Thursday, April 5, 2012
Shelby Steele and Other Racial Apologists Are the REAL Exploiters of Trayvon Martin
The race-apologists are exploiting an opportunity to preach their tired message that civil rights advocacy is "redundant" and that the United States is post-racist. The only racism today, according to their baseless claims, exists among trouble-makers who continue spewing racial hatred, i.e., criticizing racial injustice, rather than condemning persons of color for their own pathology.
Unfortunately, the death of Trayvon Martin gives this shamelessly opportunistic -- and equally wrongheaded -- lot the chance to deliver its troubling sociological sermon to the American public. To my knowledge, neither advocate has substantial training in sociology or the history of race relations. If they do, they blatantly ignore the prevailing sociological literature on the impact of race and poverty on poor blacks. Why let facts get in the way of an agenda.
Since Martin's death, several of these post-racism activists, have preached a singular message. The latest offering comes from Shelby Steele, who recently published a tirade against civil rights advocates in the Wall Street Journal. It almost seems as if these critics are copying and paraphrasing each other. The themes they analyze are that repetitive: "Black people" should not pay so much attention to Martin's death. Most black men are killed by other black men. Black people are only paying attention to this case in order to promote the lie that racism is still pervasive in the United States.
By referring to "black people," they actually mean just two persons: Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Even though Martin's parents (and thousands of others) have participated in rallies and have stated that they believe race played a factor in their son's death, the anti-civil rights critics know that their arguments would probably cause a lot of problems if they focused on Martin's parents. So, they bury that inconsistency and continue marching.
These articles serve one singular purpose: To make a case that racism no longer exists. Shelby Steele has been making this same argument for decades -- yet he offers no additional nuance than when he first approached the subject.
Curiously, Juan Williams has joined Steele in damning civil rights advocacy -- even though Freudian impulses recently got the best of him when he admitted his fear of folks who dress in Muslim attire. He admitted to embracing explicit bias, but now he wants to silence critics of racism.
Racism and the Trayvon Martin Case
There are many ways in which racism could have contributed to Martin's death. First, racial biases could have influenced his killer -- George Zimmerman. An enhanced recording of Zimmerman's 911 call suggests that he used the words "fucking coon" prior to killing Martin. This is an obvious racial epithet. Zimmerman also could have viewed Martin as "up to no good" and "on drugs" due to racist and gendered stereotypes about black men.
Contrary to Steele's assertion, the fact that Zimmerman has a Latina mother, does not alter the operation of racism. First, Latinos did not create white supremacy and racial stereotypes in the United States. These problems were constructed by private and governmental decisions set in motion by whites hundreds of years ago. That a Latino male is impacted by US cultural racism is not shocking. It is simply a reflection of the pervasiveness of racism -- something Steele denies.
Race could have also impacted the decision by Sanford police and the prosecutor not to bring charges against Zimmerman. There are similar cases in the history of this same police department that suggest a pattern of racial motivation. That DOJ is investigating the entire department could provide justice to the folks who live in Sanford.
Racism and "Black on Black Crime"
The fact that most black men are killed by other black men does not prove that racism does not exist in society or in the Martin case. First, the concept of "black on black" crime itself is peculiar terminology. Most violent crimes are intraracial. Yet, it is not common to discuss or analyze "white on white," "Latino on Latino" or "Asian on Asian" crimes. Instead, black criminality is singled out for analysis. That alone raises the possibility of racial stereotyping -- especially among folks like Steele who raise this topic in order to silence civil rights activists.
Contrary to Steele's assertions, civil rights activists, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have protested and demanded remedies for "black on black crime." Nonetheless, most black men do not become homicide victims. Instead, blacks who are at high risk of homicide are the most vulnerable among the population. They are poor. They live in areas of concentrated poverty (i.e., all of their neighbors are poor). Their neighborhoods lack jobs. They attended racially concentrated poverty schools, which fail miserably in every statistic that measures academic performance. Lacking realistic opportunities for subsistence, many of them turn to criminality. And the US responds by constructing more prisons rather than addressing the legacy of racism and class oppression that makes equal opportunity a myth.
The most perverse aspect of Steele's (and others') arguments is that he would oppose measures designed to eradicate the structural inequities that lead to violence among poor black males. His deceitful post-racism argument legitimizes the beliefs of individuals who turn a blind eye to the plight of poor persons in every racial group. For these reasons, Steele's discussion of homicides among blacks does not come from a place of sympathy. Instead, he is simply exploiting the death of black males, including Trayvon Martin, in order to deny the existence of racism. This is one of the most abhorrent forms of racial exploitation one could imagine.
Note from the author: My concern for black homicide victims pre-dates Martin's death. On the left panel of this blog, there are links to a series of articles I have written called: "Every Murder Victim Has A Story." The purpose of the series is to cover the deaths of young persons of color who do not receive media attention (see, e.g., this story). Steele's so-called concern for black homicide victims is sudden and exploitative.
For similar stories on this blog, see:
Trayvon Martin: A Fatal Flaw in Zimmerman's Self-Defense Argument
BREAKING NEWS: Geraldo Rivera Says Hoodie Killed Trayvon Martin
Sorry, Trayvon Martin: They Just Don't Like You
BREAKING NEWS in Trayvon Martin Case: Officer in the Case Has A Prior Record of Racial Controversy
Trayvon Martin: 911 Call Contradicts Police Account (Audio)
SHOCKING NEW WITNESS TESTIMONY IN TRAYVON MARTIN CASE!
Trayvon Martin: "Stand Your Ground" Rule Has NOTHING To Do With This Case