Without a doubt, the outcome of the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial in Georgia was a relief for many reasons. But the closing remarks made by Laura Hogue, the defense attorney representing Gregory McMichael, understandably sparked outrage. Hogue said:
“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”
There is a long legacy of dehumanizing Black people and people of colour in the United States. It isn’t just confined to the south, but it stems from centuries of slavery where Black people weren’t viewed as fully human, both in the legal and cultural sense. And vile, racist stereotypes have played an important role in reinforcing systemic racism.
Jim Crow, in particular, was a cruel parody of Black men, casting them as dirty and shiftless. It would later become the unofficial moniker for sweeping, brutal, discriminatory laws against Blacks in the American south. Hogue has drawn from that reprehensible well of degradation. And it is difficult to believe she did not know what she was doing. Her mention of Ahmaud’s toenails was unnecessary, but for tapping into a generalized, entrenched racial animus within American society.
Ahmaud was unarmed. He was running away from three armed white men. His supposed “crime” was being in the predominantly white neighbourhood of Satilla Shores. But all of this is rendered questionable in a country where gun rights, born of the slave patrols, and self defense are primarily reserved for white people. Kyle Rittenhouse is one example of how this works. Philando Castile is another.
Across the US white supremacy is on trial. The remarks made by Laura Hogue are emblematic of this and the deep-seated disdain that so many white Americans still harbour against Black people. The message is clear: Black people are still placed under suspicion for being in certain places while being Black. And if they resist any white reaction to this or to their own execution, their very humanity will be put on trial.
Kenn Orphan, November 2021
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