Monday, August 26, 2013

How Antoinette Tuff Restored (And Eroded) My Faith In 'Merica.

It's a story that's already old news now, but for about 48 hours late last week, Antoinette Tuff was the toast of both Black and White Twitter, which is no small feat. In case you were under a rock, Tuff is the Georgia school bookkeeper who singlehandedly prevented a mass school shooting by talking the demented gunman into turning himself in. It's a story that captured the imagination of the country, and would be optioned to Lifetime Movies For Women any moment now if we lived in a truly postracial society.[1] Seriously, Hollywood couldn't make this sh*t up, and Hollywood made up Avatar, so that just tells you how unlikely this story is.

After the story broke and the details of Tuff's heroism were disclosed, I was personally dismayed that she wasn't immediately being given "The Real American Hero" treatment. There were no next day interviews on GMA, no rumors of a 7 figure book deal, no celebrities tweeting (self-congratulatory) congrats to the heroine. Nothing. By Thursday, Tuff made some appearances on CNN and other national outlets, the President called to say thanks and invite her to the White House (at some point in the future) and then... well, nothing. With the Match On Washington this weekend, the story has basically disappeared from our consciousness. A hero is certainly more than a sandwich, but not all heroes are made equal.[2]

I can't help but compare the treatment this story has gotten when compared to other similar "Real American Hero" stories of late. Captain Sully landed an airplane in the Hudson River and had since gained international renown. The media followed Edward Snowden around the world after the snitched and gave away NSA secrets. Bradley Manning was a hero, until Conservatives realized he liked wearing women's clothes and wants to now be known as Chelsea. Hell, you'll recall Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland dishwasher who rescued three women from captivity got a greater reception, although the attention her garnered likely had a lot to do with this "colorful" personality.

So yeah, pardon me for giving the sideye to America for not showering Tuff with the typical trappings of instant fame. To wit: the fund that Tuff established for donations to the organization for underprivileged kids that she's a part of hasn't even raised $100,000 yet.[2] I can't help but juxtapose this to the plight of bus monitor Karen Huff Klein, who endured taunts from kids and ended up with over $1M to retire with. I'm not saying that was wrong, I'm merely observing the contrast. Maybe people can personally identify with an elderly bus driver who was a victim than a middle aged black woman who was a hero. Maybe it's because no kids actually died. Maybe it's cause these were middle-lower classed black kids in the suburbs. Seriously, I have no idea, but something about the comparative receptions rubs me the wrong way. No Johnny Gill.

Is it wrong to equate heroism with monetary donations and media attention? Sure it is. But like it or not, it's the American way. And based on the amount of those this story has generated so far, I can only conclude that America doesn't think Antoinette Tuff's "our kinda hero".

Question: Do you feel like Tuff's story is getting the amount of attention it deserves? Have you personally donated to her fund yet?

[1] I watch an inordinate amount of LMN for a grown, straight male. I've covered the reasons why here, already. One common thread on LMN: the heroines are never, ever, ever black. Thus the above comment.

[2] I will confess I'm somewhat surprised that those on the right haven't (yet) started trying to tear down/discredit Tuff now that she got a call from the President and had the nerve to say he was a "good leader". I was pretty sure they'd be digging into her tax, government assistance, or state employee records looking for dirt by now. You know, the typical "guilt by Obama Association" sh*t. Word to Shirley Sherrod.

[3] Before you ask, yes. I did.

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