Thursday, April 05, 2012

a response upon being forwarded pat buchanan's essay, "It's all about race now."

(This is an email response upon being sent a link to this by my father describing it as a "good perspective". Which drives me nuts, because I do consider my dad to be one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I know. And I think pat buchanan is an asshole. But it is better that I was writing to someone who I cared about while processing this, because it forced me to several times delete and rewrite to remove unnecessarily incendiary language. Since I stayed up til 4:30am finishing it, I decided to record it here as well.)

It isn't all about race, but a lot of it is.

The visceral reaction throughout Obama's presidency has been largely about race. Not really attacking what he has done (which I actually have issues with, because he has largely pushed a bunch of repackaged republican bullshit), but rather his legitimacy, which isn't tied to whether or not his actual election was legitimate, but rather to an argument that he fundamentally isn't legitimate and therefore all his actions are suspect because he isn't one of Us. His birth certificate is an ongoing topic of conversation. This is stupid... and racist. It has been coded in buzzwords: liberal, communist, Muslim, Kenyan, un-American; but the basic gist is that people have attacked him as Other, which is really what racism is about after all. Judging an individual based on stereotypes of a group that they belong to (or are perceived to belong to). Or reading the actions of an individual as representative for an entire group. Racism is sort a catch-all word for what I'm talking about here because it is the most apparent and easiest to identify of this kind Us vs. Them mentality. It is largely about class and wealth also, but racism is the quiet rallying cry to keep politically useful spite swirling. And racism is the manifestation of this that the US has been dealing with most explicitly for the last hundred and fifty or so years.

buchanan is arguing that the victim of a crime is the responsible party because of his appearance and race. That because the kid was black, it is his fault for being followed and shot. Yeah, that is about race. It's also pretty plainly racist.

A teenager wearing a hoodie, talking on the phone to his girlfriend, carrying a bag of skittles is followed by an agitated adult carrying a gun. The kid may have attacked this guy after being pursued by him for some time or may have fought back after being physically assaulted. The guy with the gun killed the unarmed kid, in public, after speaking with the police and being assured they were on the way and being asked to not follow him. The guy who killed the kid is free, wasn't charged, evidence about the crime wasn't collected. The kid is dead and his family is now being treated to a character assassination in the media as people argue that because he had been suspended or because he was wearing a hoodie, it wasn't surprising that someone assumed he was a violent criminal and killed him and it is somehow his fault.

This crime is bothersome on so many levels. It would be bothersome even if there wasn't a blatant racial component to both the crime and the responses to it. It speaks volumes about our gun culture and fascination with vigilantism. It says things about America's willingness to justify outsized and violent responses to perceived threats. It says things about how quickly victims are blamed in crimes with a disparity of power between the victim and the aggressor. Rape victims are often lectured that they were asking for it if they were wearing something attractive or if they were in the wrong part of town or if they were intoxicated, and while you can argue that doing different things can reduce the chances of being the target of a crime, our tendency to blame the victim takes responsibility from the perpetrator and downplays the crime while victimizing the assaulted a second time. And even if we remove the racial, there was an obvious and distinct disparity of power between Martin and Zimmerman. Zimmerman is an adult, in his home community, the son of a former judge, had placed himself as head of a neighborhood watch, and was armed with a gun. Martin was a minor, in a new neighborhood, and unarmed.

What is more interesting than just the racial element is who people sympathize with, or perhaps more accurately who they identify with: the victim or the aggressor? Or who people see as the victim and who they see as the aggressor. pat buchanan sees the unarmed kid who was shot by a stranger as the aggressor because of the race and appearance of the child. Perhaps he sees Zimmerman as someone like himself, wealthy and privileged, who was just retaliating against a threat to that wealth and privilege and he is willing to use lethal force to push back against that threat. That is pretty much what pat buchanan's and much of the republican party's politics have always been. I suppose people sympathize according to the role they could see themselves in. I can imagine my appearance misinterpreted or judged as indicative of "Other" and the victim of a crime because of it. It has happened before.

Still, there is a specifically racial element to this crime. And for whatever leaps and bounds we've made in dealing with the issues of race (and I've argued many times that America and the South in particular are more aware and informed about racism and and what it is and isn't than almost anywhere else in the world), there is still plenty of systemic racism in America. pat buchanan throws up crime statistics about how so many more blacks are charged with crimes and more likely to commit crimes against white people, but the major flaw in his argument is glaring as this is in discussion of a murder of a black boy perpetrated by a white man where we have black guy killed and the white killer walking free. This act of violence has thus far gone un-prosecuted and the behavior of the police at the scene of the crime makes it unlikely that the killer could be convicted even if prosecuted at this point. This is a crime that is national news, but not a part of our crime statistics. His argument that blacks make up a higher percentage of arrests/convictions/prison population and therefore should be treated more harshly is precisely backwards. It doesn't justify this crime, rather it, especially in combination with how this crime remains outside of the statistics, illustrates how we need to more closely reexamine the systemic racism throughout our justice system. No one thinks of themselves as racist, but being sympathetic and fair to people we perceive as Others doesn't come easily or naturally for anyone. link: race and criminal justice

And it isn't just that the justice system is biased because of race; poverty is more of an issue. Which becomes about race because poverty is more prevalent in communities of color. link: coloring-crime

A lack of institutional response to crimes against black people isn't new. link: notorious-past

pat buchanan hits the nail on the head when he writes, "And it is about an irreconcilable conflict of visions about what the real America is in the year 2012." He articulates a vision of America where assumptions and statistics about a group are valid justification assaulting an individual based on the crime you are afraid they are likely to commit. That is at odds with visions of the country as a place where people will be treated equally under the law. His attempts to make excuses for the the failings of our justice system is going to be inherently in conflict with people who want to identify the flaws and improve on it.

The people who are pointing out the racist aspects of how this all played out aren't the ones making this about race. It was always about race. And privilege. It will be interesting to see what happens next.