A dialogue on race has no winners and losers.

I wrote in my previous post that next out I would defend Richard Cohen against charges of being a “racist,”but maybe I bit off more than I can chew. Cohen made himself too easy of a target with his muddled July 15 editorial  Racism and Reality.   He made too much of Trayvon Martin’s hoodie being the uniform of dangerous urban black youth and stretched too far tying urban crime in New York to that of the suburban area in Florida where Martin was shot.

Using the image of the hoodie, Cohen was applying his  biases about poor urban black youth to the Martin suburban situation and the connection does not hold up well.   However, my question remains:  Why can’t we speak of Cohen’s bias or even prejudice concerning inner city young black males instead of his racism?   What does calling him a racist add to the conversation?

Do you think he harbors the same concern when in predominantly black neighborhoods that are middle class?   Do you assume he does not have cordial relations with a number of black people and nary a black friend or two?  I do not know, but I doubt his prejudice encompasses all black people and if it does not, it is not accurate to call him a racist.    Again, as I wrote in my previous post, the traditional definition of racism is;  the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

The tendency these days to imply that racial prejudice is the same as racism does not illuminate issues, it obscures them.   To be prejudiced does not rise to the level of racism.   For one thing, our biases and prejudices usually contain grains of truth which need to be examined and clarified.  Racism has no defense.

Those who charge others as being racists seem to imply that they themselves do not have biases and prejudices of their own, that they see reality clearly while those they accuse are blinded by racism.

One of the people who excoriated Cohen as a racist for his editorial was Elspeth Reed in the Atlantic Wire in which she begins:  “Richard Cohen Shows Why Racism Makes You Do Dumb Things.”

Among those “dumb things” according to Reed is Cohen’s assertion that:  “…the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.”

Reed characterizes this as “the myth of black on black crime” while gathering support from an editorial by Jamelle Bouie in The Daily Beast the day before Cohen’s editorial.   Reed takes what Bouie says at face value, but I see Bouie marshaling facts in a misleading way when he asserts:

“There’s no such thing as “black-on-black” crime. Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.”

In other words, according to Bouie, blacks killing blacks is at a percentage not so different than whites killing whites.  Both whites and blacks are murdered mostly by members of our own race.

Only a racist would think there is much of a difference.

However, the question that came to me is:   Is the murder per capita rate the same for both races, i.e. does either race proportionally kill a lot more of their own  than the other does?   I Googled around a bit and came up with a statement by a conservative blogger who wrote that he looked through 2010 FBI crime stats and came up with stuff  “the left and others don’t want you to know”:   However, one stat Bouie shouldn’t mind is:  “Did you know that 90% of blacks are murdered by blacks, and 83% of whites are murdered by whites?”   That basically mirrors Bouie’s point.

But this does not:   “Did you know that there are 14.82 murders per 100K by blacks versus 2.17 per 100K for whites?  Per capita there are 7x more murders committed by blacks than whites.”

I don’t know who this guy is, so I do not take his assertions at face value.  But they did indicate I might be on to something and later I found a more substantial source, a 2002 Rutgers study that, generally speaking, makes the same points:   “Recent figures indicate that young African-American males have eight times the victimization and offending rates of their white counterparts, and incarceration rates for violent offenses of the black population are about five times those of the white population (U. S. Department of Justice).”   Also, “Homicide remains the leading cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 24…..”

In short, this 2002 academic study’s estimate of 8 times the murder rates committed by blacks as compared to whites fits well with the 7 times the murder rate in 2010 suggested by the aforementioned “rightest” blogger.  Further research would be needed to pin down the trend, but the two sources suggest to me that Bouie assertion of “black on black crime” being a myth is overstated, to say the least.    If he had a stat that showed a major drop in the per capita murder rate by race, he would have shown it.  And that makes me doubt the intellectual honesty informing the other stats he presents.

Meanwhile Reed’s uncritical acceptance of whatever Bouie writes makes me question her ability to separate truth oriented research from political advocacy.   She assumes Bouie is right because they think a like.

