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Would Dzhokhar Tsranaev Be on the Rolling Stones Cover If He Were Black?

Updated on July 21, 2013

As you may or may not have heard, the above picture was recently featured in Rolling Stone. It is of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two people believed by most to be behind the Boston Marathon bombing. There's a lot of controversy concerning the photo, with some people saying it's terrible and we should focus on the victims, while others say it's good that Rolling Stones is trying to show us that criminals are more than their stereotypes and often are responding to their circumstances. I tend to side with the latter group. But I can't help wondering...if Tsarnaev was black, would people be so interested in trying to "understand" him and why he did this crime?

I mean, honestly, when was the last time pop culture started trying to figure out why a black person committed a crime? When did someone diagnose that? When did someone try to find the reason for that -- conduct the interviews, do the investigations, write the history, etc.? On the other hand, even notorious killers who are white -- Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, etc. -- even these people are given their "what went wrong with their lives" time. And on top of that -- there's a sense of disbelief, like this kid couldn't possibly have done these things. I mean, this is even a theme in US Televisions shows -- "Weeds," "Dexter," "Breaking Bad," and so on -- people are very interested in why whites do crime and want to pay attention and even glorify the causes on a regular basis.

But when it comes to blacks (and other minorities), people don't care. It's expected. It's expected -- and that's THE problem. For the most part in the United States, the general culture isn't shocked when a black person commits a crime these days. It's like, "Nothing to see here -- put him in the slammer and move along."

And I think this is the major reason why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world among all countries who keep such records (not just developed countries). We aren't trying to solve the problem. Prison is the natural place blacks belong. Oh, general culture might say that they don't expect blacks to do crime, but then most people I talk to will turn right around and say that the reason why blacks are in prison in disproportionate numbers is because -- well, black people do more crime, and that's about it.

Think about this.

If you really think that blacks have no more reason to commit crime than whites, why the heck aren't you researching the reasons why? Why aren't you researching their history? Where are our interviews? Where is the HBO special trying to figure out what went wrong for the African American murderer? Where the heck is our Rolling Stones cover? Where are our psychologists? Where is the confusion, the urgency to figure out WHY so many blacks are incarcerated, and to figure out WHY they do crimes? Where is it?

It's not here. Why? Because doing crimes is part of "being black." It's expected. Because for over 200 years, since we started slavery, this country has been incensed that freshly kidnapped black slaves stole their China and labeled them as inferior primates when this country stole their LIVES. Because the same judge who sentenced a black man for punching a white man for allegedly lynching his father was actually a member of the Klu Klux Klan and was in on it -- and yet, people are offended when blacks fail to treat the American Justice System like hardcore Christians treat the Bible. This country has a long history of breaking the very rules it then tries to paint black people as morally inferior people for breaking, and, historically, it has done it on a much wider scale.

We should be shocked and incensed as a nation -- absolutely outraged -- that so many black people are locked away without question. We should be desperately trying to figure out what we, as a nation, have done wrong. We should be trying to diagnose the causes and figure out how we can change and give blacks opportunities that allow them to escape from a life of crime and have a respectable existence during their time on this pale blue dot.

But no. We don't care. But when a white person does a crime -- sympathy. Concern. Confusion. It doesn't fit into our narrative of the way things should be. Blacks and other minorities do terrible things -- but white people doing those things -- that's where understand and sympathy and consideration come in.

Now, you might want to silence my talking about race in this way -- people say (falsely) that the race problem will go away if we stop talking about it. Wrong. It'll simply be unacknowledged --the pain, the hurt, the struggle, the reasons will go undiagnosed and unacknowledged. Yes, the embarrassment of white guilt has led to a silencing of talking about these issues, abut that's a further part of the problem. It's not your fault whether you're white or black. You didn't choose your skin tone -- you're trapped in your existence. So I'm not making people apologize for something they can't help. But I am trying to urge people to apologize for the social system that DEFINES skin tone, because I think that is something that IS this nation's fault and is something it CAN and MUST do something about.

So that's why this cover pisses me off. Not because it's wrong -- I'm glad that we're actually looking more into the "why" behind crime. But because I know that this guy would not make it on the cover of Rolling Stone in a million years if he had been a different skin tone.

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