Modern Race Relations 101: A Primer for White People

courtesy of samurai racer
courtesy of

Well before the Trayvon Martin verdict, I had seen, heard and read about white people dismissing the racial context of the case.  Some do this artfully and skillfully; others, not so much.  I've been wanting to explore some of these maneuvers more closely for a while now.

1.  Some express outrage that the killing of a white person would not have garnered the media attention, and contort that to mean that suddenly black lives are being held up as more important than white ones.  "Unfair!" they exclaim.  "I mean, I don't think a white person's life has more value than a black person's life - why should a black life be more valuable than a white one?"  They may, in their efforts to support this distortion, hold up stories of individual white people who were killed by black people, and cry, "Where is the outrage over THIS???  Isn't this just as horrible as Trayvon's death???"

To them I would say, yes - it is as horrible.  I guarantee there is outrage.  But chances are pretty good that the black suspect was pursued, caught, charged and convicted, judging from the disproportionate representation of blacks in the prison system.  Chances are also good that if the black killer was NOT charged, (already, we're dealing in less than realistic terms) the white victim's family wouldn't have had to take to to bring attention to the case.  Given the racially imbalanced media coverage of kidnapping victims, known now as "Missing White Woman Syndrome," I'm kinda doubting a young white murder victim's family in an affluent community would have to work that hard to garner national attention.  So, please.  Don't claim offense that a particular white person's death isn't getting the same media play as Trayvon Martin's and call it a demand for equality, as if the white population has been oppressed and misrepresented for so long.

2.  Others say, "Why aren't people paying attention to black-on-black violence?"  Actually, they ARE.  They HAVE been trying.  On July 29th, the Congressional Black Caucus and other black leaders convened a summit in Chicago to address urban violence there, and elsewhere.  It was far from the first of its kind.  Once again, they're working towards - pleading for - a multi-pronged approach to the inner cities.  Two of the organizers, Congressman Bobby Rush and Danny K. Davis, exhorted the crowd:

“We had many summits…now it’s time for wise men and women to stand up and show us how to get out of this mess,” Rush said charging the crowd.

“There’s no panacea” to fixing Chicago’s violence issue said Davis. “It’s poverty, school closings, lack of good educational opportunities, lack of jobs, parenting and a need to rebuild infrastructure.”

Rather than sounding the one note song of gun control, here people are doing their best to bring attention and power to the populations systematically wracked by violence (though, of course, sensible gun control figures into the story as a whole.)  Prominent political African Americans are  issuing a call to their communities to restore self-respect and reject violence.  You don't get any more public and powerful than President Barack Obama, in his incredibly moving press conference after the Zimmerman verdict, saying,

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.

"Black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context."  So do some white people, but in my opinion, not nearly enough.

In the entertainment world, we have a brilliant artist of the spoken word, Dahlak, in his piece "I Know You Like it Rough."  It is almost 4 minutes of piercing analysis and profound sadness.  Equal parts feminist and music critic.  Equal parts anti-domestic violence and pro-meaningful sex.

This is the lasting legacy of generation Hip Hop.  Where calling you "baby" sounds bitch-like, and calling you "bitch" sounds like baby.

He is trying to understand why, ladies, "you don't feel SMALL when I call you 'Lil Mama.'" He is trying to understand why, gentlemen, "[You're] tryin' to get to [her] AND that booty - like it's two different things."  He is mourning the fact that Chris Brown is still making "hits."  And he's not just talking about songs.

On the media front, CNN's Don Lemon supported Bill O'Reilly's comments urging the black community to get its act together - particularly its males.  It's understandable (to me, anyhow,) why the message coming from O'Reilly would be dismissed as racist and condescending - whether or not that was his intention.  Even from Lemon, though, these sentiments were lambasted by many African-Americans as traitorous (turncoat, slave, other unkind and unfair labels abounded.)  Lemon answered his critics brilliantly, point-for-point - particularly Russell Simmons - in this commentary of his own.  He pulls the final punch, saying:

Finally, you write in part, I want the black kids to grow up and be like you. I want them to know that their imagination is God inside of them. Russell, I really appreciate that, but I don't want black kids or kids of any race to be just like me. I want them to grow up to be better than me. That's what my parents wanted for me. And their parents wanted for them. And as we approach the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, we should all realize that it's what those brave men and women who risked their lives for our freedom and equality wanted for us. They fought for us and generations to come to be better than them, not to be illiterate or deadbeat dads or criminals. We must stop the blame for things that we can change ourselves and, again, as the first African-American president of the United States says, no more excuses.

So the question,  "Why don't people pay attention black-on-black violence?" the answer is clear.  Many, many people of MANY stripes are attempting to address it.  The person who ASKS that question may not be, since if they were, they'd easily learn that it's the subject of much attention already.  And it in NO WAY negates the injustice of the forces at play that created the Trayvon Martin situation.  It is simply a way of changing the subject from Stand-Your-Ground laws and racial profiling to debilitating poverty and substandard education in our inner cities.  The causes of Martin's death and the causes of inner-city violence are not necessarily the same, and they're CERTAINLY not mutually exclusive.


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