I have been appalled by the reaction of many white people to the Zimmerman trial. I see it in my comboxes, the suggestion that Trayvon Martin had it coming because of the way he was dressed. And I have heard it listening to talk radio.
The narrative runs something like this: while tragic, this case is being exploited by race-baiting hucksters. This isn’t even about race at all. And what is black people’s problem? Racism is something in the past, not part of the world now. Hey, we have a black president! And why all this fuss about one young black man? Where is the outrage over the thousands of young black men who are killed by other black men?
While it may be true that there are those trying to stir up trouble for their own ends, to deny that Trayvon Martin’s death had nothing to do with race is dense. Mr Zimmerman may not have been a racist in the classic sense; he apparently did not hate all black people. But he clearly was suspicious of Trayvon because he fit the stereotype of the Young Black Criminal.
And yes, we have a black president. Overt racism is no longer socially acceptable. But there are far subtler and deeply rooted forms of the disease, from which few are free.
And if you think the black community is not concerned about young black men killing other young black men you simply have not been paying attention.
Driving home last night I tuned in the radio to the insufferable Hannity until I could take it no longer, then changed stations to the EWTN affiliate to listen to Al Kresta.
Al Kresta, while certainly an intelligent man, and a far more courteous talk show host than his secular compatriots, is nonetheless something of an ideologue. Indeed, he is such an ideologue that when confronted with clear evidence that challenges his presuppositions he, rather than re-examining his convictions, simply becomes bewildered.
I think of the time he interviewed a Chaldean Catholic bishop, when the Iraq war was red hot. I think he must have expected gratitude for America’s intervention, gratitude for removing Saddam Hussein. Instead he heard an angry denunciation of the American invasion. Clearly flustered, Mr Kresta cut off the interview.
Last night the refrain was similar to that of the secular right’s talk shows: racism is a thing of the past, the whole case is being exploited, and hey, what about all the black-on-black violence?
Then there was an amazing phone call.
It was a white woman from Ypsilanti, sister city to Ann Arbor, from whence Mr Kresta broadcasts. She had adopted a black baby 18 years ago. Ypsilanti, like Ann Arbor, is a college town. She did not think that racism would be a problem at all raising her boy. But, she said, she very quickly saw that he was treated differently, and he early learned that things went better when his white mother was present.
She spoke with pain about the subtle racism that is woven into the fabric of our society, of the fear and suspicion that are part of her son’s daily life.
To her, it was only too easy to see her son in Trayvon’s place, stereotyped, stalked and cornered.
Kresta was, of course, somewhat bewildered to see his assurances that racism is no longer present in America challenged by someone with firsthand knowledge to the contrary, someone, further, with credibility because she is white. Flustered, he went to a break.
I have been bewildered myself by the lack of empathy on the part of so many white commentators on the Martin case. It is not hard for me to understand how this is seen by black parents, that to them this case is terrifying because it is easy to envision their sons in Trayvon’s place: walking home, treated as a suspicious character, cornered and ultimately killed, his killer acquitted because he was afraid.
I was delivering mail yesterday in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood. I saw a young black man walking alone. It was the middle of a sizzling day, not late at night.
But suddenly he looked extremely vulnerable.