Ray Jasper’s Letter

by mickharris

Ray Jasper wrote a letter to Gawker, and now the internet’s exploding about it

Do yourself a favor and don’t read the comments section – or do, if you’re white like me and have the spoons and the necessary space to do so.

Ray Jasper’s letter makes me think about a lot of things, like how as people we have an obligation to witness truth as it stands, regardless of past actions or a person’s socially-attributed moral worth.  Ray Jasper killed a man, but is he wrong?

Absolutely not.  And that’s the problem with the response to this letter.

It’s easy for us white people to stand behind people of color who speak our academic, “educated” language, who are groomed in a way we deem socially appropriate, who are middle class, who we consider “safe” in their actions and words toward us.

It’s not so easy when the people who are pointing out injustice may have committed some kind of injustice in their past, too.

It’s not “safe” for white people, especially white liberals interacting with racism, to take up the banner for this man – indeed, if you read the comments you’ll find many who either split the line between supporting what Ray Jasper has to say and contentment that he’s getting “what he deserves”, or who drop the pretense of liberalism altogether and resort to the tried-and-true “monsters deserve a monstrous end” argument for the death penalty.  

It’s not easy for us to accept Ray Jasper because he looks like the big scary black man we’re afraid of, the man that we’re uneasily content to put behind bars and condemn to a life of servitude toward military-industrial profit.  He doesn’t fit into our socially acceptable safe/whiteness-sanctioned POC paradigm, and that makes it all the more important that we listen to what he has to say.

Who the hell are we as people to determine what is the correct amount of suffering to mete out to anyone?  The only reason we care is because we cannot conceive of murder, of an end to the ego-driven godhead that is our consciousness, and thus we react with equal force and violence, intellectual or physical, to the intrusion of artificial ends to a symbolic narrative, or life.  How does taking a life pay for one that is already gone?  How is that a transaction worth anything?

How will killing this man change the fate of the man he killed?  It won’t.  It won’t change a single fucking thing.

Listening to him, however, might change the way we treat each other in the future.  It might help us leverage the space we have for black kids who have no opportunities for good food, education, jobs, happiness or any facsimile of real equality in this country.  It might help us shake up how we treat people, how we accept our programmed racism and how we move forward to create a world where everyone can share, everyone can make art and everyone has their basic needs covered. 

Listening to Ray Jasper might change the world, and because he’s killed a man, that somehow is not valuable.  Somehow you have to be a morally unimpeachable person to have a perspective or knowledge that might catalyze change.

Somehow the world has to be divided, wearily and steadily and with great ironic violence, between the morally good and proper and the evil.

I call bullshit on that.