What I find galling in both cases is the attitude that their own perspective on reality is somehow elevated, so free from bias and prejudice that they can easily make a judgement as to who is racist and what that means.  I suggest both ponder this Biblical quote:  “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

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Want to have a dialogue on race? Stop labelling others “racist”.

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unless of course they are white Aryan supremacists or KKK members or anyone else that clearly believes that their “own ethnic stock is superior,”  as a 1969 dictionary simply defined the term.

While blatant examples of racism as reflected in the picture to your right have disappeared in the U. S. after the mid-1960s, it is often argued by black opinion leaders and white liberals that plenty of racism still exists:  it is just not so obvious.  But it can be found hidden in measures that are rationalized on separate grounds.

I agree that this is sometimes the case, but do not agree with the tendency to respond to the more subtle racism of our day by applying the word to any issue that contains a racial component and to anyone who might disagree with one’s own perspective on race and democracy.   As clear cut racism has faded, it seems that everything with a racial element gets cast as racist by some liberal TV pundit or commentator somewhere.

Labeling another a “racist” is akin to the Puritans branding a woman’s dress with a  scarlet “A” signifying adulteress.  It is today’s liberal version of castigating someone as a secular sinner.   When branded a racist whatever relative points one has raised are ignored as the speaker is deemed not worth listening to.  Nothing is a greater  impediment to the ongoing call for a national dialogue on race than the overuse of the word “racist”.

Lets return to the definition of racism, this time relying on the current dictionary.comRacism:  “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.”

I highlighted the last part because the belief in superiority allows one to rationalize the  “right to rule others.”   That is the racism that excused our destroying the world of native Americans while fulfilling our “manifest destiny.”   It was also the racism that underlay the Confederacy including the rationale that white rule was not only good for whites, but better for blacks as well because it included paternal caring (in theory at least) for the slaves as opposed to the callous way northern factory owners treated their employees.

Sorry if I am being a bit tedious here.   But, I believe it important to define clearly what the meaning of “racism” has been so as to apply it as a litmus test to assess the validity of its present usage in any  given context.

While writing the above I have had an example in mind.   About a week ago Richard Cohen wrote a piece in the Washington Post basically arguing that “profiling” is not in itself racist while applying that to George Zimmerman’s suspicions about Trayvon Martin.

He was quickly tarred and feathered verbally by many commentators as a racist.   Whatever you might think of his argument, I would argue he is not a racist, an assertion I will support in my next post.  In the interim, you might want to decide for yourself by reading Cohen’s piece through this link.

Barack Obama: Our First Black and White President

Barack Obama is often referred to as our first black president, but I have thought of him as our first black and white president.  His background, experience and personal gifts combine to make whites like myself believe he not only empathizes  with the concerns of blacks when it comes to racial issues,  but also the concerns of whites.   Without that quality, he could not have been elected.

In case you haven’t heard, he displayed that capacity yesterday in a surprise visit to the White House Press Corp as described by Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post (on-line).

“President Obama implored Americans on Friday to “do some soul-searching” in the aftermath of the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Florida, speaking expansively and introspectively about the nation’s painful history of race and his own place in it.

Directly wading into the polarizing debate over last weekend’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, Obama tried to explain the case through the lens of past discrimination that still weighs heavily on African Americans.

The nation’s first black president, recognizing the disconnect between how whites and blacks were reacting to the Zimmerman verdict, sought to explain why the acquittal had upset so many African Americans.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away,” Obama said.

Since the Zimmerman court decision, the discussion of the issue on MSNBC has been dominated by black pundits, implying you have to be black to really understand the racial nuances of the case.   At least one called for a national dialogue on race and democracy, which I welcome as long as it is a real dialogue he is seeking.

But he is a professor who seemed to be inviting we whites to an ongoing seminar in which he and other black intellectuals are going to enlighten us as to the many facets of our racism, conscious or otherwise.   No thanks.

If a real dialogue is to develop on issues that are in black and white, a tone must be set that reflects empathy with the fears,  anger and prejudices of both races.

