I have never been a fan of Mark Wahlberg, mostly because I remember “Good Vibrations” being played incessantly during the summer of 91, and back then he struck me as yet another white kid trying too hard to mimic hip hop slang and attitude who was being foisted on a gullible public by the music industry. By the time he transitioned into film, my distaste had faded into indifference. Some critics heralded him as a great new talent but I just thought he was blessed with great agents; it’s pretty hard not to look good when actors like Burt Reynolds, Danny DeVito, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Denzel Washington are your co-stars.
He wasn’t on my radar until I was bored one day and found some movie he was in on imdb and read the comments. There was some talk about him being a racist and getting locked up for it, so I googled around and came across his record. For those who don’t know, Marky Mark was arrested in Boston in two separate incidents; one involving throwing rocks at an interracial group of schoolchildren on a field trip, hitting two young girls in the head. Another involved the unprovoked beating of two Vietnamese men, resulting in one of the men losing the sight in one eye. For the last attack, he did a total of 45 days. For blinding someone in a hate crime.
Last week, Wahlberg petitioned the State of Massachusetts for a pardon for the felonies he committed, apparently so he can license his restaurant chain nationwide. Since the story broke, internet comment boards concerning the issue have filled up with supporters making excuses for his actions using rationales like “we all make mistakes”, or “who hadn’t misbehaved as a teen?” While it’s certainly true that lots of teens get into trouble, most of them never blind a man in a hate crime.
It made me think about how differently troubled white kids and troubled kids of color are perceived in American society. There is a tendency for the misbehavior of white teens and young adults to be dismissed as “just kids being kids” even when other people are hurt by them, or worse. When drunken fratboys riot over losing a game or the ouster of a coach following a pedophilia scandal, that is looked on as youthful indiscretions by good kids just letting off steam. In situations when prejudice comes into play, you can be certain that there will be people ready to explain why a hate crime wasn’t really a hate crime, whether it is nooses hanging on a college campus, a vicious gay bashing, or the harassment of people of color by police.
Factor in money and it gets worse, like the case of Ethan Couch, a trust fund kid in North Texas who stole beer from a store then killed four people while driving drunk. His sentence? Rehab in a country club treatment center. There seems to be an almost subconscious belief among many white people that the transgressions of white kids are supposed to be indulged and met with an expectation of forgive and forget: forgiveness of the part of the victim, and forgetfulness in the mind of the perpetrator.
On twitter, the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite has become an open forum exposing the double standards inherent in how police respond to situations involving whites and people of color; it’s an endless, enraging litany of tales of white people being caught red handed shoplifting, or with drugs, or driving drunk or high, and being escorted home or waved off by police.
Black people in the same scenarios are not that fortunate, provided they survive the encounter at all. When they actually are guilty of violent felonies, very rarely do they get short time and they certainly don’t get pardons. In cases where the circumstances surrounding those encounters come into question, the same people who extend the benefit of the doubt to frat boys from the right schools or with the right last names automatically label the victims “thugs” or look for ways to explain away their demise. It’s a mentality that allows people like Wahlberg to brush off his disfigurement of another human being with a clear conscience or for a cop to take a young black life without fear of repercussions, and gets them both thousands of admirers willing to allow it. It’s the reason for movements like “Black Lives Matter”, because with every dismissal of the worth and loss of Black lives, America reinforces it’s belief that they don’t matter to anyone else.
If Mark Wahlberg gets a pardon, which he most likely will, it will be yet another example that America has the greatest justice system that money can buy. If not, at any rate he will continue to enjoy a productive life. I hope his victims were able to do the same.