This was supposed to be the era of post-racism. Yet it is anything but! An unfortunate racial incident occurred in Florida, and the nation is in an uproar. Worse still, the long knives came out to punish almost anyone with the temerity to sport a white skin. Even after several weeks of accusations and counter-accusations, the incident refuses to go away.
Many of those who are most upset about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, claim the problem is that profiling is still with us. They tell us that George Zimmerman killed this 17-year-old because he fit an outmoded stereotype. Had Trayvon not been black, or wearing a hoodie, he would not have been followed or murdered.
Nonetheless, these same accusers felt no compunction about tarring Zimmerman with the same brush they reserve for most whites. In other words, had Zimmerman not been white, he would not automatically have been judged a racist. Had he instead been black, his action would not have been national news and might not even have made the local news.
Zimmerman, in this sense, is the victim of reverse profiling. Had he been of a different color, he would have been judged differently. Had his father not been white, he might have been cut some slack given that he is still a young man in his twenties. He would surely not been called a liar when grainy videos did not at first reveal the injuries of which he complained.
Young black men wearing hoodies are, in fact, more closely associated with crime than are young white men or old Asian matrons. Of course, not all adolescent blacks are criminals, but they are deserving of greater scrutiny when observed in places they are not usually found. To do less would make potential victims unnecessarily vulnerable.
This was not Trayvon's fault. He drew attention, not because of something he did, but because of the high rate of crime associated with young black men. This is a fact that will not go away by denying it.
I am an older Jewish man who is also an ex-New Yorker and a sociologist. The odds are that I would be a liberal. As a consequence, strangers frequently make this mistake. But they are wrong — I am a conservative.
Should I, as a result, get bent out of shape when people make this error? Or should I realize why they are making it, and take it in stride? Furthermore, if this is true for me, why doesn't it apply to others?
What I found especially galling about the Martin affair were many of the responses to it. Several in particular aroused my ire. The first was the media's need to label Zimmerman white. Whereas in other circumstances he might have been identified as Hispanic, the goal was clearly to portray all whites as consistently racist. This even extended to showing a nasty picture of Zimmerman along side a flattering one of a younger Trayvon.
So potent was the impulse to portray whites as victimizers that NBC intentionally distorted the 911 tapes to make Zimmerman sound racist. When caught in this deception there was little regret — except, of course, that the station got outed. The network officials later dismissed this as a production error, but this was a lame excuse.
A final issue that distressed me was the reaction to the Black Panthers. These activists made a special trip to Florida not only to express support for the Martin family, but to threaten Zimmerman with harm. Irrespective of the facts, they were going to have their pound of flesh. (As was Spike Lee in his vicious publication of Zimmerman's putative address.)
Few found the Panther efforts at intimidation edifying, but neither were they grossly outraged. Most people, including reporters, treated their antics as a sideshow. Nonetheless, what they said was terrifying. They talked about vigilantism as if this were still the Wild West. They made it plain that they would be the judges and executioners no matter what the law said — even though this was precisely the sin of which Zimmerman was accused.
Isn't this as shameful as what Zimmerman is alleged to have done? Doesn't it too imply irresponsible violence? And what of the professional agitators such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Shouldn't we be offended by their continued efforts to stir up racial animosity?Racism is a dreadful transgression. But so is reverse racism. Shouldn't they both be consigned to an unmourned place in history?