I have never visited a dude ranch; my only familiarity with cattle branding has been through readings and viewings. And while the latter has afforded me the opportunity to hear the singe of the iron, I have felt neither its burn nor the muscular spasms of the creature that does. The odor of burnt cowhide has evaded me, too, though I imagine it to be somewhat acrid. In any event, the procedure looks damned painful, and I am thankful my name isn't Elsie.
It was news coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting that got me thinking about "branding" and its various connotations. At an immediate and literal level, it conjures up images of a rancher establishing his proprietary interest in livestock. On another level, it refers to a marketing strategy wherein a product connotes the kind of vicarious imagery associated with certain names or images.
Branding has also been a part of our racial history, most horrifyingly in its literal use on slaves by slave owners. In a more colloquial sense, and in matters of civil discourse on race, many contemporary blacks and whites attempt to brand themselves and one another variously as "heroes," "victims," and "suspects."
We've been seeing quite a bit of this the past couple of weeks. And as some branding even proves profitable, Trayvon Martin's mother, Sabrina Fulton, has filed two applications to secure trademarks containing her late son's name: "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon."
For a yoctosecond, I found myself initially jumping on the P.C. bandwagon believing that if Trayvon was white that he'd still be jabbering on his cell phone today. But as the back and forth allegations of "racist shooting" and "slanted media bias" gained momentum, I wondered if the string-pulling puppeteers of the three-ring big top—CBS, NBC, and ABC—hadn't gotten the better of me. A pervasive sense of deja vu stuck me, as well. Haven't I been here before? As Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and our Commander-in-Chief weighed in, other names likewise asserted themselves on the forefront of my consciousness, names such as Tawana Brawley and Duke accuser Crystal Mangum, and I decided to follow the advice articulated in my last blog: Look closer.
As I examined the details through the filtrate of other blogs, news bites, and exposé segments, it became increasingly apparent to me that the aggregate efforts of the "if it bleeds, it leads" constituency was far less a pursuit of any perceived justice at work than just the usual bait-baiting orchestrated as a flashpoint for lawsuits, profiteering, and half-assed justifications for extorted favors to segments of a "vicariously aggrieved" citizenry.
But most ominous was the realization of the societal implications of such efforts and how they had played out too many times before in places such as Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, and my own somewhat beloved Los Angeles. Might the race-baiting pundits conceivably foment yet another riot? Surely they would be more responsible than that, no? That perhaps whether or not Zimmerman's shooting of Martin was justified, that maybe there'd been enough gunfire for a while?
The pessimist in me got the better of me then, and I was left to wonder if the gunfire next time may be in the direction of some poor cop called in on his day off to deal with a riot borne out of something that he was not a party to. Might his name end up on the National Law Enforcement Memorial Wall like York (Penn.) Police officer Henry Schaad, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy Ronald Ludlow, and so many other officers who died due to societal forces beyond their control?
As I write this I am growing cautiously optimistic. Already, more and more media watchdogs are exposing these major news outlets for the charlatans that they are, and some of that initial outrage is dissipating.
Perhaps we might well avert another Rodney King community-wide beatdown until the next racially-tinged episode is played out.
Unfortunately, it might just prove to be a momentary lull. For where there's smoke, there's ire, and there will never be a shortage of people capable of seeing things in black and white through the murky grey of spent gunpowder.