This Is What Unconscious Racism Sounds Like

Trayvon Martin

I was glad that Dakinikat wrote about Trayvon Martin in her morning post. I spend much of the weekend reading about the case, but somehow I couldn’t get a post written about it. Minkoff Minx had sent out links to the story quite awhile ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read about it at that time–maybe because I was feeling sad at the two-year anniversary of my father’s death. But I did read a lot of the coverage of the shooting this weekend, and thought maybe I could still write about it.

So I googled, and the link at the top of the results was to a blog at The Houston Chronicle named “Texas Sparkle.” The blogger’s name is Kathleen McKinley. She describes herself as a “conservative activist” who blogs at multiple conservative sites and also hosts a radio show. To me, her post is a fascinating example of unconscious racism. I’m going to break down her post and give you some examples of what I mean. The title of the post is “The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin.”

McKinley begins by stating her version of “the facts.”

Trayvon Martin, a black high-school junior, was walking home after visiting a store on Feb. 26 in Sanford Florida, when George Zimmerman, a white 28 year old (More on that “white” part later). Zimmerman, who was the Neighborhood Watch captain, saw Martin, thought he looked suspicious and called a non-emergency dispatch number to report that Martin looked intoxicated, followed him, and then minutes later after a scuffle, shot him.

Notice that McKinley refers to Zimmerman as the neighborhood watch “captain,” when he was actually the only member of the neighborhood watch. She reports that Zimmerman thought Martin looked “suspicious” and “intoxicated,” but doesn’t question what those “thoughts” were based on. She also fails to mention that the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to get out of his car and not to follow Martin and that Martin was armed only with a package of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. She finally gets around to these “facts” in her fourth and fifth paragraphs.

Next, McKinley gets to “that ‘white’ part.” She cites an article in which Zimmerman’s father explains that his son is Hispanic and grew up in a mixed-race family. She claims that if Zimmerman’s background had been known from day one, the media narrative would have been different.

But why would it have been different? In my opinion the salient facts in the case are that an innocent 17-year-old boy was shot for no reason by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The fact that Martin was black could be relevant to the shooter’s state of mind (and perhaps may explain why police didn’t arrest the shooters), but even if Martin had been white, the shooting would have been an outrage.

Furthermore, the fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic and grew up in a mixed-race family doesn’t prove that he doesn’t harbor stereotyped ideas about young black men. Everyone in our society has stereotypes, but individuals differ in how self-aware they are and how well they can inhibit those tendencies.

After she lays out “the facts,” McKinley abruptly shifts gears and focuses on the problem of young black men being murdered in shocking numbers in this country. Why is everyone all upset about Trayvon Martin, she wonders, when so many black teenagers are killed “every day?”

These kinds of shootings occur every day in this country, the reason you are hearing about this one is because black celebrities like Russell Simmons and twitter blew it up. Never one to miss an opportunity to divide us racially, Al Sharpton is leading a rally this week in a Sanford Church. Not to be outdone, the New Black Liberation Militia, is planning to go to Sanford, Fla. next week to enact a citizen’s arrest against Zimmerman. That should be interesting.

In McKinley’s eyes, black celebrities and Al Sharpton are the ones who are “dividing us racially,” not people who shoot unarmed black teenagers or police officials who don’t arrest the shooter. She writes:

Where is the outrage for the young black males who are killed every day in this country? African Americans comprise only 13.5% of the U.S. Population, yet 43% of all murder victims in 2007 were African American. Does it matter what race they were killed by? Why don’t we care that black males are being murdered at alarming rates?? Because other black males are killing them? That makes it somehow less tragic??

My black twitter friends tell me that this case is worse because the 17 year old was killed for nothing more than being black. But is the black 17 year old killed accidently [sic] by a drive by shooting any more dead than Trayvon? Again, is that any less tragic??

It’s not that I don’t think they have a right to be outraged, they do. But I just wish we could generate this outrage over the lives of these young black boys who are killed every day. Over 90 percent of New York City’s 536 murder victims last year were black or Hispanic. 90 percent! Isn’t that enough to be outraged over?? Instead we have to rely on the likes of Al Sharpton to swoop in, but ONLY if the shooter is white (or a white policeman).

McKinley seems to be unaware that many Americans are outraged by the numbers of young black men who are victims of homicide in the U.S. “Why don’t we care…?” she writes. Plenty of people care. This is a topic that is of great concern to African American parents and to any decent American citizen. But McKinley laments that we are spending “all this energy on this one boy…”

Yet focusing attention on an individual who has been wrongly treated tends to humanize others who have suffered the same fate. Actually seeing the face of a murdered child and hearing the details of his life hits home and makes us realize that each one of the young black men murdered every year had hopes and dreams and a family who loved him. But McKinley doesn’t want Trayvon humanized. She wants his humanity to dissolve into a mass of cold, faceless statistics.

