Roger Hines’ column of July 4/5, 2020 titled “Our recent embracing of punks” is problematic in its failure to distinguish between protest and crime. The broad strokes with which Mr. Hines paints the response to recent social unrest as “the excusing of punks” is harmful, for it narrows needed discourse by encouraging racially biased people to continue their willful ignorance.
I agree, looters are not revolutionaries. My hope for transformation is with the throng of peaceful protesters in our 50 states. Catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, millions are compelled by moral conviction to protest and voice the need for reform of police brutality and systemic racism. Mr. Hines makes no mention of this. Nor does he state that Black Lives Matters protesters are not among his punks. To refer to a group of people as “punks” is a condescension, placing the one who uses the term in higher standing by comparison. All people, especially those with less melanin, should avoid using words that communicate bias, especially when writing about racial issues. Mr. Hines makes racial distinctions by writing,
“American culture is being infected by punks. Most are Black but some are white. Perhaps they are the ill-taught fatherless who have known little if any restraint.”
This writing perpetuates harmful stereotypes. The confidence to write such claims stems from white privilege (the benefits that come from being in the racial majority, regardless of socioeconomic status).
Whose version of culture is referenced here? What perspective deems protest an infection? If we limit Mr. Hines’ “punks” to those engaged in criminal activity (as he should have clarified), he is still unfair in not stating that journalists at Black Lives Matters protests across the U.S. have reported that those participating in looting rarely overlap with those who protest peacefully. Hines’ column does not distinguish criminals from patriots. Failure to specify the cause-effect connection of “punk activity” and “culture infection” is convenient for people who’d rather not reflect critically on racism in the U.S. and the work that remains to realize freedom and justice for all.
Yes Mr. Hines, you and I are white Americans who should be ashamed of our “ancestors’ sins.” It must not stop there. The point of these protests is that each of us must make that repentant turn away from our part of today’s racial injustices, learning to see and respond to all forms of oppression.
Michael Dias, Ph.D.
Professor of Science Education
Secondary and Middle Grades Education
Kennesaw State University