PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE NOT ZOO ANIMALS. You cannot go on “human safari”. We are not zoological exhibits by which for you to be entertained. Dances with Wolves sucked. Avatar and Ferngully are only cool if it’s fake and animated. We are human beings, and we deserve the respect that human beings deserve.
One would think that statements like these would be a no-brainer; this world has a history of exhibiting human beings, often people of color, as though they are zoo animals. All the way back to the 16th Century, Cardinal Hippolytus de Medici “collected” people from Africa and Asia. The Barnum and Bailey Circus would display humans in their side show as “freaks”. They weren’t always people with genetic variances. Sometimes they were enslaved people or albinos or pygmies. And we cannot forget the plight of Saartje Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus. Her humiliation didn’t end at death, as she was dissected like a high school frog in a lab. This practice didn’t end after the 19th Century. Well into the 20th, “savages” form sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia were displayed like exhibitions. As recently as 2005, an African village was depicted in Augsburg Zoo. Shit just doesn’t change.
Recently, the trend has been to not remove us ethnics from our “natural habitat”, but to watch from afar, as if we are birds or something. Then a slew of think pieces and article discussing how INTERESTING we are appear. And before you back me up by berating those damn conservatives and their denigrating ways, a lot of traditionally liberal venues talk of their wonderment with us Coloreds. I’ve seen articles by white authors on Slate and Salon and HuffPo and Gawker (RIP) about the entertainment they get from getting out their binoculars and spying on Black Twitter from afar. Oh, it’s such a JOY! Look at the Negroes manipulate the language we pushed on them! It’s so cute! It should be also noted that these supposed liberal bastions are where I see most of the cultural appropriation and obliviousness, like when Elle tried to rename Bantu Knots or when Vogue announced that big butts are now “in”, thanks to Jennifer Lopez, or when GOOP…actually, I can’t claim anything about GOOP. If I want to see that level of white fuckery, I’ll walk around the Pittsford Wegmans parking lot.
The newer version of treating brown people like we’re exhibits is to go into deep into the Mist and examine us first hand, Dian Fossey style. The only problem with this approach is that WE ARE NOT GORILLAS. In April, one Melton Bennett rode the Red Line in Atlanta to witness the change in demographic from his suburb to downtown Atlanta. His report was an exquisite example on how to properly demonize black people, all while justifying why everyone should move out of cities. He didn’t talk to any of the passengers about where they were going, or if they were regular riders. He just witnessed strangers being strangers, minding their business or holding conversations with the people they knew, and then he punctuated his treatise by pondering what Martin Luther King would think. Invoking MLK is the go-to for oblivious white people in order to shame black people for something they don’t understand or like. Here’s a news flash. MLK would have done whatever present black people are doing, because MLK did those things. MLK would have blocked traffic in protest, He would have stormed Town Hall and addressed legislators directly, and he would have done what black people were doing on the train: he would have minded his own business, sat his ass down, and gotten off at the stop where he needed to get off.
Here in Rochester, Bob Lonsberry of WHAM 1180AM did a “man on the street” editorial of the annual Puerto Rican Festival. He started out the Wednesday before he wrote of his travels “into the wild” by announcing in a tweet that he read this on Monday: “Police and organizers say last night’s writing on North Clinton had nothing to do with the Puerto Rican Festival”. Oh, good. So the “riot” that occurred an entire week before the festival started had nothing to do with the festival. Whew! What a relief! Not to mention that there is no report of a riot happening in the first place. There is one story of a person being pistol whipped on the Saturday prior, but I would assume a riot has at LEAST ten people involved, not two. His feed was then filled with pictures of the Festival, some selfies with a few people, and a LOT of praise for the police for “keeping the peace”.
Then he sat down and wrote the essay entitled, “LONSBERY: I Went to the Riot Last Night”. This is brilliant, because people who don’t read articles will see that title, and they will fortify their bigotry by sharing and saying, “SEE??? They rioted at the Brown People Gathering! They are nothing but animals! We need to deport them all!” that definitely happened a few times, including the call for deportation. Don’t tell the bigots that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. We colonized and annexed it It’s been a commonwealth of the United States since the Spanish-American War. For those that DID read the article, Lonsberry started out eager to see a shit show, describing the last night of the Puerto Rican Festival as the “most predictable and embarrassing dates on the Rochester calendar”. Much to his disappointment and then enjoyment, he didn’t see much violence. He did describe in detail how the police DID shut down a few skirmishes and impromptu parades, but for the most part, he was amazed at how many families and friends were out enjoying the good weather and general feel of merriment. He DID mention the rollover crash that occurred on Remington Street, but he went right back to talking about how good the coloreds who enjoyed the festival were. I really hope he enjoyed the cookie he got for learning that Puerto Ricans are human beings, and that only a small percentage of festival goers caused any trouble.
A lot of people are praising his article, including Puerto Ricans and otherwise opponents of Lonsberry. He does deserve some credit for going out and seeing what people are doing instead of just griping about what the news reports. However, he wrote as if he came looking for negative things to report. He came looking for a zoo, and then was “pleasantly surprised” that the zoo didn’t happen, and the “exhibits” were people. It all reeks of that scene in The Color Purple when that white lady talked about how “clean” Oprah’s kids were, as if she was complimenting them, right before Oprah knocked her ass out. It’s good that people want to reach out and learn about other cultures, but it’s better to do it by interacting, not by looking for some terrible thing and then snapping a few selfies.
Lonsberry could have left it at that, but then he spent the next day on Twitter with his tongue up the collective anus of the RPD, talking about how if it weren’t for them, the festival would have been chaos, and then making the “profound” statement the Puerto Rican Festival goers should pay the officers weekend overtime. Spoiler Alert: THEY DO. For every festival in the city with police protection, the festival is responsible for that bill. He then wondered why the principle of barring the festival doesn’t apply to the PR Fest because of the rolled over car, citing the death of a girl at a lakeside Adirondack festival last year. This, of course, let his base masturbate to their own claims of “reverse racism” and “PC gone amok”. The rollover crash that happened was the first time it happened at the Fest. This year. There were no reports of crashes like that last year or the year before or the other 6 years I’ve lived in Rochester.
I would not be as skeptical of Lonsberry’s intentions had he not laid them bare before, during, and after his piece. The dog whistling of the linking/not linking the North Clinton incident to the festival, the constant idea that the police were the reason the festival went so well with minimal incidents, the post-festival wondering why it’s allowed to occur after a death that happened 2 two days prior, all point to his real intentions. That is not to mention his general condescension of the people who he all of a sudden realized were families and “good people”, only after he gave up looking for trouble. Bitch, we know we’re good (I’m actually Panamanian, but you get it). He was quick to announce that there were 15 arrests at the Festival, but I can’t recall a time where he listed the arrest and violence stats for St. Patrick’s Day, or Park Ave Fest, or Corn Hill Fest. St. Patrick’s Day usually averages the same number of arrests, by the way. I have seen as many or more crimes occur at all three of those events, sometimes in plain view of police officers, but I can’t seem to find his long treatises about how those festivals need to be “cleaned up” or any Dian Fossey-style integration and observation of the bellies of those beasts.
So it looks more and more like Lonsberry just wanted to get that "Dances with Ethnics" merit badge and cookie, and he did. Kudos to him. I hope he enjoyed his cookie, and I hope he got his sewing badge so that he can affix his “I know brown people” pass to his lapel.