Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman and Racism

The liberal argument against George Zimmerman is based on the premise that he was profiling Martin because Martin was black.  Everything else about their defense depends on the idea that Zimmerman was wrongly "stalking" or even "hunting" Martin based on the colour of his skin.  I have seen liberals who, in other circumstances, would argue that it is never right to initiate violence, admit that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman but exonerate him because of his right to "self-defense" against this suspicious person stalking him.  If there was no racial angle to this case, there would be no argument about self-defense against someone who was merely observing.  Indeed, if a white person had tried to claim self-defense to justify an attack against a black person who he thought was stalking him, liberals would be singing an entirely different tune.

The thing that strikes is that the idea that George Zimmerman is a racist is prima facie absurd.  He is one-quarter black; he took a black date to prom; he voluntarily tutors black students.  If he is racist, who isn't?  The next logical step is that a black person will be accused of racism against other blacks.  Lest that seem absurd, remember that Jesse Jackson has admitted to feeling anxious when meeting young black males alone on the street, an admission that would surely be considered racist if uttered by a white, a white-hispanic, an Asian, or any other non-black.

The liberal premise is that Martin was just returning from having bought Skittles and tea, so there is no way he could have appeared suspicious except by virtue of his race (or his hoodie -- although if the hoodie made Zimmerman more suspicious than he would have been without it, clearly that is not a racial marker but a cultural one).  Without hearing Zimmerman's reason for regarding Martin with suspicion, I don't grant this premise, but let's assume for the moment that it is true.  Would Zimmerman have any reason to regard a young black male as more suspicious than, say, a young white male?  What about a young, black female?  What about a 60-year-old black male?  The neighbourhood had been subject to several recent burglaries perpetrated (as far as I have heard) by young black males.  So is it not possible that Zimmerman, who otherwise has shown himself to be entirely at ease around blacks and without any hint of racism, was suspicious because Martin shared some similarities with other burglary suspects?  If the other burglars had been known to be wearing hoodies, would that have been a justifiable reason for suspecting him?  We're not talking about convicting him in a court of law for being like other burglars, only of observing him and his behaviour and his similarity to other burglars and trying to protect the neighbourhood.

Why should we assume that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus rather than by concern to protect his neighbours from crime?  One interesting point that someone raised is that only one of the two people involved in this tragedy is known to have used a racial epithet to describe the other:  Trayvon Martin, who described Zimmerman as "a creepy-ass cracker."  Why does he get a pass for that?  Why is Zimmerman automatically assumed to be racist for considering Martin suspicious, when his real reason is unknown, whereas Martin comes in for no criticism for openly acknowledging his racism with regard to Martin?  If the case had been the other way, and a white person had pre-emptively attacked a black person whom he believed to be stalking him, would liberals consider it irrelevant if he described his stalker as "a creepy-ass nigger"?

One other aspect of this case disturbs me, and that is President Obama's famous statement last year that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon.  Is he saying that Trayvon Martin has a similar nose, or a similar cheekbone structure?  Or is he, as is far more likely, referring to their similar racial background?  If the latter, doesn't that come dangerously close to saying that all blacks look alike?  More to the point, why should this matter?  A president should stand for justice, not for solidarity with a racial group.  If Martin was wrongly killed, I would hope Obama would stand with him even if Martin were white, or Obama were black.  I am uncomfortable with an appeal to the racial unity in a matter of justice.  If there is a racial issue, the president should support justice, regardless of what race he is.  If we are ever going to overcome racial divisions, it will be because we stop grouping people by colour and start treating them as individuals, each of whom deserves justice regardless of his ethnic background or physical appearance.

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