Beyond stupidity 

Stupid people can get on your nerves, can’t they?

It doesn’t much matter whether they’re stupid because they come from stupid families, were overly influenced by stupid friends, or simply chose to be stupid as a matter of intellectual preference. In the end, stupid people are condemned to be themselves, and the rest of us have to tolerate them.

The same thing applies to racists. Why they are the way they are may be an interesting course of study, possibly as a way of figuring out how to erase them from the scene, but as a practical matter the why doesn’t quite hold as much weight with me as the fact that they are who they are and they act accordingly. Maybe Daddy was a Klansman, or maybe the kids at school said that hating “those other folks” was the thing to do, but when a racist decides to act upon his or her warped view of the world, then somebody — or a group of somebodys — usually winds up being a victim.

Now imagine what happens when you cross a stupid person with a racist. Go on, let your mind run free and imagine. What you get is a stupid person with focus and a purpose, and that combination crosses the line from nerve irritation to potentially dangerous.

After all, what can be worse than a human being with a limited amount of brain space cramming up that tiny closet with inflammatory information? Might as well take a can of gasoline and pour it on a pile of old rags inside a lit stove.

I never had the misfortune to meet either Jasen Barker or Travis Sales, but I just have to wonder whether they might be picture-perfect examples of what happens when racism meets stupidity in the overly crowded but small room occupied by the midget-minded. Barker and Sales were charged a little more than a week ago with ethnic intimidation and assault; police said they beat up a black man inside a Brighton bar.

The victim was Arthur Williams III, who just happened to be an off-duty state trooper with seven years on the force. The woman Williams was dancing with was neither his wife nor his girlfriend, and he wasn’t even trying to pick her up. Paulina Muzzin is the former assistant county prosecutor for Livingston County, and she just happened to be in town socializing with friends and former co-workers at the Metropolis in Brighton who had chosen the spot as a good place for the little get-together where Muzzin was to be the guest of honor. Williams was one of the invited guests.

Since this was a party thrown for Muzzin, I’m just guessing that other guys who were invited to the party were dancing with her too. I’m also guessing that since the party was thrown for Muzzin in Muzzin’s honor that none of the guys had to drag her out onto the dance floor kicking and screaming in protest. This includes Williams. In other words, when Williams asked Muzzin for a dance, she probably didn’t say, “Drop dead, you terrible Negro man. Can’t you see I’m a white woman?” She also probably didn’t say in a real loud voice, “Hey, Art, act like you’re grinding up against me so that the other white folks in this bar will really get pissed off, OK?” No. What Muzzin probably said was something a little more simple like, “Sure. Thanks, Arthur.” Chances are that’s probably along the lines of what was said to the other friends and co-workers who asked her to dance. Muzzin thought she was among friends, and so did Williams.

The point I’m making here is that Muzzin apparently said, “Yes,” when asked to dance. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if she had been Williams’ wife or girlfriend, but the fact that she was neither makes the case that much more interesting.

If the facts are as stated by police, they raise certain questions.

For example, why didn’t Barker or Sales take a swing at Muzzin if they thought the two were an item, and how did they come to the conclusion that the two were an item in the first place? Did they think everyone on the dance floor was an item? Didn’t they notice Muzzin socializing with other folks at the party, or did they only take notice when the black member of the party entered the picture? And why weren’t there any reports of them having made equally threatening racial slurs to Muzzin for dancing with Williams?

Hold it. Please don’t think I’m saying that I wish they had shattered Muzzin’s eye socket too, or that they had attacked Muzzin instead of Williams. Hardly. I am asking how Williams wound up being the only one who was committing a race crime in the eyes of these two guys when the dance was a mutually agreed upon activity involving the consent of two adults? Did they think they were defending white womanhood or what? And if that was the deal, then why didn’t Barker and Sales at least wait until the damsel in distress actually signaled that some distress was, in fact, occurring and she needed their assistance?

See, this is what I was talking about in the beginning. This is that rather desolate X-marks-the-spot on the cultural map marking where stupidity and racism intersect. If Barker and Sales could see that map displayed before their eyes, it would have a huge, flashing, red neon sign in the shape of an arrow pointing at the location saying, “You are here.” When two grown men decide it is OK to beat up a black man in a crowded room with plenty of witnesses, including friends and associates of the black man who were openly celebrating in plain view of everyone at the bar, for the sin of committing the imaginary “crime” of interracial dancing, then it seems safe to say that both stupidity and racism are working together here and getting along famously.

Say, this is the year 2001, right?

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail

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