Racist ‘Baby Santiago’ Meme Obscures Complicated Truths

If you're lucky enough not to have any right-wing Tea Party uncles, you might not be familiar with the "I'm Baby Santiago" (or the maximum white-ified "I'm Antonio West") reverse-racism Facebook meme, but it goes something like this: A photograph of a cherubic, smiling, light-skinned baby is juxtaposed next to a photograph of a somber, dark-skinned, steely-eyed teenager. In the caption, the baby's fictionalized voice describes his own heartbreaking murder at the "thuggish" hands of two black teenagers (no "allegedly" here), and how the media "refused" to cover it because they were too busy giving soooooooo many shits about Trayvon Martin. And everyone knows the media hates white babies in peril. Right.

Here's a sample:

You won't recognize me. My name was Antonio West and I was the 13-month old child who was shot at point blank range by two teens who were attempting to rob my mother, who was also shot. A Grand Jury of my mommy's peers from Brunswick GA determined the teens who murdered me will not face the death penalty...too bad I was given a death sentence for being innocent and defenseless.

My family made the mistake of being white in a 73% non-white neighborhood, but my murder was not ruled a Hate Crime. Nor did President Obama take so much as a single moment to acknowledge my murder.

...There is not a white equivalent of Al Sharpton because if there was he would be declared racist, so there is no one rushing to Brunswick GA to demand justice for me. There is no White Panther party to put a bounty on the lives of those who murdered me. I have no voice, I have no representation and unlike those who shot me in the face while I sat innocently in my stroller - I no longer have my life.

Guuuuuuuhhhhhh. It's odious bullshit, which thankfully is dismantled in great detail by Robyn Pennacchia over at Death and Taxes. Short version: The idea that black people receive preferential treatment over white people in the American justice system and media is so fucking laughable that I might start crying and crying and never laugh again.

But beyond that, exploiting the tragic murder of a baby—which resulted, by the way, in the immediate incarceration of two black teenagers—in order to bolster some malformed political plank about the systemic oppression of white Americans is a shockingly cynical move. In the same breath that the creator of this meme claims white people are the true victims, not the drivers and beneficiaries, of American racism, they change the murdered baby's last name from his father's to his mother's. Antonio Santiago magically becomes Antonio West somewhere in the transition from news story to Facebook meme. They do this because they know that their propaganda is specifically targeted at people whose capacity for caring about a dead baby is directly proportional to the whiteness of that baby. They do this because they know that they are full of shit. They do this because they are not the victims of racism—they are racist.

And, turns out, they might be even more full of shit than anyone realized. Recent evidence in the Antonio Santiago case reveals that both of the baby's parents—Sherry West and Louis Santiago—had gunshot residue on their hands on the day of the shooting. According to West, Santiago had also been stalking her and accusing her of killing their child.

While the fact that Sherry West, the baby's mother, was also shot during her son's killing could explain why residue was found on her, it is unclear how or why the baby's father, Louis Santiago, would have been exposed to gunshot residue.

A conclusion from the state forensic report says, "This supports the possibility that [Louis Santiago] discharged a firearm, was in close proximity to a firearm upon discharge, or came into contact with an item whose surface bears GSR [gunshot residue]."

Additionally, in the days following the shooting, Sherry West's 21-year-old daughter expressed concerns to police about her mother's story:

Glassey said she started to have her doubts after receiving a phone call from her mother telling her that her brother, Antonio Santiago, had been killed. She claims the night of the shooting her mother asked, "How soon do you think life insurance policy will send me a check?"

...Glassey says her mother is bipolar and has schizophrenic tendencies. She believes her mother is on medication but could not tell me any prescriptions specifically.

"She changed her story she told me the baby was shot first and then she told me she was shot first," said Glassey.

Now, obviously I have no special knowledge of what did and did not happen to Sherry West and her baby. Antonio's death is a gut-wrenching tragedy, regardless, and he deserves better than to be used as propaganda.

But, as Nsenga K. Burton at The Root points out, white women blaming black men for their own misdeeds is nothing new. Children being killed in domestic violence incidents—as revenge or collateral damage—is nothing new. Black suspects and their families not cooperating meekly with the authorities who routinely oppress and betray them is nothing new. If the George Zimmerman verdict tells us one thing, it's that "blackness = guilt" is such a comfortable narrative that we apply it even to unarmed children. And "whiteness = credibility" is so entrenched that we take white people at their word, as long as their word is "but a black guy scared me!" We don't know the facts of the Baby Santiago case—we only know the implications, what seems to be true—and those implications conveniently fit the same narrative that acquitted George Zimmerman. That warrants examination.

We rely on our instincts to navigate so much of the world—how do we correct those instincts, on a national scale, when we realize that they are venomously flawed?

Regardless of who's guilty, the Baby Santiago case isn't the other side of the coin from the Trayvon Martin case, as right-wing propagandists would like you to believe—it is the same side of the same coin. De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang are still facing trial for Antonio Santiago's murder. I don't have access to the prosecution's evidence against them, and I'm not on the jury that will ultimately try them. Whether Elkins and Lang are guilty, I have no idea. But whether they'll get a truly fair trial, I have powerful doubts.