It is also an alternative narrative of American history and politics designed to serve the purpose of white racism.
In these posts each year, I've focused on a variety of approaches: discussing instances of neo-Confederate ideology directly; looking at the real history of the pre-Civil War conflicts, the Civil War, Reconstruction and segregation that is distorted in the Lost Cause narrative; and, in some years, focusing heavily on a single subject like John Brown or the Southern Agrarians.
This year will be more of a mixture. And I'll start with what the Trayvon Martin murder has highlighted about the persistent and in many ways intensifying effects of white racism in the United States today.
The Trayvon Martin murder was a classic case of a white Southerner - in this case, a white Southerner with an Hispanic parent, as defenders of the murder insist on pointing out - just decided to kill a black kid and did so. It remains to be seen whether some combination of the Florida kill-a-black-person-with-no-consequences Jim Crow "stand your ground" law and the apparent after-the-fact collusion of the local police department in the killing will prevent the murderer from eventually being brought to justice.
In this case, the facts are not in dispute. The punk who shot Trayvon doesn't deny killing him. But he and his defenders are saying it was justified.
The way this is being received by partisans in our current political situation is sobering. Conservatives are struggling to find ways to defend the killer. I've mentioned a number of those in previous posts on this subject. Here I'll focus on the defense made by David "Bobo" Brooks, the Thoughtful Conservative: Shields, Brooks on Trayvon Martin, Romney's Repositioning, GOP Budget Plan PBS Newshour 03/23/2012. "We don't know who was pursuing, who wasn't pursuing," said Bobo of the murder.
In BoboLand, a vigilante is sitting in his car telling 911 that he sees a black kid he doesn't like and 911 tells him to stay in his car, the vigilante grumbles about "f***ing coons", chases the black kid who was armed with Skittles and murders him with a 9mm handgun. And Bobo says "We don't know who was pursuing, who wasn't pursuing." And Bobo is one of the Very Serious People.
President Obama made a statement in response to a reporter's question on 03/23/2012 on the case:
Obama Speaks Out On Trayvon Martin Think Progress 03/23/2012
The Young Turks also reported on the statement in President Obama on Trayvon Martin 03/23/2012
Obama's statement on it was good, though he also called it a "tragedy", as Republican Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Willard Romney did.
It's a tragedy for the dead kid's family, but that's really not the best word to describe a racially-motivated murder.
Obama's comment was painfully careful, because he avoids like the plague taking any clear public stand on black-white civil rights conflicts. I hope he doesn't go out at some point and pepper-spray his own message by saying young black guys should know better than to wear hoodies in public or something. Although this is one case where he might worry more about getting criticized by Democrats than being criticized by Republicans.
(I would also note that Obama started off his response by showing a scrupulousness about making comments about the guilt of a potential defendant that neither he nor his Joint Chief of Staff have shown in the case of accused whistleblower Bradley Manning.)
Second-running Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a statement that criticized the cops for not making an arrest. But he made it at an appearance at a shooting range, and also stated his support for the shoot-black-people-with-no-consequences laws, aka, "stand your ground". Which translates to "sure they should arrest the shooter (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)".
In other words, none of our two parties' likely Presidential nominees, including the African-American Democratic President, could take this opportunity to condemn the ridiculous stand-your-ground Jim Crow laws. None of them could use the occasion to make any kind of straightforward statement about the obvious and deadly persistence of white racism.
Obama has assigned the Justice Department to look into the murder in the face of an obvious unwillingness by the local police and the Republican-dominated state of Florida to prosecute this racial lynch-murder. But had he been reasonably assertive over the last three-plus years in going after obvious, blatant civil rights abuses like the Joe Arapaio's crass misconduct, it would have sent a signal to states like Florida and local police departments like the one that colluded in Trayvon Martin's murder after the fact that need to take their legal obligations more seriously.
Article 4. Section 4 of the US Constitution places this obligation on the federal government: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." This has been an important part of the Constitution in the struggle for civil rights. When a state like Florida has gotten to the point where they are willing to let some blatantly racist punk murder a 17-year-old just because he's black and not impose any legal consequences whatsoever on him, or can't even be bothered to do a decent pretense of an investigation at the crimes scenem then it's the obligation of the federal government to step in and correct the situation. Whether or not the President considers it politically convenient. Whether or not the President is personally more concerned about appearing to white racists as a Respectable Negro than he is about living up to his oath to defend the Constitution.
Joan Walsh defends the President's timid statement in, "If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon" Salon 03/23/2012:
President Obama acknowledged both the universal and the singular tragedy of Trayvon Martin with his first remarks on the case Friday morning. It took more than a week after the outrageous killing became national news for the president to comment. I understand why he waited; it also makes me sad that he felt that he had to. Our first black president wears painful restraints when it comes to what he can and cannot say about racial issues. The grief he shared Friday morning was all the more affecting for the somber, measured way he expressed it.But she also recognizes the wobbly and problematic way that Obama has sometimes approached race-related issues:
... It’s true that our first African-American president must be the president of all of us. But that includes African-Americans, and it’s a sad measure of where we are as a nation, racially, that he must be particularly cautious when he decides whether and how to weigh in on even obvious racial injustice.
The Obamas handle our nation’s confusion about race with an uncommon grace. When the president said the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates on his own property, well, he was right. But the right-wing outrage machine protested his wading into a local law-enforcement controversy, and he was forced to "recalibrate" and invite the arresting officer and Gates to the White House for an awkward "beer summit." Just this week, after Robert De Niro introduced Michelle Obama by joking, "Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" Newt Gingrich squealed in faux outrage (which is rich: Gingrich has done more than Obama to disappoint white women who wanted to be first ladies, his two ex-wives), and the first lady’s office issued an apology, as did De Niro.This is why I've learned to heavily discount any statement like this from Obama that initially sounds like an encouraging response from a progressive point of view. Because he's so interested in trying to appease his political enemies who hate his guts and always will, his supporters can't count on his sticking by what initially sounds like taking a strong position.
In other words, segregationist thinking and white racism still play a huge role in American life and politics.
Tags: confederate heritage month 2012, trayvon martin, white racism