The White Boy's Tears
If you have been following the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on social media, then you already know his testimony has created a cascade of opinions. The flashpoint for most of the criticism is Rittenhouse’s emotional breakdown on the stand, which forced a brief recess while he composed himself enough to continue his testimony.
The reaction of those who have already judged Rittenhouse guilty is obvious — he’s putting on a show for the jury, his tears were fake, he’s not that upset, did you see the pictures of him from before the trial in which he looks just fine.
Jamil Smith, writing for Vox, took that critique one step farther in a piece titled “Kyle Rittenhouse’s Tears” the subhead for which is, no joke, “The 18-year-old who shot three men at a protest took the stand and resorted to a tried-and-true strategy for white men in trouble.”
If there is one thing white men are notorious for, it’s crying for attention and sympathy. Yep. That’s why you see them all over the place, emoting for the whole world to see because as a society we accept and validate men being messy in public.
No, wait. We don’t do that. I’m sure if you asked Josh Hawley, the newly self-minted authority on all that is masculine, he would tell you that men crying in public is right up there with video games and pornography as being Not Masculine. And there’s that whole toxic masculinity thing that teaches men that crying is about the worst thing you can do unless you’re mourning your favorite sportsball team’s loss.
“The debate this week has centered on whether the defendant’s spectacle was authentic. Whether or not the crying was real, it was a performance, and it had an audience. Like many white men accused of violent crimes and misconduct before him, Rittenhouse appealed with his tears not merely to the 12 fellow citizens who will decide his fate, but also to certain white members of the American public who too often see emotion like that and imagine only the faces of their sons — not any born to mothers who look like mine.
There is evidence that Rittenhouse conspicuously aligned himself with the ‘blue lives matter’ crowd, so it’s worth considering his sobbing within the context of the toxic and limited view of manhood that remains so popular in America, particularly among the modern political right. Some compared Rittenhouse to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s reaction when questioned during his confirmation hearings about Christine Blasey Ford’s credible allegations of sexual assault. Wednesday’s display from Rittenhouse bore some similarities to Kavanaugh’s sanctimonious anger, which he often dotted with cracks in his voice. As I wrote at the time, the future Supreme Court justice took advantage of the leeway that his gender and privilege affords to him, and Rittenhouse did the same.”
I suppose it was only a matter of time before we were treated to the male version of white women’s tears. Rather amazing though, from a movement that constantly attacks men for not being emotional enough — I would have expected attacks on Rittenhouse’s testimony to come from conservative alpha types who would have never cried on the stand but instead would have delivered a fire and brimstone speech about how they slept like a baby after killing two people and wounding one.
But let’s move on to the very next paragraph in Smith’s piece:
“It is a particular privilege to be considered a ‘boy’ after you’ve become an adult — and when you’ve made decisions like Rittenhouse’s. In Rittenhouse’s case, he was generously characterized by the New York Times as someone ‘who has idolized law enforcement since he was young’ and went to Kenosha ‘with at least one mission: to play the role of police officer and medic.’ The prosecution noted a number of his lies Wednesday, including false claims to the press about being an EMT. Part of the discomfort as we watched him emote, to say nothing of the suspicion, may be that we’re generally unfamiliar with seeing boys and men exhibit emotion in such a public way. Vulnerability and common conceptions of manhood, especially among conservatives, have not traditionally been bedfellows.”
Huh? Did Smith not make the opposite argument in the preceding paragraph? Which is it, white men habitually use their tears as weapons or that (white) men cry so infrequently in public that it’s uncomfortable to watch? I agree with Smith’s statement that emotional vulnerability and conservative ideas about manhood don’t play well together, but does that not further refute the argument he made just one paragraph earlier?
But wait, we’re not done here:
“American jurisprudence has bigger problems than Kyle Rittenhouse. This trial, however, is shining light on a few. Our legal system tends to treat young white men like him as sob stories rather than cautionary tales, especially if they exhibit anything approximating fear or remorse. The resentment and accusation of melodramatics is due in part to the reasonable presumption that another 17-year-old who isn’t white, committing the same act, wouldn’t receive the same sympathy. They wouldn’t be able to be caught in false statements — such as Rittenhouse’s claim on the night of the killing that Rosenbaum was armed when he allegedly threatened Rittenhouse prior to the shooting (Rosenbaum wasn’t) — and have any expectation that tears could secure their acquittal.”
Let me call out Smith on his strawman here — his critique isn’t about the American jurisprudence system, it’s about public perception. The jurisprudence system has yet to deliver its judgment of Rittenhouse, therefore critiquing it in this manner is a smokescreen for what Smith really wants to say, which is that he thinks white defendants like Rittenhouse get preferential treatment in the court of public opinion.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Let’s play Smith’s scenario out — a 17-year-old black male decided he wanted to go to Kenosha while armed to lend a hand to BLM protesters. He felt that he would be helping, making a difference, protecting fellow protesters from militia guys. So he goes, he’s roaming around in the streets, and a mentally unstable militia guy confronts him. He gets away but he encounters the same militia guy later in the evening, he is still belligerent and throws something at him. He shoots the militia guy and kills him, so he panics and starts running. Other militia guys start chasing him, he trips and falls, and he’s hemmed in by two militia guys. One is trying to bash his head with a skateboard, the other has his gun drawn on him. He feels like his life is being threatened, he shoots both men, killing one and wounding another. He tries to surrender himself to the police but they are more focused on the people who were shot, so he goes home. The next day he turns himself in, setting into motion a chain of events he cannot control.