In his surprising address yesterday, the president set such a tone:

The Trayvon Martin Case: A Tragedy, But Not A Travesty

Medgar Evers, Assassinated Civil Rights Hero (...

Medgar Evers, Assassinated Civil Rights Hero (The Peace Hat) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The court decision Saturday that acquitted  George Zimmerman of all charges has been characterized by some as a travesty or miscarriage of justice.  That reflects a problem we often have in confusing the court of public opinion with a court of law.

There was much George Zimmerman  did wrong that night, but the only illegal aspect hinged on whether Zimmerman  shot Trayvon Martin in self defence or not.   And the evidence that appeared in court did not make that clear.

That is not just my opinion, but of several TV pundits with legal backgrounds who followed the case much more closely than I.  As one of them put it, the prosecution never connected the dots, leaving room for reasonable doubt.

Of course, this would not have happened had Zimmerman not been an overzealous self-appointed neighborhood watchman and chase Martin.  The 9-1-1 tape shows Zimmerman’s reacting to Martin’s running from him with:  “These assholes always get away.” And then he chased Martin even though told “that is not necessary” by the 9-1-1 dispatcher.   So, there is no doubt that Zimmerman is to blame for initiating the deadly turn of events, but that in itself is not a crime.

Defense attorney Mark O’ Mara has stated that the trial has been turned into a civil rights event, and I agree.   But without that, this case would never have gone to court.   That the police released Zimmerman who had just shot and killed someone by relying on the shooter’s account of events is hard to fathom.  Also, hard to fathom is O’Mara’s contention that had the races been reversed and no civil rights issue raised the case would have easily been dismissed.   Really?  A black adult shoots a white teenager and the police are going to  easily accept the self-defense explanation of the soul survivor, a black man?   What country does this man live in?

But to call the “not guilty” verdict a travesty of justice is unfounded.

Zimmerman should not have pursued Travon Martin, and should not have had a gun while doing so, which set up what was to follow.   But we can only imagine exactly what took place between the two men?    Martin was likely afraid of this unknown stalker.   Beyond the stalking did Zimmerman  say or do something that heightened Martin’s fear?  Or did Zimmerman say something that prompted Martin to flash back in anger.   Was Martin fed up by previous incidents of being blamed for something because he was black?   What happened in those last few minutes?

If that picture was clear, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  It might be argued that the real travesty of justice here was the initial investigation of the killing by police.   As Columnist Eugene Robinson describes it:

“George Zimmerman’s acquittal was set in motion on Feb. 26, 2012, before Martin’s body was cold. When Sanford, Fla., police arrived on the scene, they encountered a grown man who acknowledged killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy. They did not arrest the man or test him for drug or alcohol use. They conducted a less-than-energetic search for forensic evidence. They hardly bothered to look for witnesses.”

O. K. but in the weeks following the death the call for justice by Martin’s parents meant that Zimmerman should go to trial.   (By the way, they have acted with admiral restraint throughout this ordeal.)   And he did go to trial, but now it is obvious that “justice” to many means Zimmerman should have been convicted of something, at least manslaughter.  In other words, justice really means getting the verdict we feel someone deserves, not what a court decides.

While I do not think future federal prosecution on civil rights abuses  will happen, Trayvon Martin might receive the justice many want in a civil trial, where the standards of proof are less, but because this has become a civil rights event and not just about Trayvon Martin, the justice often demanded is actually for all blacks, not just for him, and there is no definitive answer to that demand.

I  don’t dispute the disparity raised in terms of equal treatment, but feel the death of Travon Martin has been overplayed by being turned into an overall indictment of our society.  An attorney for the Martin family has suggested that the death of Trayvon Martin is akin to the deaths of Medgar Evers and Emit Till in the history of the civil rights movement.

That is  overblown.  Medgar Evers was a civil rights leader who risked his life daily in Mississippi before being assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963.  He was a hero.  Emit Till was a 14 year old boy visiting relatives in that state in 1955 where he was viciously murdered by the husband of a white woman he reportedly flirted with a few days earlier.  He was an innocent.

