On June 4th, superstar actor and producer Mark Wahlberg tweeted in support of Black Lives Matter against the murder of George Floyd:
Seems pretty standard; we are in the middle of the biggest civil rights moment in recent history. Floyd’s murder was seen by the world two weeks ago, sparking outrage, unrest, and a global wakeup call to the grim reality of anti-Black racism. Celebrities have lent their voices and their money, some have been cancelled for being uncaring, many are talking for no reason, but most of the decent ones have said something. The problem with Mark is that he looks like a hypocrite.
It’s not that he was caught tweeting “all lives matter” in the past, or uttering the n-word in a song, (although he had a moment stealing from hip hop, we’ll get to that later) or was caught wearing Blackface for Halloween – his history is a more egregious one, mired with hate crimes. These hate crimes are so unavoidable that they live in their own section on his Wikipedia, as many Twitter users pointed out.
His hate crimes of the past (four, occurring two at a time) are an absolute doozy and go like this:
At 15, in 1986, Mark and three friends threw rocks at Black children, chanting “Kill the n----r, Kill the n----r”. The next day, Mark and some friends followed Black fourth graders on a field trip, threw rocks again, uttered more racial slurs and “summoned other white males who joined" in the harassment. In August 1986, civil action was filed against Wahlberg “for violating the civil rights of his victims, and the case was settled the next month.” This case became central to his next ones, because prosecutor Judith Beals told him that he would be going to jail if he committed another hate crime (more on her later).
Two years after that, in 1988, in a story so horrific that it seems unbelievable, Mark attacked two Vietnamese men on the same day. Wikipedia and court records describe them like this:
“While high on PCP, then-17-year-old Wahlberg assaulted a middle-aged Vietnamese man on the street, calling him a "Vietnam f-cking sh-t" and knocking him unconscious with a large wooden stick. Wahlberg attacked a second Vietnamese man later the same day, punching him in the eye. When Wahlberg was arrested and returned to the scene of the first assault, he told police officers: "I'll tell you now that's the motherf-cker whose head I split open." Investigators also noted that Wahlberg "made numerous unsolicited racial statements about 'gooks' and 'slant-eyed gooks'. Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder, pleaded guilty to felony assault, and was sentenced to two years in jail, but served only 45 days of his sentence.”
Mark Wahlberg’s enormously successful career reads like a typical white privilege fable, every single opportunity served to erase his past transgressions, leading up to a truly embarrassing attempt at a pardon in 2015. And his first attempt at fame was through music, and not just any music but Black music, hip-hop. After failing to continue on with his brother Donnie in New Kids on the Block (he was an original member), in 1991, Mark became Marky Mark of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, a white rapper, assigning himself street credibility. And it worked: he’s been #1 on the Billboard charts and only stopped officially doing music in 2000. In fact, he had songs on the soundtrack of his hit 1994 movie Renaissance Man, with Danny Devito.
Mark’s acting career has been huge. Blockbuster movies, producer credits on hit shows Entourage, Ballers and more, and countless endorsement deals, including these two linked to Black people: a multi-million-dollar water bottle brand deal with Diddy in 2015 and buying an equity interest of the Barbados Tridents cricket team.
In 2015, when Mark was pushing for a pardon for the hate crimes on his record, former prosecutor and assistant attorney general Judith Beals wrote an op-Ed for the Boston Globe titled “Don’t Pardon Mark Wahlberg.” She starts the piece by saying plainly, “... I see no reason why that history should be erased from the public record through a pardon. While private acts of reconciliation and forgiveness can be an important part of our shared racial history, that history should never be erased.”
She details both his anti-Black and anti-Asian hate crimes in 1986 and 1988 respectively, the negative impact they had, and finishes the piece arguing how inappropriate it would be to pardon a celebrity for such a crime when the scars of racial trauma should not be erased, writing, “A larger public policy question is also at stake: what types of crime do we collectively forgive and expunge from the record? History tells us, again and again, that when it comes to hate crimes, forgetting is not the right path. Truth and reconciliation are all important in moving forward — but not a public wiping of the record. Not now when hate crime remains so high in Boston; not now when tension remains acute over the unpunished killings of Black men at the hands of unaccountable white men. And frankly, not ever. Not in our name. Please.”
One the victims from his first anti-Black hate crimes (the field trip one) Kristyn Atwood, opposed the pardon and told Associated Press that “it was a hate crime, and should be on his record.”
Atwood’s teacher the time of the attack, Mary Belmonte, while recalling her notes on the student’s trauma, believed Wahlberg should be considered for a pardon if he apologizes to his victims, claiming she believes in forgiveness, saying “I don’t think he did it with that malice intent, he was just a young kid, just a punk, in the mean streets of Boston.” While doing press for the film The Gambler, Mark told the Associated Press, “The first opportunity I had to apologize was right there in court when all the dust had settled and I was getting shackled and taken away…And certainly made sure that I paid my debt to society and continue to try to do things to make up for the mistakes that I made.”
On forgiveness, allyship and cancelling
In the past two weeks, we have seen terms like allyship, white fragility, and white supremacy go totally mainstream. The impact of white people’s complicity in our suffering ranging from microaggressions and mistreatment at work to murder has become a public conversation. Because white people can be extremely fragile and often fail at opportunities to being introspective and doing the self-critical work required to practice (not achieve, allyship is a process and a verb), many have highjacked the conversation and re-traumatized the Black people in their lives, playing some kind of innocent bystander to a system that has benefited them, provided generational wealth, and given them the space to not talk or act on grave injustices. It is unacceptable for Mark Wahlberg to position himself as some kind of vague ally in the movement when the only thing he has tried to do is erase his past. It is unacceptable that people are already calling for him to be forgiven, like Mary Belmonte did. What right do white people have to tell us what should be forgiven and what should not be? Forgiveness is another sinister tentacle of white supremacy that we have to unpack. Forgiveness lives in the imagination of the white supremacist mind, constantly gaslighting and minimizing damage. Enough.