Do you want to sit here and tell me this hypothetical black kid wouldn’t have been valorized by every media outlet for being a brave fighter in the war against white supremacy? Really?
Let’s keep it going — say our hypothetical black kid, now a legal adult, is on trial for his actions. He testifies in his own defense, has what Smith refers to as an “ugly cry”, and needs to be given a few minutes to compose himself. Is his contention that such a thing would not have been granted to a black man, or that public sentiment would not have been kind to him? I seriously doubt either of those hypotheticals.
The Rittenhouse case has a wrinkle that makes it hard to parse in terms of race but no worries, Smith has a solution for that:
“Rittenhouse’s victims were all white men, making them somewhat of an exception in American jurisprudence. Typically, such prejudgment is saved for people of color, and is handed out by law enforcement. If people of color even survive encounters with law enforcement and live to see the inside of a courtroom for the chance to be wrongfully convicted or disproportionately sentenced, it feels like a small miracle.”
Dear Lord, it was white-on-white violence! What to do! Let’s ring the police are racist bell! No black person could ever expect to walk away from a police encounter alive! And if they do they’ll be framed to be the aggressor!
He keeps going with the analogy:
“Is it reasonable to think that a Black person similarly outfitted with a weapon of war during a civil rights protest in Kenosha would not have been arrested or potentially harmed by the police swarming the streets? If that person shot someone, would they be able to use the defense so many police officers use when killing Black and brown people — that they feared for their life? Tears on the stand didn’t work for the Exonerated Five in New York City back in 1989. Would they work for anyone who looked like us?”
What police swarming the streets?! The whole reason the situation in Kenosha got as bad as it did was that the police left the streets. That was the problem! And for the reasons I already laid out, of course a black kid could use the same defense as Rittenhouse and receive a lot more public support to boot.
Smith wraps up his piece by saying:
“Kyle Rittenhouse can’t reverse that stereotype by himself, even if he’s convicted. It isn’t bad if Rittenhouse receives a fair trial. Everyone should. That’s the point. However, it’s the exploitation of the leeway too often given to young white defendants that makes people resentful, and rightfully so.
The manner in which Rittenhouse has been granted grace is astounding, but not necessarily bad. But Jacob Blake is paralyzed today, in part, because he didn’t receive the benefit of the doubt from a police officer that Rittenhouse has received from a legion of supporters (with even a judge seeming to tip the scales in his favor). If all lives truly mattered, that wouldn’t be the case.”
Comparing what the police did to Blake to people supporting Rittenhouse is absurd. A better comparison would be how the public reacted to the Blake shooting versus the reaction to Rittenhouse’s shootings but that would poke a hole in Smith’s thesis, as there was a hell of a lot more support for Blake than there is for Rittenhouse.
Why waste time on debunking nonsense pieces like this you ask? Because there has been some serious media malpractice that has taken place surrounding this case, and Smith’s piece is a glaring example.
I’ve noticed a trend on social media over the course of the Rittenhouse trial of people confessing they weren’t aware of basic facts in the case before now. People heard “he crossed state lines” and imagined some Homerian odyssey because nobody clarified that the state line is a mile from his mother’s house and the trip from Antioch to Kenosha is about 20 miles. The claim that Rittenhouse brought the gun across state lines is still being stated as fact despite it being false, with Vox having to correct Smith’s piece. Also conveniently left out of the media narrative of Rittenhouse is that he has ties to Kenosha, with his father and other family members living in the city, which left many people surprised when that came out during the trial. Much has been made about how Rittenhouse “vaporized” Grosskreutz’s arm but in the picture shown during the trial, you can clearly see Grosskreutz has his gun pointed at Rittenhouse’s head. The reason that picture exists is that the confrontation between Rittenhouse, Grosskreutz, and Huber was filmed and widely circulated on social media.
The most amazing realization I witnessed was the shock of people who thought Rosenbaum, Grosskreutz, and Huber were black because the narrative around the shootings was so race-centric they assumed the men who were shot were black. I’m telling you, it was a wild week on social media.
All of this information could have been public knowledge, and in certain circles it very much was. But since this information did not align with the mainstream media narrative of Rittenhouse being a traveling white supremacist killing machine it was left out of the reporting. What’s worse, anyone who attempts to point any of this out is accused of supporting white supremacy or fascism.
You don’t have to like or support Rittenhouse’s actions. Hell, I think his untrained 17-year-old ass should have stayed home and played Call of Duty instead of going to Kenosha after dark. That belief doesn’t stop me from wanting to have his case judged fairly in the court of public opinion and making sure the facts of his case are known.
The media failed horribly in its reporting on the Rittenhouse case, and while I don’t expect anyone in media to learn anything I’ve watched a whole lot of people display shock and dismay at finding out they were not told key parts of the story. Reporting facts does not mean that an outlet endorses the actions of a person or group of people but that is the standard that is being implemented across mainstream media, and all that will do is deepen mistrust in media reporting.
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