The country, including the president himself, is talking about race again. It's our oldest and deepest argument, a conversation in black and white and blood about our original constitutional and social sin.I think it's time to start devoting all my blogging energy to the endless euro crisis and the upcoming German and Argentine elections.
The reasons for its revival now: the Supreme Court, Trayvon, Detroit and Martin Luther King Jr.
Admittedly, I don't have the grand perspective of a Pod Pundit like Howard Fineman. But Detroit's bankruptcy filing calls for "a conversation in black and white and blood about our original constitutional and social sin"?
He goes on to recite some statistics on how African-Americans are hardest hit by the economic problems of the current depression, including in Detroit.
I take it for granted that Rush and the FOXists will blame Detroit's current particularly problems on Those People, since it's well-known that the city has a large black population. But they blame every domestic policy problem on Those People. I haven't seen anything yet around Detroit that sounds like it will resonate like the Trayvon Martin killing has when it comes to focusing attention on racial disparities. Maybe we'll get there and Howard Fineman is one the cutting edge of the trend. Or, not.
Paul Krugman has been looking at Detroit and the role it might play in political debate. In Detroit, the New Greece New York Times 07/21/23013, he writes:
Are Detroit's woes the leading edge of a national public pensions crisis? No. State and local pensions are indeed underfunded, with experts at Boston College putting the total shortfall at $1 trillion. But many governments are taking steps to address the shortfall. These steps aren't yet sufficient; the Boston College estimates suggest that overall pension contributions this year will be about $25 billion less than they should be. But in a $16 trillion economy, that’s just not a big deal — and even if you make more pessimistic assumptions, as some but not all accountants say you should, it still isn’t a big deal.Now, it is true that public sector jobs are particularly important for the African-American community as a whole. And for the Republicans, the relatively high proportion of minorities in public service has undoubtedly "racialized" their hostility to public sector workers and unions to some extent.
So was Detroit just uniquely irresponsible? Again, no. Detroit does seem to have had especially bad governance, but for the most part the city was just an innocent victim of market forces.
What? Market forces have victims? Of course they do. After all, free-market enthusiasts love to quote Joseph Schumpeter about the inevitability of "creative destruction” — but they and their audiences invariably picture themselves as being the creative destroyers, not the creatively destroyed.
But the fate of Detroit is intricately connected with the general state of the economy and, as Krguman points out, the longer-term trend of urban sprawl there.
I suppose since President Obama made an extended statement on the Martin/Zimmerman case last Friday, the Big Pundits feel that they need to weigh in on it. Obama's message is here, President Obama Speaks on Trayvon Martin 07/19/2013:
The White House has also made an official transcript available. It was a good statement. Obama often speaks well. I don't expect his actions to go much beyond that on the issues he addresses there.
Chauncey DeVega writes of this speech (Barack Obama, Black President, Has Finally Entered the Room: What if Trayvon Martin Had a Gun and Stood His Ground? WARN 07/19/2013):
Will Obama's speech on the Trayvon Martin verdict be all sound and fury signifying nothing? One more moment in the symbolic politics of the country's first black president which will ultimately not result in any structural or institutional challenge to white supremacy? The answer will most certainly be "yes". But, that does not mean that a little warmth, and a smile from the glow of the fantasy of what a Black President could have been--the brother who just spoke to the nation a few moments ago--is not appropriate and welcome.I see the hints on what policies are likely to come out of this in these passages of Obama's statement, with my own not-very-optimistic reading of their likely meanings:
Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.We don't have the slightest intention of doing a federal prosecution.
... I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.Instructional pamphlets are cheap to produce.
... we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.Because, yes, white folks, I know these black boys like Trayvon Martin really are a problem.
I'm not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I'm not sure that that's what we're talking about here.Like I said, pamphlets are cheap to produce.
And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.Because I'm going to avoid as much as I possibly can ever have to engage with anything doing with this issue ever again.
And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.Because I'm looking forward to making millions giving speeches and consulting advice to my good friends on Wall Street here in three years, and things are really going to get better for me!
On a less discouraging note, I do think the nationwide demonstrations and demands for federal action from pretty much every African-American civil rights leader that isn't a blatant flack for conservative Republicans had an effect in pushing Obama to address the issue. Even if he put it in Republican framing that the first thing we have to think about with those demonstrators is their turning violent:
I think it's understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.Obama pretty clearly sees such protests as contemptible, not the kind of thing he should have to be bothering with as President. But it's also a sign that they annoyed him into at least putting up a more convincing front.
But the following is the kind of framing of the issue that is especially constructive coming from Obama, who is now the image of the Respectable Black Man for every white American not sniffing the Tea Party glue:
I know that there's been commentary about the fact that the "stand your ground" laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we're sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there's a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we'd like to see?Brittney Cooper in Salon seems to be pretty much satisfied that he made one of his famous pretty statements, even though she doesn't really seem to expect to see him do much in the way of policy (Tavis Smiley gets President Obama all wrong 07/22/2013): "Though the president could and should do more at the level of policy, by taking a stand on behalf of the fundamental humanity and value of black men to this society, he in fact did something important, namely reconvening our ongoing conversation on race, in far more humane terms."
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Actually, there's a continuing "conversation on race." It's just that Rush Limbaugh and his fans aren't having the same conversation that people trying to engage on the issue as serious citizens are having.
Cooper also seems especially eager to hear what she wants in Obama's words:
What the president implicitly acknowledged but did not say is what so many have been saying over these last few weeks: Trayvon Martin's humanity and believability was on trial. The six jurors who found Zimmerman not guilty — of anything — demonstrated their profound inability to conceptualize black male victimhood. That Trayvon Martin was a young black teenager who was unfairly followed, confronted and killed seemed beyond the scope of their limited racial imagination.No, he didn't say that. What Obama actually said was:
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case -- I'll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that's how our system works.In Cooper's reading, that means that "challenged the validity of the jury’s interpretation, while simultaneously characterizing the proceedings as professional and insisting that we peacefully respond to the verdict." Uh, no, he plainly didn't challenge "the validity of the jury’s interpretation." Though FOXists all over the country will happily join her in reading it that way.
Obama also included a version of the "scary black people in Chicago!" that has become a standard trope for the segregation crowd:
I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.Here's the version from that professional down-home Amurcan Charlie Daniels, whose family might want to talk to him about constantly embarrassing himself on that thar Internetz thang (I'm just sayin') in a rant he calls Aftermath 07/19/2013:
In the time that the Zimmerman trial was going on there were sixty-one murders in Chicago, forty-three of them were black males and seven of those black males were under the age of 18, most of them died from gunshot wounds, all violent, all senseless. Do Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson just not care as much about the black male population of Chicago or is it that they just can't garner as much media attention there?Didn't Obama really need to reinforce that FOX News trope in that statement? If he were going to include that, he should at least mentioned the active engagement of black community leaders all over the country in anti-violence efforts, instead of the very weak-sounding "I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding" that reality. Even Cooper says that was "the moment of the speech wherein I cringed."
It is a cringe-worthy moment.
I hope we'll see more action on anti-discrimination measures in the remainder of Obama's Presidential term.
Tags: barack obama, george zimmerman, trayvon martin, white racism