In the past few months or so, we’ve wrestled with the cases of Travyon Martin in Florida, the Norfolk journalists in Virginia, and the welfare reform debate across the country. What all these cases have in common is they are 1) intensely divisive and 2) “racially charged”, as the media are fond of saying.
There are unmistakable ideological divides at work. The aftermath of Martin’s death saw many left-leaning folks attacking castle doctrine and demanding gun control. People on the Right vehemently defended gun rights, noting that castle doctrine allows for better self-defense, not a justification for murder. Similarly, the welfare debate has sparked a new round of arguments about the nature, purpose, and viability of the safety net, with interlocutors left and right falling into predictable refrains.
But the racial and sociological elements are far more troublesome and not terribly amenable to electoral redress. Nobody alive—except George Zimmerman—knows exactly what happened in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. Yet many liberals believe that Zimmerman is a murderer, the police were negligent or biased, and this is yet another example of systemic racism in America. These people are deeply suspicious of images invoking the Criminal Black Man in Martin’s past and look to Zimmerman’s history for latent racism. They also dismiss any comparison between this case and the one in Norfolk and blame racism for the welfare debate (and anything involving the South).
By contrast, the people who defend Zimmerman and are suspicious of Norfolk are deeply leery of media bias the other way. They do not understand why the common picture of Martin is several years dated, Martin’s past is deemed irrelevant but Zimmerman’s not, or why the media have pretended that “white Hispanic” is a thing in colloquial America. (Its recent inclusion on the census, notwithstanding, it is not.) These conservative-leaning folks see race-baiting in President Obama’s remarks as assuredly as their more liberal brethren see it in Bill O’Reilly. They see bias in the lack of coverage in Norfolk, where others see none, and don’t understand why it’s supposedly racist to require adults on welfare to work for it.
But lest the matter be further muddled, these racial elements do not map perfectly or completely onto politics or race. Plenty of blacks and liberals do not presume Zimmerman’s guilt, and plenty of whites and conservatives are nonplussed by Bill O’Reilly’s aspersions cast against a Tea Party Attorney General.
What seems clear is that the injection of racial politics into public debate—whether on gun laws, police conduct, or welfare—renders impossible productive conversation across the aisle. Many folks on the Right (and some on the Left) will never take Al Sharpton seriously, no matter how strong of a case he thinks he makes. Similarly, many reasonable people will require leviathan confirmation of any “racially charged” claim ever fomented by Fox News. And in the midst of all this, facile gestures—like equating hoodies with crime or black people with welfare—are promulgated ad nauseam, to no one’s benefit.
I have no profound solutions to all this, but I can make some suggestions. President Obama, stop wading half-assed into racially charged controversies. Liberals, stop accusing everyone of racism, everywhere, all the time. Conservatives, tell better jokes. And everyone, can we please stop whining about being oppressed?
This is America, for freedom’s sake.
Update: It seems some liberals in South Florida think it perfectly acceptable to feature a caricature of Republican Congressman Allan West beating up defenseless women. It should go without saying that were West a Democrat, this incident would spark outrage and charges of racism & sexism. To their credit, other liberals are calling out the campaign of Democrat challenger Patrick Murphy for the underhanded tactic. Is it just me, or are Democrats becoming increasingly desperate?