This Is What Unconscious Racism Sounds LikePosted: March 19, 2012
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.