One thing I noticed throughout the Martin/Zimmerman story cycle: the “opinion/fact” mutation. As more facts are introduced into the mix, opinions don’t disappear after being proven wrong, they simply mutate.
We’ve seen this with other issues and debates: global warming, for example, mutated into climate change. When statistics revealed that the earth hasn’t warmed in a decade and a half, you then offer opinions about climate in general to maintain your point of view. We do this all the time, in our personal lives, too. After we exhaust all opinions, we are ultimately left with, “I really don’t want to go see your mother.”
Opinion moves like water–when one path is blocked, it finds an alternative route. If the bad guy is white, but it turns out he isn’t white, he becomes “white Hispanic.” When you find out that nearly every person involved in the matter says race isn’t a factor, then the story becomes about “stand your ground.” And even if you find that “stand your ground” may not play a role, then it becomes a “national conversation” about “self-defense” or about “the system” in general. Every time you change the turf, the opposing teams just pick a different strategy to push their point of view.
The only consistency is Al Sharpton, who never lets a fact get in the way of his persona-building outrage. I’ve repeated his sordid past many times on TV, but one fact needs to be highlighted: in 1995, Sharpton–angry over the eviction of a black-owned record store, used his radio show and rallies to foment rage. As Jonah Goldberg points out in his most recent NY Post column on Sharpton, one of the rally protesters entered a Jewish-owned store whose owner had been incorrectly blamed for the eviction and shot the place up, people included. He then set fire to it. He killed seven occupants, which Goldberg points out, were mostly Hispanic.
So, that tragedy outdid Zimmerman by a factor of seven. I don’t think Al organized a protest for that. It’s something you run from, not march toward.
My gut always tells me the Zimmerman story was about an altercation between two men: one could fight, and one had a gun. I’m no fan of Zimmerman (this was a guy in love with law enforcement, which can be dangerous when left outside of law enforcement), but I also don’t think the case is an indictment on society. Even the President agrees that race relations are vastly improved (the President IS black, after all).
Why the racial climate is better yet we still have thousands of black homicides a year is the issue he really could–and should–sink his teeth into. If those murders are not race related, then what is it related to? The “context” of poverty doesn’t uniformly fly. A lot of people are poor and don’t kill each other. I was dirt broke for a long time, and crime never crossed my mind (although I considered table dancing for elderly men).
I’d like to see Obama address that issue. Instead, he says that Trayvon could have easily been him. Maybe so, but Zimmerman could easily have been him too. After all, Obama and Zimmerman have more in common than race traffickers will admit: a white parent. Zimmerman might have been a victim of racism at some point too… I have no idea.
And believe it or not, I’ve had people lock their car doors when they saw me. Mainly because, at the time, I was young, drunk, and walking toward them. One such memory: As I approached a parked car one night, an older woman inside frantically throttled the lock and pressed down hard. I reached for the keys that were still stuck in the exterior lock of her car, removed them and dangled them. She rolled down her window, and I handed them to her. She thanked me, with a hint of embarrassment. She was white, and so was I (at the time). But I would have done the same thing if I saw me coming. I looked grubby and bug-eyed.
And so within this current hysteria–a mix of real anger, legitimate anxiety, and ratings-grabbing sensationalism–some truth is lost, or mocked. Geraldo Rivera was mercilessly reamed for his statement about hoodies; his advice–not to wear them–was taken as a simplistic dismissal of a teenager’s death. Although, if you want to stare a hate fact right in its face, a kid wearing a hoodie at night, in a neighborhood riddled by burglaries–no matter the race–raises eyebrows. Thieves everywhere wear them to conceal appearances, and so it becomes a part of criminal profiling…not racial profiling. Rivera made the mistake of stating a fact when people really just wanted opinions. Even his kids were mad at him.
We saw this opinion/fact shift also with guns. We know where most of the gun crime originates from. But after atrocities like Sandy Hook, the argument became about “assault rifles.” Not illegal handguns, or gangs, or mental illness, or broken homes, all of which arguably play a greater role in gun death.
When those facts came out, the argument switched from evil assault rifles to the insidious power of the NRA, then the Second Amendment. We cling to emotional opinions–they’re like religion and guns–even when facts point us in other directions. It was another moment when the President could have focused on specific scourges, but didn’t, for reasons I’ll get to shortly.
When the President brought up his kids and how they have such enlightened views on race, what he meant to say is: it never comes up. It’s true. He’s right. It’s met with, “What’s all this fuss about?” I see this with my niece and nephew. Race never, ever enters the picture. They think we are weird to obsess over it.
However, and it’s a big however, if teenagers have so little interest in this racial conflict, why does it continue to rear its ugly head later in life? What happens between the teenage years and young adulthood that turns the world into “us vs. them?”
College. Academia. It’s where race-baiting flourishes. It’s where, absent of competitive instincts that foster the learning of skills and desire for real achievement, we get divisive awareness raising that serves only to create agitation and pointless activism. A white or black kid seemingly unaware of the nature of “two Americas” when they’re seventeen is brainwashed by 21 into thinking that “white privilege” and “patriarchal oppression” are the true evils, propagated by the worst country ever.
This pernicious pit stop, called college, is where humanity is filled with racial outrage. It’s a gas station that serves anger, unleaded. College is a place where professors can make bank reminding the gullible that America is a bad bad place, and that things need to change–even if they hope it won’t. It guarantees them work and guest spots on Bill Maher’s Real Time. If someone, like the President, offered real solutions, they’d have to find real work.
There are glimmers of change. Look at Charles Barkley, Bill Cosby, Romany Malco, or Lupe Fiasco. None of them, I venture, are remotely conservative. I’d guess they all respect and admire President Obama. But all of them, regarding the Zimmerman trial, spoke truths that the President couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Why wouldn’t he? Because he is the product not of reality but of the teacher’s lounge. President Obama seemed to have such a hard time during that last press conference navigating the aftermath of the verdict, perhaps because he was parsing his words based on his ideological education. He could not say “gangs,” or “lack of fathers,” or “self-reliance,” because those words do not fit in the rhetoric of the polarity propagated on campus. There are times when he might refreshingly say “pull your pants up,” (which he did, once, I believe) but those moments are few and far between. Maybe he’s just not that guy.
My solution is, oddly, the same as Holder’s: an honest discussion on race. But herein lies the problem. Right now Obama exists in only one stripe of the race rainbow. He only talks to the Sharptons, but never the Steeles. Has he ever thought of sitting down and talking to Shelby Steele, or Thomas Sowell, or Larry Elder, or Ben Carson, or even Allen West?
Invite Lupe Fiasco to the White House for God’s sake!
As long as Obama relies on the Holders and the Reverend Al’s of the world for perspective, nothing will change. Cities like Detroit will continue to crumble, and prisons will become the closest to communities many young blacks have.
President Obama has three years and change to actually make change, to stand up and lead, to call those who consider him their leader to actually listen to ugly truths and positive solutions. If he did that, even I’d vote him in for a third term… and I didn’t vote for him twice.