Sunday, June 5, 2016

Shaming

Yesterday I read the powerful letter of the Stanford victim written to her attacker.  It made me sick to my stomach.  It made me worry for myself and my daughter.  It made me angry.

Today I read this article, posted by one of my favorite bloggers and shared by several of my friends on my social network feed.  It made me sick to my stomach.  It made me worry for everyone.

The author calls for her audience to share the post, naming the attacker with his image prominently displayed, in hopes of shaming him.  She does this for all the right reasons - the judge, sympathetically to him and not his victim, gave him 6 months in prison for a crime that deserves a much harsher sentence.  I will be clear here - I sympathize with the victim entirely, and I agree with the sentiment of this post that calls for the man's shaming. I know that this white, privileged man was given a slap on the wrist when he deserved much more.

While I was traveling to a conference today, I read Monster, a wonderful book by Walter Dean Meyers.  The story of a black youth charged with felony murder, raises questions of how and why charges are levied on individuals suspected of a crime - particularly when they are Black.   Even more importantly, as I considered the punishment for the attacker in the Stanford rape, the book made me think about the punishments given to the perpetrators (or accused perpetrators) of various crimes.  While the main character in Monster faced 25 years in prison for a potentially tangential role (read the book to see where you fall in his guilt) in a robbery gone bad, the Stanford attacker was given 6 months because a longer sentence might have had a "severe impact" on him.  I do not wonder - I know - that race played a role in these stories.

I know there are racial differences in our judicial systems.  It makes me sick.

However, I also wonder whether shaming individuals is the way to attack these systematic issues.

We’ve got our torches and pitchforks ready. We know who you are. And we are watching you. Remembering your face. Remembering your name. Putting up invisible walls around you, boxing you in, shutting you out. Shunning you.

These are the words of one of my blogger heroes, yet they remind me of words that may be uttered by Klan members.  And though I agree with their sentiment in this blogger's context - this man deserves to suffer and the courts did not do justice in this case - I am not sure that public shaming is the answer.

I say this because I am in the midst of watching a 13 year old girl be publicly shamed in my town.  She made a mistake.  She deserves to both own it and learn from it.  But she does not deserve public humiliation.

And neither did Hester Prynne.

I turn back to literature (The Scarlett Letter) because I read Monster today.  We can learn a lot from great writers.  And from these two stories I learn that prejudices and mob mentality do nothing to  move us forward as a society.

The Internet holds the power to make change, and we can wield that power in effective ways.  We can also abuse it.

Shaming, on any accounts, is abuse.

So fight for women's rights.  Speak up for the injustices in our court system.  Educate your community (parents and others) about how children can do better.

But please, don't shame individuals as a representative of all of society's failing.

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