Monday, July 15, 2013

Race Fixation

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin has inspired commentary throughout the punditocracy, including much that is very bad coming from otherwise sane and sober people.

And thus we have Tavis Smiley, a proud liberal and advocate for the poor who, in that capacity, has mustered the courage some progressives lack and criticized, as appropriate, President Obama.  On Sunday's This Week (transcript here) with George Stephanopoulos, Smiley remarked

In just a matter of weeks in this nation we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and that wonderful brilliant speech by Dr. King, "I Have a Dream." In that speech you will recall the one line that we all seem to know, not much else, but we know that one line. "I want my children to one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

George Zimmerman knew nothing of Trayvon Martin's character. All he saw was his color. Something is wrong in this nation. Fifty years after the March on Washington, while the Voting Rights Act is being gutted, speaking of the Justice Department, what they'll do about that perhaps, something is wrong when adults can racially profile children.

Trayvon Martin was a child, racially profiled and gunned down in...
Turnabout, I guess, is fair play, and the defense endeavored to paint Trayvon Martin as a threatening young man.  And, in fact, at age 17, Martin was not an adult. But he also was not a "child," which the Free Dictionary defines as "a person 14 years and under. A 'child' should be distinguished from a 'minor' who is anyone under 18 in almost all states."Martin was a teenager and minor. He was not a child.  Certainly, Zimmerman "knew nothing of Trayvon Martin's character." As a watch captain in a neighborhood on edge, Zimmerman was suspicious of the young man precisely because he was unknown in the gated community.

Presumably, Martin was "racially profiled" and would not have drawn Zimmerman's attention had he not been black, notwithstanding the tension  prevailing in Twin Lakes.  But he is even less likely to have been profiled by Zimmerman had he not been male or not been young.     Martin fit the stereotype of the individual-  young, black, and male whom residents of the community believed most responsible for recent criminal events.   He fit the stereotype also of the individual most likely to commit offenses in black neighborhoods.  Once, the suffering black communities suffered at the hands of young, male thugs piqued the interest of liberals, who recognized in the examination an opportunity for positive change.  Alas, such concern these days is passe.

Though such interest no longer in vogue, it is common to play the race card while claiming pure motives of your own.   So we find Tavis Smiley invoking the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, adamant that individuals "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."    Then Smiley, putting forth no evidence or line of reasoning, says "all he (Zimmerman) saw was his color" and consequently the victim was "racially profiled and gunned down."   Smiley implies race doesn't matter to him anymore than to Dr. King, after which he  proves otherwise.

Smiley's skill at strategic communication extends beyond referring to the victim as a "child." There is nothing more likely to incite the ire of whites than to accuse the whole country of or all non-blacks of "racism."   Accusing a whole swatch of individuals or a nation of 300 million+ is acceptable but the word "racism" must be assiduously avoided..   So we have Tavis Smiley describing the verdict as "just another piece of evidence of the incontrovertible contempt that this nation often shows and displays for black men."  No charge of racism is made, only that of an "incontrovertible contempt" displayed not by Zimmerman, the defense attorneys, the jury, or the Florida penal system.  His condemnation is not directed toward an individual, a small group, or a state, which might have provoked the fashionable demand for apology.   Instead, the criticism applies to everyone, for it is "this nation.".  No stereotyping there.

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