What I believe McKinley is doing here is unconsciously trying to deflect attention from “the facts” of Trayvon Martin’s senseless death by focusing on statistics. Yes, thousands of young black men have died senselessly, murdered by cops as well as other young black men. She is distancing herself from a recent example in which we have seen photos of the victim and his family and have read the details of his life, which strongly suggest that he was a good kid who liked to help other people and had dreams of making good. Even when she reports NYC statistics, McKinley reports how many black and Hispanic young men were killed. Why didn’t she find out how many victims were black?

And notice McKinley’s denigration of Al Sharpton (“the likes of Al Sharpton”). Later in her post, she also denigrates Jesse Jackson. I say thank goodness for Al Sharpton. If he and others hadn’t screamed about this injustice, Zimmerman and his police protectors might have gotten away with covering up the reasons why Trayvon Martin is dead. In fact, so far Zimmerman is still walking free, and no one in the police department has been reprimanded.

Next McKinley claims that the cause of so many young black men dying by homicide is “the decimation of the black family.” Says who? Let’s see the empirical research that backs up this claim. McKinley doesn’t provide any. As far as I know the divorce rate among white couples is very high and there are plenty of deadbeat white dads. But here’s how McKinley explains the issue.

The decimation of the black family is the main cause of the social ills in the black community and you only have to be “operating in humanity” to see that. But Al Sharpton and his ilk never want to address that. They never want to address the teenage pregnancy rates, the infant mortality rates, the abortion rates, drug use, or the school drop out rate. No, it’s so much better to just pop up when a celebrity cause is raised because a kid was shot, this time, by a white guy.

In 1920, 90 percent of black families had a father in the house. The social ills were negligible then. By 2011, only 30 percent of black families have a father in the house. It doesn’t take studies or a genius to see the correlation.

Again, note the denigration of Al Sharpton. McKinley doesn’t bother to explain how any of these statistics relate to the actions of one specific man, George Zimmerman, who stalked a specific boy, Trayvon Martin, first in his car and then on foot and then shot him in the chest because he “looked suspicious and/or intoxicated” when Martin actually was neither.

Finally, McKinley pulls out her ace in the hole: President Barack Obama. McKinley wholeheartedly approves of Obama’s condescending speech from Father’s Day 2008 in which he took it upon himself to lecture black fathers.

Again, none of this has anything to do with Trayvon Martin. Trayvon’s parents were divorced, but his father was active in his life. In fact, Trayvon was staying with his father in what sounds like a middle-class commmunity (a gated community) because his father wanted to spend some quality time with him. An older male friend of Trayvon’s had recently died, and Trayvon had been late to school frequently and had been suspended for a week. But his teachers said he was never a problem except for his recent tardiness. I suspect he was depressed and troubled over the loss of a close friend and mentor.

In my opinion, Kathleen McKinley felt the need to comment on the Trayvon Martin case. She’s actually a lot more outraged about the amount of time and national attention being devoted to this young man than she is about the events surrounding his death. She is extremely critical of black leaders and celebrities who try to call attention to racism and/or police misbehavor–so much so that she can’t seem to help using phrases such as “the likes of” and “his ilk.”

She would prefer not to see Trayvon Martin as a distinct individual with a loving family and friends who will miss him. She would rather fold his death into statistical reports of thousands of deaths of people whose names she doesn’t know and whose faces she hasn’t seen. It’s much too messy to focus on just one tragic and unjust death.

McKinley also seems to want to absolve George Zimmerman of any guilt in Trayvon’s homicide. I’m not sure why that is. I hope it isn’t because Trayvon was black and Zimmerman is not. But that may well be her real unconscious reason. I can’t see into her mind and heart. I can only read her words and see the racism that comes across clearly in what she has written and what can be inferred from that. In my opinion, McKinley’s blog post contains many fascinating examples of unconscious racism.

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40 Comments on “This Is What Unconscious Racism Sounds Like”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I checked out Kathleen McKinley’s Twitter page, and today she’s tweeting in defense of Rush Limbaugh, claiming that others have said much worse things about women.

    https://twitter.com/#!/KatMcKinley

    • dakinikat says:

      It is amazing to me the types of people that get radio shows. This woman’s narrative smacks of dog whistles. The big question is what is a neighborhood watch volunteer doing with a gun the getting out of a car after explicitly being told to not do so?

