I wasn’t going to post this because I’m so fed up with the persistence of the narrative that all conservatives are racist that it seems pointless. What had me so frustrated? This article, which a friend I tend to highly respect despite our different political views, posted on Facebook with the admonition “read all the links”. I don’t want to spend too much time going through all the things that article got wrong, but there are a lot. Starting with the image it uses at the top:
The point is to reverse the races and ask: would people have reacted the same way? But here’s the problem, they never questioned that the image they are parodying is itself highly biased. It depicts a very innocent, very young Trayvon Martin (from years before the incident took place) contrasted with a mug shot of George Zimmerman from a prior arrest years before (the charges were dropped). What could be more prejudicial than a photo like this? It defined the narrative of the case, and was a blatant example of the media violating ethics (and possibly the law, Zimmerman has sued NBC Universal) to propagate a very specific narrative of a racist white vigilante gunning down an innocent young black kid for the crime of being black. In order to strengthen this narrative, NBC edited the 911 tape to give the false impression that Zimmerman was obsessed with Martin’s race when, in fact, it was the 911 operator who asked Zimmerman about race. There’s also the strange term “white Hispanic” and phrases like Zimmerman being someone who “considers himself Hispanic” (but isn’t really?).
So part of what bothers me is the vicious and unsubstantiated assumption that if you’re a conservative you’re a racist. (I’ve written about the dangers of conflating politics and race before.) Another thing that bothers me, however, is this simple either/or narrative. The idea that either a person has to celebrate Zimmerman as a hero or denounce him as a vigilante. The reality is that most of the folks I talk to think Zimmerman should have been acquitted because the evidence wasn’t “beyond a reasonable doubt”, but not because he has lily-white hands. That’s why the court finds him “not guilty” and not “innocent”. What happened was a tragedy–and especially for Martin and his family–who in no way deserved what happened to him. I would absolutely put more of the blame on Zimmerman who–from what we know–acted recklessly in defense of his neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean that there was enough evidence for a murder or a manslaughter conviction. It’s not neat and tidy, but this isn’t an episode of Law and Order, either.
Here’s the thing, though. I want to do more than complain about the way liberals–even my friends–are so myopically focused on nurturing their belief in universal conservative racism and try something constructive. So I’d like to point out a couple of stories that–almost without any exception at all–I’ve seen being circulated by my conservative Facebook friends (some of whom are way far off to the right of me).
Marissa Alexander was recently found guilty–despite invoking Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law–for firing warning shots into a wall to prevent her abusive husband for attacking her. In other words, Zimmerman actually did kill someone and he was acquitted. Marissa (who is black, by the way) tried not to take the life of someone who actually was attacking her and she gets 20 years. This is the only case in which I’ve seen liberal friends outraged, and it was only one. All the stories expressing outrage at the verdict that I know of have come from my conservative, gun-rights friends. Theoretically they are all racists and so would not care about Alexander getting 20 years for exercising self-defense, but the reality is that they just don’t seem to care what her race is. They see a woman trying to defend herself and being punished precisely because she didn’t kill her attacker (allowing him to testify) and they say “This is wrong.” There is coverage at MSNBC so the media isn’t totally ignoring it, but I’m not hearing about any protests. Apparently once you involve use of a gun in self-defense liberals lose interest in helping you even if you are black? I don’t know.
Crystal Scott made the headlines at Drudge earlier this morning for another Stand Your Ground shooting, this time in Texas. Scott, who is black, shot and killed Jonathan Ables, who is white, after the two got into a car accident and (according to Scott) Ables approached her car door screaming, shouting, and threatening her. One of my conservative friends posted the article with the simple comment “Good for her”. Now, obviously there needs to be an investigation, but according to the narrative from liberals, white conservatives should all be foaming at the mouth that Scott be thrown behind bars because it’s not possible for them to believe that a black person might have to use self-defense against an aggressive white attacker. And yet, despite that fact, I haven’t seen any of that kind of response at all. (It’s a breaking story so news is harder to find, but here’s an early source.)
And finally there’s the another story about black teenage boys that is making the rounds with all my conservative friends. In this case, a little 5-year old girl (who is white) was kidnapped from her grandmother’s front yard. Temar Boggs, a black boy who is 15, said that when he heard the news “We got all of our friends to go look for her. We made our own little search party.” A little while later, he and a friend spotted the little girl in a car that was still in the neighborhood and took off after the car in pursuit. On their bikes. As Boggs tells it: “As soon as the guy noticed we were chasing him, he stopped at the end of the hill and let her out, and she ran to me and said that she needed her mom.” One little girl saved, two black heroes to thank. And you know what? No conservative that I can find is stinting their praise because the heroes of this story are black, teenage boys just two years younger than Trayvon Martin was when he was killed. (NYDailyNews)
I’m not going to pretend that all is right in the world and we have no remaining systemic racial biases or racism to combat. I just think that maybe if more liberals actually knew conservatives–like, had them as real friends–they’d be a little less prone to buy into truly demonic interpretations of them as race-mongering white supremacists. And I know from personal experience that if I didn’t feel like I was being called a race-mongering white supremacist just because I like F. A. Hayek that would make it easier to have real conversations and learn about actual race problems. Because I know they exist and I even know that I’m not an expert in them and have a lot to learn. But I’m not willing to learn from people who are, at best, tragically mistaken about the other half of American society and, at worse, are cynically manipulating race narratives for political gain.
So hey, I thought it would be nice to point out, that here are some stories about violence and race where conservatives–from my own sample, this isn’t a scientific study–are reacting in a way that shows we’ve got some common ground to build on. Maybe more emphasis on that? Less emphasis on the demonization?
Just a thought.