The Trayvon Martin murder case has opened up wounds in American social life, that have been poorly bandaged for decades. A young boy, unarmed, confronted by a racist ‘neighbourhood watch’ patrolman with a gun, is confronted simply for ‘looking suspicious’, and is shot to death. The defendant is subsequently acquitted. The defendant, who, apparently cannot understand the difference between someone who is black and committing a crime, and someone who is black and not committing a crime, shoots the man who isn’t, and wasn’t going to commit a crime (I’m almost certain George Zimmerman would not have racially profiled Trayvon Martin that night, had Martin been white), and is acquitted. You would have to suspend all reasonable faculties, and wish away reality, to believe this has no racist connotations. But if you are in doubt here is Zimmerman’s 9/11 call in which he refers to Trayvon Martin as a “fucking coon“.
The privilege afforded to white Americans in everyday social situations, may be less noticeable on the surface, than it perhaps was fifty years ago, but it is still there.
A study by the American economic review between July 2001 and May 2002 entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” , found that job applicants with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to be asked back than an applicant with a white sounding name. The researchers sent out 5000 applications in sales, marketing, clerical and customer service positions. The names they used were a mix of white sounding names, and African American sounding names. The report showed that white applicants with stronger resumes than other white applicants received 30% more callbacks, whereas African American applicants with stronger resumes than other African American applicants received just 9% more callbacks. It proved that regardless of credentials, African American applicants were 50% less likely to get a callback than a white applicant.
Another study conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 46% of Mississippi Republicans think interracial marriage should be illegal. Interestingly, Sarah Palin is the favoured candidate among Mississippi Republicans who think interracial marriage should be illegal, by 17 points more than second place. It is of course no surprise that a Tea Party-styled candidate may be favoured among racist voters, given Tea Party rallies tend to include racist overtones.
Several times over the past few years, Palin has been on stage with Ted Nugent. The same Nugent invited to the State of the Union. Rep. Steve Stockman (R) said of Nugent’s invitation to the State of The Union:
“I Am Excited To Have A Patriot Like Ted Nugent Joining Me In The House Chamber To Hear From President Obama.”
– Both Palin’s appearance with Nugent, and Stockman’s insistence that Nugent is a “Patriot”, or a real American that Stockman can respect is rather telling given that Nugent once said that real Americans are:
“Working Hard, Playing Hard, White Motherfucking Shit Kickers Who Are Independent.”
– The seemingly racist Ted Nugent, loved by the Republican Party as a “Patriot” once said of the United States of America:
“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”
– This is the man the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party embraces as a Patriot. A Confederate racist. So it is no surprise that Sarah Palin supporters in Mississippi would like to see interracial marriage banned.
On a side note, Ted Nugent is an NRA board member. The NRA lobby for ‘Stand your Ground’ laws, the very law that failed Trayvon Martin, and is already appearing to be a law of white privilege. A Federal lawsuit in Georgia in 2012 required Georgia strike down its ‘Stand your Ground’ law, because it didn’t specify what circumstances justified “standing your ground”. According to the lawsuit, courts in Georgia had:
“…accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide.”
– What this essentially means is, “I shot him, because I was scared, because he was black“. It is a white privilege defence. Ted Nugent, Confederate, racist, advocate of laws that threaten the lives of innocent African Americans, and according to Republicans; a ‘Patriot’.
Institutional racism – an economic, social, or political structure designed to advance one race to the disadvantage of another – is particularly subtle, and so less noticeable in 21st Century America, than it was 40 years ago, though it still exists. If you are African American, you are three times more likely to be pulled over in your car and searched for drugs than if you’re white, despite the fact that if you’re white, on the few occasions when you are pulled over you are four times more likely to have drugs on you. If you are white and you drive past the police without them pulling you over, you are experiencing the privilege of being white. The war on drugs then, is not a war on drugs, if it were, those statistics would be a hell of a lot different. The war on drugs would go where the drugs actually are, not where the people with dark skin are.
Fox News’s Geraldo blamed Trayvon Martin for his own death, rather creatively:
– Geraldo went on to clarify that:
“What I was trying to do was caution parents that allowing kids to wear hoodies or similar clothing in certain circumstances, particularly if they were minority young men, could be dangerous,”
– I’d say allowing your children to watch a ‘News’ network that pushes the seemingly racist agenda of a particular party, is far more dangerous, and perpetuates the problem in the first place. The danger of wearing a hoody, is the product of Fox News, Republican style politics of fear and division. Fox News: Throwing fuel onto the fire, and then blaming those burning for being too flammable.
Thirteen US States currently completely disenfranchise ex-felons. It is predictable, that this form of voter disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minorities; usually people from poorer minority backgrounds, who have already felt the effects of institutional racism within the school system, health system (The infant mortality rate for African American women was 2.4 times the rate of white women), housing system and justice system. Due to previous convictions, 5.3 million Americans were not allowed to vote in 2004.