  2. bostonboomer says:

    From Mediaite: The Killing of Trayvon Martin is Not a Black Problem

    No one can hide his or her skin color and, in the context of vigilante violence, the false threat of black skin is a uniquely black male problem. That doesn’t mean that those who have not experienced it cannot see why it is so obviously troublesome, nor does it exonerate non-black people from the responsibility of demanding a more just legal system that sends a clear enough message that murders like Martin’s are so unacceptable that they will, for the most part, go away. That lack of joint responsibility may be the single most troubling part of this story….

    The media won’t be able to comfort Trayvon Martin’s mother. It won’t be able to erase the memory of her son, the sound of his cries for help as he was being shot, a teenager. They won’t be able to do much about Zimmermann’s tragically flawed understanding of what a criminal looks like, or the violently distorted moral code that enabled him to I believe commit such a crime. The media can shed light, however, on what sort of legal system lets a man like Zimmermann free, and encourages others with similar understandings of the “shoot first, ask questions later” doctrine to continue thinking as they do, because the law has them covered.

    And our broken criminal justice system isn’t a black problem. It’s an American problem.

  3. Do you really believe that McKinley is unconscious of her racism? To me it sounds more like the coded racism of the Right. Much like Newter’s coded racism when he said, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and nobody around them who works,” Gingrich replied. “So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”

    The statement made by the attorney hired by Trayvon’s family recently really caught my attention. He said that self defense is valid as a plea in the courtroom, not a valid reason not to arrest a person – especially when that person admitted to shooting and killing someone. That made a lot of sense to me. It’s not like Trayvon entered Zimmerman’s home in the middle of the night and Zimmerman shot him as an intruder.

    There is no doubt in my mind that there is a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality at work when an armed person sees a black man, regardless of that black man’s age. And I can’t imagine that a gated community is rampant with crime & so-called suspicious people walking around the area. Had the police responded properly, Trayvon’s murder would not have made as great an impact in the media. Personally I think both Zimmerman and the Sanford police department should go on trial.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I think McKinley is either unconscious of how her words come across or thinks she is concealing her feelings better than she is. My guess is she would totally deny being racist, but of course I can’t know for sure what is in her mind and heart.

      It’s true that self-defense is a legal defense, not a reason not to be arrested. Someone who is charged with a homicide can claim self-defense. But the Sanford police chief claimed he couldn’t arrest Zimmerman because there was no proof he wasn’t defending himself. That’s complete bullshit.

      There were at least two witnesses, a 13-year old boy who is now completely traumatized and his mother. The boy was walking his dog nearby and saw Zimmerman pinning Martin to the ground face down. The mother also saw the fight with the heavier man on top and she called 911 while it was happening.

      Trayvon was tall, but only weighed 140 lbs and Zimmerman weighed almost 100 lbs more. There is no way he needed a gun to “defend” himself against Trayvon. Besides, Zimmerman admitted he followed the boy in his car, then got out and confronted him. That’s not self-defense.

  4. jawbone says:

    Re: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law —

    If the neighborhood watch guy who shot Trayvon Martin told the police dispatcher that he was going to go after (chase) the black teenager, whom he described as looking like a really bad guy and that “those a**holes, they always get away,” how can he say he was merely “standing his ground” and defending himself?

    Or is the name of the law a misnomer in that it’s OK to give chase to someone and then shoot them if they try to resist being…well, beaten, or whatever?

    Oh, and as a neighborhood watchman, the shooter was not supposed to carry a gun…except anyone in Florida can carry a gun or something. So, the neighborhood watch guy packing heat was OK after all. Or something…

    This is pretty stunning. The NewsHour coverage said Florida was pretty proud of its “Stand Your Ground” law. If Drug Dealer One takes a shot at Drug Dealer Two, then Drug Dealer Two shoots back in self-defense, the shot missing and instead killing a 3 year-old toddler, it’s all good in Florida. Because Drug Deal One didn’t kill the child, and Drug Dealer Two gets off because he was only shooting in self-defense.

    Wow.

    Not my favorite state, that Florida, especially under wackjob Repubs.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Obviously Zimmerman was the aggressor in the situation. That police chief needs to be fired. Police officers who interviewed witnesses even tried to correct and influence what they said about the events they witnessed. I can’t understand why the Justice Dept. hasn’t stepped in to investigate.

      I remember hearing about that concealed carry law. I wonder how many people have gotten away with murder because of it.