Trayvon Martin shared the color of their skin but his was more a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and, while he might have been totally innocent, he also may have have contributed in some way to his death.   We don’t know.  It is tragic but this case is not just one more reflection of racism in America.  It is also an indication of how far we have come in terms of racial equality since the days of Evers and Till.  Racism remains, but it is not nearly as deep as it once was.

Medgar Evers and Emit Till were black men who were murdered for having the audacity to challenge white supremacist rule in the case of Evers and offend white supremacist sensibilities in the case of Emit Till at a time when blacks were clearly second citizens in most of America.    While being black undoubtedly contributed to Trayvon Martin’s fate, he was not killed because he was black.

He died due to an unfortunate string of events.  Hence the tragedy of it all.

The Mortgage Crisis of 2008 Makes Good Summer Reading

At least as the story is told my Michael Lewis.

English: , author of the best-sellers Moneybal...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the name doesn’t ring a clear bell, a couple of his books were turned into the movies  The Blind Side and Money Ball.    And sports haven’t even been his strong  suit.   Exploring the nature of financial folly has, beginning with his first book Liar’s Poker about his days as a bond trader on Wall Street in the late 1980s.

I just finished his book Boomerang:  Travels in the New Third World.  Here he details his travels through Europe after the financial crash that prompted our still lingering semi-recession and gives insights into what unfettered greed combined with the capacity for self-delusion can lead to,  a complete run amuck.

But while the story might have a moral, Lewis makes it all fun and interesting and often thought provoking in only a couple of hundred pages.   For one thing, when you read about the struggles in the European economies now, this book will help you keep perspective on how shaky that collective enterprise is.

Here is a NY Times review of the book which might entice you more.

A nice companion piece by Lewis is The Big Short:  Inside the Doomsday Machine.    It deals with the insights and huge financial success of a handful of financiers in the U. S. who saw where the wild fire of greed was heading and how they could make a lot of money betting against the tide.   Some of them even warned Wall Street, but their message “the king has no clothes” went mostly unheeded.   The Wall Streeters blocked it out;  the possibility was too painful to contemplate.

Here is a NY Times review of that book.

What is clear in reading both books is how right Shakespeare was when he wrote:   “What fools these mortals be.”

All we can do is limit our propensity to destroy ourselves by establishing institutions, laws and regulations that are enforced to constrain this tendency.

Or desentivise it.   What fueled the fire of the great mortgage meltdown was the “system” did just the opposite.  It unleashed greed and allowed risking the money of others while  remaining unaccountable for losses, as the Lewis books well illustrate.

Gone Fishin’ in Egypt

Topographic map of Egypt. Created with GMT fro...

Topographic map of Egypt. Created with GMT from SRTM data. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Naw, I’m actually right here in San Diego at a lap top writing to say I’m not going to write much.   I had an operation a week ago and recovery has preoccupied me since then.  I am actually feeling quite well now, but I find writing something worthwhile to read today to be a chore too big to tackle.  I’ve tried, but haven’t like what I came up with.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking more about the Muslim controlled Mideast than our national political theater, but find it all beyond comprehension other than Syria is a forest fire that could burn out of control igniting other fires in the region and Egypt has become another wild card again.

Not that I’m sorry to see Prime MinisterMorsi (Morsy) and his Muslim Brotherhood ideology go, relieved a bit actually, but who knows whether the military will have the wisdom to guide the country to a stable form of democracy, especially as the country’s problems are huge and the people impatient.

The unique advantages of our own  revolution compared to those that followed us is not pointed out often enough.   We were not a land populated by many poor people who expected a new government to raise them out of poverty.  So, there was not the same pressure for the government to change lives as has been the case in every revolution since then, to my knowledge.  We also had training wheels in self-government, a legacy of England.  It was second nature to us.  The concepts and proceses of a Republic had been developed over hundreds of years in England.   Except for the final act of making the king just a titular head of government.   That would come late there.

Those are the foremost reasons it is so hard to get a new democracy up and running.  It is nearly impossible to satisfy the people soon enough, especially when creating democratic processes at the same time.  I just hope the Egyptians some how find a way to beat the odds.