sentences are harder.
I joked about Brian Dunning getting 15 months in gaol for stealing a million dollars via white collar crime by pointing out if he stole $100 in a balaclava he may have gotten more time. If he was black, the feeling is that he would have taken a much harder sentence and he wouldn’t have had many options for bail.
The crux of the issue is that PZ has done something wrong. He’s created a “Dear Muslimah”. Robin Williams will be dearly missed by many who loved his work. And yes he was a deeply troubled man who may have committed suicide while Michael Brown died for (by all accounts) being a bit lippy to a copper. Being a snarky bastard is not a crime.
One cannot use one tragedy to belittle another. Even if one is a more pressing issue to the majority of people. This is no different from Richard Dawkins “Dear Muslimah” argument”. And I don’t think it is a conscious decision by the media to cover up the riots.
BUT PZ isn’t all wrong.
But JT is wrong too. See, Robin Williams death shows us the problem with the way you get your news in the USA.
Let us take a Comic Book Example. Spider Man. Remember what makes front page news? Spidey! Apparently the city of New York in Marvel has little to no political issues that cannot take a back seat to a leotarded crime fighter swinging about. It’s a comic, it’s silly but it often is the way with the news.
Between Bath and Pre-Lunch Beers. It was a phrase from a Carol Ann Duffy poem about war photographers. About how those horrific images and stories told a tale that made people feel a bit sad for a few minutes and then they just got on with their lives.
The tragic fact is that western rich people issues sells. People want to speak about the pop singer gone bad. The sportsman gone weird. The politician gone wild. No one wants to speak about issues outside their monkeysphere.
It’s why I am more worried about Indian things and issues in other developing nations. It’s why I am more likely to speak about the Middle East. It’s why I am likely to take on British issues. I touch on these things because USA is the super power du jour and if I don’t I will alienate a large number of my readers. We have that same issue too.
I mean do you guys realise that there are major protests in Islamabad too? We feel less about it than we do about these in the USA. We feel less for the victims of ISIS than for the Palestinians because we have a greater window into the world of Palestine than into ISIS. There are people dying of Ebola, there are people dying of violence and all we are worried about is some unlucky American bloke who got killed by the police or a much luckier American who lost a battle against depression.
Hell, I see this when I write. People want to read stuff about the USA more than Malaysia. People want to LISTEN to voices that are popular more than people who are actually in the situations we discuss.
JT May hate the call out culture but there often is a lot to call out.
BUT JT is wrong. Grief and Charity are zero sum games. We may not think so but they truly are. We are repeatedly told that we cannot support every cause. We are repeatedly told that some of our causes need to take back seats. I disagree with JT because there are atheists out there who make a serious difference.
How many people are aware of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. Indian, Atheist, Untouchable. And who tried to enshrine a secular constitution. India battles the forces of religious extremism and sectarianism hourly and it’s heart lies Ambedkar’s work. A BILLION people live under that work. 1 out of every 7 people alive today.
He isn’t American. So he languishes in relative obscurity among the primarily American dominated dialogue of atheism. We can care about the loss of Robin Williams, but don’t forget that there are people we know nothing about who never see any of that care or love. Or outrage.
JT And PZ don’t speak for me. They speak for themselves. They have their own issues and their own views. Whoever said atheism is a monolith is a fool. It appears to be a monolith solely because we have a few people at the top. But there are newbies out there. There are alternative viewpoints. You can forge your own path. What JT calls call out culture is often vital to refining our views because atheists are often wrong. I didn’t change anything by correcting Sam “freaking” Harris. The guy has millions of followers and readers. I have like a couple of thousand. Do you think the world is going to change just because I disagreed with bloggers with a much bigger readership? Both JT and PZ are bigger fish within atheism. And they worked hard to get there. They did the tours, they fought the loonies and they stood up and were seen. I however said hello to PZ Myers then went for dinner when we met at Hebden Bridge.
While I find the death of Robin Williams sad, I also simply do not care as much as I do about my issues since those affect me more. I am sure a lot of black people would consider the Michael Brown riots to be a more pressing issue. The sad truth is that I would find more in common with Michael Brown’s protesters than Robin Williams. And this is something JT needs to understand.
That there are a few atheists who have a more pressing attachment to the death of Michael Brown. But they are in general outnumbered by those who knew who Robin Williams was. You say this is not a zero sum game but to those who who are more interested in the death of Michael Brown, the rise of acceptable police brutality and the notion that police need to be held more accountable, the media storm over Robin Williams seems like an insult. That a rich celebrity’s death affects the USA more than the very real problem of police brutality has to sting a little.
If PZ Myers was cruel and ill-reasoned in his Dear Robin Williams Fan then JT is callous and forgets that people have a direct fear outside atheism that they may be on the receiving end of an extra judicial beating or shooting. That our demographic is generally one that is more affected by Robin Williams’ death than by that of Michael Brown.
And both would do well to remember that these issues are separate and that the anger created is one of a frustration.
A man died wrongfully. Frustrating. A man died wrongly and is black fitting into a long history of violence towards black people feeding into a cultural distrust for the police by black people that is based on events like this. Frustrating. The police have mishandled this. Frustrating. The protests are heavy and people have been injured creating riots and more police violence. Frustrating. The people fighting are portrayed as “animals” fitting into a long history of black people and people of colour being portrayed as sub-humans. Frustrating. The brutality aimed at people of colour is often driven by the above “thought” as violence and mistreatment is excused. Frustrating. Protests are being silenced and reporters arrested for reporting on police violence resulting in an assault on freedom of the press. Frustrating.
And suddenly your major issue is seeing less media attention and is now a back seat issue because a famous person decided to kill himself.