  5. janicen says:

    Oh my! I found McKinley’s article almost as upsetting as the Trayvon Martin shooting story itself! To my mind the most important facts in this case are that some neighborhood watch douche bag is running around with a goddamned gun and f@#king shooting people, and the local police haven’t arrested him! WTF?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Exactly. That’s why I decided to write about her post.

    • northwestrain says:

      This sums is up. janicen’s remark above.

      In the little bit of time I’ve spent in Miami — I have to say that I’ve never heard so many racist remarks and name calling i.e. “boy come here” said to an adult male in Home Depot.

      Many Cubans hate hate hate any black person — and the blacks hate the special status of the Cubans.

      Why is the Justice dept quiet? This was a hate crime. Of course the other hate crimes are that juries let rapists go — because well she was asking for it.

      I feel so sad for the parents of this young person — also for the people who witnessed this crime. The cops need to be charged and jailed — use all the tricks used by bad cops to people in jail — throw the book at the bastards.

      Racism is racism — anyone can hate a whole group of people. The myth is that only white folk can be racist. Hatred of a whole group of people on the basic of their skin color is racism. Spend some time in the Caribbean — and if you are white you will experience racism.

      I think the writer of the blog is racist and not unconscious — she is using the code words that I’ve often heard the white Republicans in WA state talk about Native Americans. We once had a GOP county commissioner who hated really hated Native Americans and in his part of the county there are two reservations. He was supposed to the the liaison with the tribes and county government. Whenever he opened his mouth he’d say something racist — every time in every meeting. Some of his remarks made the local press — but the worst of what he said was never reported. I know several people who were witnesses to his behavior and heard their first hand account.

      A racist running around with a gun — is a crime in the making.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Speaking of denying racism, some jerk in Georgia has made anti-Obama stickers that read “2012: Don’t Re-Nig.” He claims it’s not racist.

    • NW Luna says:

      “Renege” is the word he’s looking for? That bumper sticker will just show him as an ignorant white trash high-school dropout!

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Jonathan Capehart writes about the warnings he received from his mother about how to behave in public as a young black male.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/under-suspicion-the-killing-of-trayvon-martin/2011/03/04/gIQAz4F4KS_blog.html

  8. HT says:

    I find it difficult to believe that in 2012 I am reliving the 60’s worst moments. That poor child. With the racism that is incontrovertible and the attacks on women’s bodies, we have seriously gone through a time tunnel. It’s disgusting. Now with the murder of emo teens in Iraq and this, I’m waiting for Rod Serling to reappear,

  9. jillforhill says:

    My thoughts and prayers to Trayvon Martin’s family and friends. Zimmerman needs to be put in prison.

    Mckinnley is right about Sharpton. Where is the outrage of the gang problems in California that kill kids under the age of 16 everyday. In the past year a African American 6 year old died of a stray bullet shot by the Crips when she was jumping rope and a hispanic two year old boy died while sleeping on the couch because a 15 year old hispanic gang member took him for a gang rival. Children day everyday in Calilfornia due to wearing the wrong color, stray bullets, or not being from the correct place. There are children joining gangs starting at 8 years old.

    Sharpton and La Raza are no where to be found, because they do not want to admit what goes on in our communites. Sharpton does work with rappers who call woman names and promote violence. He is a hypocrite.

    • bostonboomer says:

      No, she is not right about Al Sharpton. He is a very smart man, and I admire him very much. Furthermore, Sharpton is one person in the media who has really covered the War on Women and stood up for women’s right to contraception and abortion.

      Furthermore, it’s very possible for most compassionate people to feel outrage about two different events at the same time. Trayvon Martin was not a gang member. This post is about his murder.

      Why is it you only show up here when you want to say something nasty? If you want to defend a right wing racist like Kathleen McKinley, please do it somewhere else than on my posts. Don’t do it again.

    • janicen says:

      Suddenly the right wing gives a shit about minority youth and gang violence? This is just distraction. The right wing wants us to focus on anything other than the fact that Florida has relaxed it’s gun control laws, specifically its concealed/carry restrictions so that now over 400,000 Floridians, including someone like Zimmerman who has a prior arrest for violent behavior, are walking around packing heat. As well, Florida along with several other states has enacted Stand Your Ground laws that have created a situation where, like Zimmerman did, you can chase somebody down, get into a fight with them, kill them, and then claim you were defending yourself. Liberals have to take back control of our government on all levels. I’m sick and tired of apologizing for asking for gun control laws. We now have a society where innocent citizens have to fear getting gunned down by nuts who are legally walking around carrying guns. And no, the solution is not more guns.

