So, I just came upon an article by the writer Jon Krakauer examining the specific scientific cause of death of a troubled young white man who died 20 years ago and took selfies of himself every day while he died. After his parents got the selfies and gave them to Jon, he wrote a book about the white boy and the selfies and the dying and the book turned into a bestseller. Following that, Sean Penn, another troubled white boy, took it upon himself to make a movie based on the book about the troubled white boy who took selfies of himself every day for 100 days and then died.
Tell ya what. The kid was an affluent, educated, troubled, adolescent white dude. He died. It was sad for his family, I’m sure. But not so sad that they didn’t give all the selfies and the kid’s diary to Jon Krakauer so he could write a book and then Sean Penn could make a movie about it. I guess it isn’t a surprise that the story they tell sort of celebrates and glorifies the white kid that took all the selfies and died.
This is where I’ll state that in 2015, 1,134 young black men were killed by the police in America.
Now, back to the science story. Krakauer initially claimed that it was a poisonous mushroom that killed the foolish white kid who took selfies of himself dying (before selfies were even a thing! It was the 90s! Let’s take a minute here and picture the self-timer and nature-based tripods fashioned daily by this white kid in order to take the selfies that wouldn’t be able to be developed to haunt his grieving parents until after the young college graduate died).
A MUSHROOM, you say? Like Babar’s dad, the King Elephant, in that sad though beautifully illustrated children’s book? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the moral of the story must be don’t eat mushrooms unless you are absolutely SURE they are not fatally toxic. And this could have been the end of the sad sad story about the strange but eternally fascinating white kid who walked into the wilderness to kill squirrels and steal people’s food out of cabins and eat mushrooms and take selfies of himself and die.
But it wasn’t a mushroom, it was a potato seed! This is where the scientists and chemists and botanists join the struggle over these last 20 years to determine what was the despondent white boy’s (the one who wandered to an abandoned bus and shot wildlife to eat and took pictures of himself while he wasted away after just completing his college education) cause of death.
Lot’s of science was done, and is still happening. There are papers being written by professors in schools which are funded by our tax dollars to discuss these seeds and all the science explaining how this privileged white kid, who asked his friend to return his future mail to sender because he might never return, died.
In other news, just last week in Baltimore, 13 year old Dedric Colvin was shot twice by police and is recovering in the hospital.
In Dedric’s case, he didn’t die so there are no seeds to test in the lab, no books to write about his heroism, no mold to implicate and no abandoned bus to enshrine. Just a kid in a hospital bed who ran away from the police to avoid being one of the 1,134 young black men shot this year by police. Ironically, running away is cause for the police to shoot you. And there must be analysis we can do here, even without any seeds.
Because if the police have their guns aimed you and you are a young black man, you are 5 times more likely to get shot than if you are a young white man. So in terms of it being a survival story, the young black man, or in Dedric’s case, the 13 year old boy, should consider running instead of standing there waiting to get shot. But if running increases the likelihood of getting shot, it may not increase the overall likelihood of dying. Because by running, although you will surely be shot at, any injury you get is less likely to be fatal, as you will be further away, and it might not reach a major organ or artery.
I don’t know if there are scientists studying this in universities but if they are I imagine they are using robots with artificial intelligence who have a split second to decide if they should put their hands in the air, or run away as fast they can. There must be variables according to what city they are in, and whether the robot has a toy gun or his hand in his pocket or is wearing a hood. There are probably many colorful graphs and charts that are hard for the layperson to understand but are nonetheless very important science. And probably millions of our tax dollars are going directly toward this research, because we care about why young men die, and what could have been done differently to keep them alive.
So what power do I have as a White Mom to change this depressing situation? I can refuse to celebrate the Hero-story of the poor troubled white boy. I can engage in thoughtful discussion with people who do and point out how when we romanticize stories of foolish white men we take up mental energy that could be used to understand CRITICAL problems in every city in our country. I can read the stories of the Dedrics and Trayvon’s and use my imagination and research skills to fill in the narrative details that are often lacking in media coverage.
By celebrating this Supertramp fool, we mock our sisters who are working two jobs while attending college and raising kids. We mock POC who are subject to systemic racism that doesn’t afford them the luxury of playing Grizzly Adams, or reading books about people who do. By caring about the seeds we support the patriarchal premise that a troubled, reckless, rich white boy with every advantage in life is more a martyr because of his stupid choices than a poor 13-year-old black boy who is violently attacked for going outside to play.