My wife likes to joke that her special superpower is an extraordinary ability to state the obvious. That’s actually a very handy skill to have, since so many people have an extraordinary capacity for ignoring the obvious. This has become quite clear in the public discourse about the death of Trayvon Martin. The degree of outrage it’s provoked, and the subsequent amount of media attention, have been attributed to such things as media bias and nefarious “liberal” subversiveness. The real explanation is much more conspicuous: the burden of history.
A Brief History Refresher, for Those Who Really Need It
There was a time when African-Americans could be shot, lynched, set on fire or beaten for any reason or no reason. This was not called hate crime. It was called wholesome entertainment. And forget about anything resembling a fair trial if they were the victim of, or the suspect in, a crime. All in the distant past, you say? Not nearly so distant as we’d like to believe.
Many Americans are alive today who can remember when a 14-year-old black boy named Emmett Till (pictured on right) was tortured and killed because he allegedly committed the grave offense of flirting with/ speaking to a white woman. (One report was that he simply whistled at her; but he frequently whistled, at no one in particular, to curb his stuttering habit.) His murderers were acquitted, then freely admitted the killing. And some can remember when African-Americans were gunned down for the crime of trying to vote, and the police would declare it to be a traffic accident. (This was before the development of more sophisticated means of eliminating the “wrong” voters.)
More recently (1964), five civil rights workers (three black, two white) were brutally murdered in two incidents in Mississippi –with the assistance of local law enforcement personnel! The two whites who had the audacity to support racial equality were just lynched; the blacks were savagely beaten before being dispatched. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Is it really so surprising that the police pummeling of Rodney King or the shooting of Trayvon Martin should spark such an uproar?
The other side of the coin is that blacks are far more likely than whites to be accused of, convicted of, and even executed for crimes than whites – particularly when their alleged victims are white. Furthermore, there is a much greater tendency to extrapolate generalities from an incident involving an ethnic minority. When a Caucasian goes on a shooting spree and kills a dozen people, you never hear anyone say, “Well, that’s just like a whitey”. But if a black person commits an assault of just one person, you’re likely to hear a number of people say, “that’s just like a (fill in epithet of your choice)”.
So given all of this, would it really be surprising if indeed some journalists were reluctant to play up offenses or alleged offenses committed by blacks against whites? If there really is a discrepancy in how those offenses are reported versus how extensively offenses are reported by whites against blacks (and I don’t know that there is), it could well be inadvertent, and if anything is surely a correction of an anti-black bias rather than an indication of “anti-white” bias.
We have to wonder what would have happened had the shooter been black instead of white. Well, maybe we don’t have to wonder; we already have the example of John McNeil. He fatally shot a man in Georgia, which has a “Stand Your Ground Law” similar to Florida’s. But McNeil is currently serving a life sentence. Did we mention that he’s black? Double standards, anyone?
Okay, okay. We’ve already made the observation that apparent instances of double standards usually entail some striking differences. So let’s look at the differences here. McNeil did not shoot the man on the streets. It happened on McNeil’s own property. He didn’t start the altercation the way Trayvon Martin’s killer did, and he wasn’t following the man; the man was aggressively pursuing him – and indeed had been prone to threatening behavior toward other people, even to the point of stalking. He was not unarmed like Trayvon Martin, but was carrying a knife. And unlike Martin, there’s no doubt that he was posing a threat – he even pointed a knife at McNeil’s son. But John McNeil is serving a life sentence. Did we mention the guy he killed was white?
Turning the Tables
But now let’s move from the obvious to questions that are perhaps not so obvious: Why the reaction to the reaction? Why the state of denial that racism still exists? Why the claims of “double standards” and “media bias”? Why the intensive campaign to vindicate the killer and vilify the victim?
It’s surely no coincidence that most – well okay, approximately exactly all of this reactionism is being perpetrated by radical “conservatives”. Some right-wing websites have even circulated an unflattering photo falsely identified as Martin. Are these folks just being racist? Not necessarily, though it wouldn’t be wise to rule it out. Although “conservatives” often vehemently, even indignantly deny it, racism is an implicit building block of modern faux-conservatism. But please, don’t take my word for that. I’ll gladly defer to the ultimate authority on the topic: the most revered Founding Father of the movement, the late great William F. “Billy Bob” Buckley.
Still, there are other factors besides racism that might explain why right-wingers like to pretend that everything is peachy-keen as far as race relations go. For example, they generally oppose policies designed to remedy racial inequality – e.g. affirmative action. Of course, they will maintain that their reason for doing so is that such programs are ineffective; and sometimes they might even have a valid point. But I really suspect that this is not so much a motivation as is a fundamental resistance to addressing social problems in any form. Accordingly, such individuals are often in obstinate denial that racism exists – except among blacks!
The G Factor
But most significant of all, perhaps, is the fact that Trayvon Martin was killed with a g-u-n. And neo-“conservatism” is quite cozy with the gun culture, which tends to regard gunpowder as the ultimate panacea. After every school shooting du jour, they will pipe up in thunderous chorus to insist that guns were not in the least to blame, and those 27 people just as easily could have been killed by a pencil, and this kind of thing would never happen if only we had more guns in our schools. No, that’s not an exaggeration. People really say things like that.
So maybe, just maybe, they are attacking a dead kid and glorifying his killer because they want to defend the illusion that nobody ever gets killed with a gun except bad guys and the victims of bad guys – which ignores the nagging fact that one of the fastest ways to create a bad guy is to take a good guy and give him a gun. Maybe, just maybe, their real intent is to prevent people from reaching the “wrong” conclusion: namely, that a firearm is a lethal toy that never should end up in the hands of … well, a “fucking punk”.