Not long after the news broke about the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, many people began circulating reports about another attack on a teen, a 13-year-old boy who was set on fire in Kansas City. What’s the connection? Well, none, really. But while Martin was black, the victim in Missouri was white and his attackers black. So, many people want to know, why hasn’t there been more coverage of the latter? Why the double standard? And surely this must reveal, somehow or other, something unsavory about “liberals” – we must never, ever waste an opportunity to politicize a tragedy.
Well, on one point these folk may be right: perhaps there should have been more coverage of the Kansas City attack. That is, if indeed there should be media coverage of such violent assaults at all, which is debatable. But contrary to what many people claim, there has by no means been a “blackout” in the media on the event – it was even covered by the New York Daily News, the nation’s fourth largest newspaper. And the fact that it also appeared in The Huffington Post. doesn’t lend a lot of credibility to theories about a left-wing conspiracy to suppress the story.
But let’s look more closely at the points of contention, shall we? They illustrate how readily people are often willing to discard facts, even glaringly obvious facts, when they don’t fit an ideological narrative.
Rush to Judgment
Was the killing triggered in part by racial factors? Some have concluded it probably was. But many are saying no way. After all, Rush Limbaugh says it’s all baloney, and he wouldn’t say something that wasn’t true, would he?
The facts about the episode are murky, as there were only two witness who saw and heard everything, and one of them has been permanently indisposed. But what we do know is that the shooter, George Zimmerman, was the captain of a “neighborhood watch” team. Now I’m sure that neighborhood watch teams do some nifty things, but in my experience – and I do have some – they can also be a magnet for individuals who are as capable of causing mischief as preventing it. Introduce firearms into that mix and you have a tragedy waiting to happen.
Zimmerman apparently referred to Martin as a “fucking punk” and also commented that “these assholes always get away”. He was talking about someone he knew nothing about except that he was black and wore a hoodie. Does this sound like a person who is mature and level-headed enough to be entrusted with keeping an eye on a neighborhood – particularly while armed?
For some reason, he found Martin “suspicious” for being in an exclusive neighborhood – where he was visiting relatives. He called 911 and was instructed not to follow the youth. He did anyway, very aggressively, and Martin ran away from him. At some point they exchanged words, perhaps even blows, and Zimmerman apparently substituted his gun for his brain – hardly the first time anyone has ever done that.
Zimmerman claims that he was acting in self-defense, that Martin jumped on him and was beating him to a pulp and even threatened to kill him. In which case he surely should show some signs of physical trauma. The 911 recording does reveal someone screaming for help, but it sounds like Martin rather than Zimmerman. And if, at such close range, he was incapable of shooting the kid in the leg, what business does he have even being armed in the first place?
While all of this suggests that Zimmerman was a hothead looking for a fight (not to mention a liar), none of it proves that his is a racist. But that isn’t the question. The question is whether race was a factor in his classifying Martin as a “suspicious” character. And the answer, in all probability, is the affirmative.
The unsettling truth is that Americans in general have an overwhelming pro-white bias, and a tendency to regard persons of color with greater suspicion. Whenever I visit the Deep South, which is quite often, I almost invariably hear a comment along the lines of “them Niggers just can’t can’t be trusted”. And that attitude ain’t just a Red State thing, bro.
In his groundbreaking book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses this bias, and talks about the Implicit Association Test, a psychological assessment you can take online, that may reveal more about your own biases than you care to know or admit. Millions of people have already taken it, and the results show that more than 80 percent associate being black with less desirable traits. Interestingly, even 48 percent of blacks who have taken the test also show this result!
But the real kicker is that Gladwell himself has taken the test several times, and he also has demonstrated color bias. Which is fascinating not only because he is a well-educated and highly intelligent Northern urbanite, but also because he is half Jamaican! He notes that, having a somewhat swarthy complexion, he himself is sometimes regarded as a suspicious character – if he is wearing his hair in his usual Afro style, but not so much so when it’s shorter.
Bottom line: if you’re really convinced that his race can’t possibly be a reason that Trayvon Martin is dead, it is my solemn duty to caution you that you are in dire danger of suffocation from having your head inserted so deeply into your rectum.
As for the matter of a “double standard”, we first should observe that quite often when people make such a complaint, they are comparing apples and potatoes. And that, to a large degree, is the case here. The victim in Kansas City, though wounded, is alive, and as yet nobody even knows who the attackers were, much less what their motive was (it’s presumed to be a racially-motivated hate crime, but that’s only presumption). Trayvon Martin is dead, and we do know who his killer is; yet he has not even been arrested.
So is there a double standard? So it appears – but in a very different way from what some people assert. George Zimmerman, who has an arrest record and has been accused of domestic violence, is being hailed as a hero for killing an unarmed kid. Trayvon Martin, who had no arrest record, is being portrayed as a villain – again, by people who know little about him except that he’s black and dead. And just which of these conditions is supposed to justify such venom? They’ve even combed through hundreds of his Tweets looking for something to incriminate him with. Seriously. So what if the lad wasn’t an angel? Do you really believe his killer is? The real question is whether on this particular occasion he was doing anything that would warrant paying the ultimate price.
But when people complain of “double standards”, of course, they’re always talking about other people’s rather than their own. In this instance, they’re miffed that the media are paying more attention to the Florida incident than the Missouri incident. But it really isn’t that hard to see why: the Martin killing has garnered more public outrage, and even celebrity protest. Which makes it pretty hard for the media to ignore.
But why has there been such a strong public reaction? If you really gotta ask, we’ll cover that in another post.