      • janicen says:

        Ugh! I will however, apologize for that apostrophe in “its” in the third line of my comment above. *cringe*

      • bostonboomer says:

        I don’t see any right wingers suggesting that this wouldn’t have happened if Trayvon Martin had had a gun. Now way do you suppose that is? /snark

  10. bostonboomer says:

    Breaking: Justice Dept and FBI have opened an investigation into the Trayvon Martin murder.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/19/2703029/us-department-of-justice-fbi-and.html

    • peggysue22 says:

      Really sad case, BB. Good to see it written about. I have to say this is a time when Al Sharpton earns the big bucks. I’m not a huge fan of Sharpton’s show in MSNBC but his outrage and attention to this ghastly murder has really focused the public’s attention on the case, which is so outrageous. I can only imagine what the family is going through. Several people reported hearing this teenager screaming in fear before the shot [s]. And Zimmerman apparently had a history with the cops. Not a good history.

      Sharpton giving voice to the killing has mobilized people. I understand there’s a rally of support for the family this week. I have little doubt that the public exposure helped bring in the Justice Department and FBI on the investigation.

      It’s hard to believe we’re seeing this sort of gross injustice in 2012. But then, it’s hard to believe we’re seeing and hearing a lot of things anymore.

      Good write up!

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks Peggy Sue. The Justice Dept. and FBI announced tonight that they have opened an investigation. I posted a link somewhere. Sharpton used his show to hammer the Republicans for the war on women for a good two weeks when hardly anyone was talking about it. That alone earned my respect for him. I’ve really liked Sharpton since he ran for President. He was the best debater of the bunch at the time and is a true liberal.

  11. janey says:

    Yes, a lot of black teenagers are killed every day. So are a lot of women. It all depends on who the perpetrator hates, black people or women. Apparently both these groups have to prove they are worthy of living to some people. How about a little of live and let live and anybody who pulls out a gun goes to jail. That so-called neighborhood watch guy should be behind bars until a jury says otherwise.

    • Woman Voter says:

      We have been tweeting about it from the time we learned about it, the kid was shot for walking, walking and one of the 911 callers is heard crying and asking why he was shot/killed. I have done neighborhood watch and I never had a gun, I never assumed that I was judge and jury, without no evidence of a crime and I never thought of hurting anyone.

      This kid deserves justice, our kids, black, brown, red or white need to be able to walk on the streets without being shot by someone that is projecting a STATE OF FEAR onto them! We need to get to the truth.

      Thanks your covering this story.

  12. Woman Voter says:

    BB,
    I found the 360 video with the 911 calls in sequence with the lady crying about Trayvon being shot/killed:

    Trayvon Martin’s father on the 911 tapes

    Update: Trayvon was on the phone with a friend and told the friend he was being followed and listened to the initial confrontation by Zimmerman, before the phone went dead.

  13. Just Saying says:

    FYI – George Zimmerman is hispanic and a member of La Raza

    • bostonboomer says:

      Is there a point? The fact that he is Hispanic is in the post and in every news story.

      • Just Saying says:

        George Zimmerman is a liberal Hispanic not a “white” conservative …race-baiting Reverend Al Sharpton and his fellow liberal democrats have attempted to make this a Black vs. White issue which clearly it is not…

        The liberal media including the Huffington post and Newsone ( for black America) is even reporting that FOX News is the only Major Media Outlet Ignoring Trayvon Martin Case ( because of supposed racism )

        Feel free to Google “race-baiting Reverend Al Sharpton” for more….

      • janicen says:

        Just Saying, nobody is calling this a black vs. white issue, other than you, because it’s not. It is a black issue. Blacks have been treated with suspicion by law enforcement personnel simply for being black, for generations. To not ask questions as to whether there was racial profiling by Zimmerman and by the local police would be an egregious oversight. Of course these questions must be asked.

        However, I will agree with you that it’s not the only issue. We should also be scrutinizing the weakening of restrictions with regard to the conceal/carry gun laws, and begin immediately repealing the irresponsible Stand Your Ground or Shoot First laws that have been passed in several states.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Just Saying,

        Please don’t make offensive remarks like that again on this blog. I am putting you in moderation.

    • Woman Voter says:
      In other Latin American contexts, it is used more expansively to describe the race formed by the fusion of White people, Native American and African peoples in Latin America. In this way, “La Raza” symbolically means “the people”.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Raza

      Imagine that, there is no pure race, La Raza is the people, the tapestry of the people, the people of many colors…

      PEACE