In June this year, the conservative lead Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, allowing States to change their own voting laws. The Voting Rights Act was of utmost importance in the fight against institutional racism, covering those States most affected by institutional racism through voting restrictions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia & South Carolina.
The Act prohibited States from imposing:
“voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
– The Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) which creates a formula which determines what a State must do to be subject to Section 5, which forces a State to seek approval from the Department of Justice before changing voting rules. Without Section 4(b), there is no Section 5.
Predictably, like a dog pulling on its leash, desperate to break away; within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, Texas announced it would rush ahead with changing Voting rules. As if Republican Texans had waited decades for this moment. The Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott announced he would be immediately reinstating the Voter ID rule:
“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”
– Voter ID costs fall heavily on African American, and Hispanic communities. A hugely disproportionate number of those without photo ID, registered to vote, are Latin American.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that in the last decade alone, Section 4(b) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protected minority voters, by striking down 43 attempts to change election rules in the noted States. Between 1982, and 2006, the Justice Department struck down 2,400 state and local voting rule changes. Thanks to voter protection for minorities, the proportion of African Americans registered to vote in Alabama increased from 19% in 1965 to 73% in 2004. The provisions struck down by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, were working.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was left in place by the Supreme Court. Southern Republicans believe this to be enough to prevent racist policies creeping into the States. Section 2 allows the Federal Government to prosecute any local official introducing racist electoral policies. However, this relies on the victims of the racist electoral policies, pursuing legal action, finding a lawyer, knowing who to contact, where to go. Suddenly, the victims are the ones who must shoulder the burden.
Suppression of minority voters, and playing on race issues, is a key factor in Republican election strategies, and has been for a very long time. Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a way to realign racist voters in the South away from the Democrats, over to the Republicans. Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips told the New York Times:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
– Well, in 2013 Republicans have the racist vote, and so the Voting Rights Act is no longer required to “prod” them over to the GOP, and so the Voting Rights Act is no longer beneficial to Republicans. In 2013 this means, voter ID, trimming down early voting, enforcing long waiting times at voting booths, banning ex-felons from voting, and as was happening in Michigan in 2008; attempting to block people from voting if they turned up to vote still registered to their foreclosed home. These measures are all designed to suppress minority votes. The Republican Party is institutionally racist.
But it isn’t just conservatives that show horrendous racial prejudice. After the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, Minnesota State Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Democrat tweeted this:
– An incredibly ironic statement, in that he is referring to Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, as “uncle Thomas”, a phrase used to describe an African American who betrays his race to win favour from a structure of white privilege. The implication being that Justice Thomas couldn’t possibly have any other reason for opposing Section 4(b), than to suck up to those he must consider to be his white superiors. A second implication being, that African Americans must place their skin tone at the front of all policy considerations, whilst white people can have a multitude of reasons for opposing or supporting particular policy.
Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel told the court that Trayvon had called her moments before the confrontation with Zimmermand, and had said he was being followed by “some creepy ass cracker“. In an article for The Slate, Craig Pittman says:
“So when Trayvon Martin, who was black, referred to George Zimmerman, a light-skinned Hispanic, as a “cracker,” did he mean it in the “hey, look, it’s a son of the pioneers!” way? Given that the term was modified by the adjective “creepy-ass,” I would have to say no. ”
– The implication being that Martin was the one that introduced racism to the confrontation. It is of course, intensely unimportant given that Zimmerman himself didn’t think to mention this, and so it didn’t actually figure in his decision to confront Trayvon. If Martin did use ‘cracker’, of course it was meant in a racial sense. The fact remains that had Zimmerman not racially profiled, and followed Martin in the first place (the introduction of confrontational racism into the situation), then the term ‘cracker’ (used by Martin in this context, whilst trying to walk away from Zimmerman) would not have been used. Zimmerman introduced racism, and very confrontational racism, into the equation. Any ensuing racism on the part of Trayvon Martin, can only be considered secondary, and completely unimportant to the case, after the fact that Zimmerman had already racially profiled him. The racism that lead to the death of unarmed, innocent Trayvon Martin was on the part of armed, racist George Zimmerman, and no one else.
Trayvon Martin was followed and stopped, because he was black. George Zimmerman – despite his previous appearances in court for domestic violence, battery, speeding and alcohol abuse – will never have to experience that level of profiling. At night, in the street, he is presumed innocent. Trayvon Martin, on account of his skin colour, was presumed guilty. Racism is a social structure, not simply an individual revealing private prejudices.
Those who insist that white privilege is no more, that racism is dead, that a framework built on race-based power is a relic of the past, are the very conservatives on the Supreme Court, and the ruling Republicans in Southern States who stand to gain the most from perpetuating racism and white privilege. America has an institutional racism problem, whose weakly applied bandage is slowly peeling away.