In his opinion piece in the Aug. 1 issue of New Times (“The economy is paramount”), Otis Page, the often-times rather conservative opinion letter writer in various local publications, outlines a long litany of historical examples and anecdotes to make the labored point that people tend to develop or mimic prejudices against persons and groups “unlike” themselves, based on race, gender, nationality, location, ethnicity, class, etc., all anchored in the final analysis on disparities of economic fortunes more than anything else.
On the surface, this hypothesis is fairly well substantiated. As Mr. Page asserts, many studies over the years have shown that, even within minority communities themselves, there are prejudices against the less affluent on the part of the more prosperous, and against the “rich” on the part of less-well-off sectors, even if such differences are actually minor. Mr. Page also makes the point of how foolish, comical, and senseless such “dislike of the ‘other’” can be at times.
However, Mr. Page then twists the whole thing around and goes on one of his not-uncommon diatribes against Barack Obama, stating that Obama shows strong bias in his reactions to the Trayvon Martin killing and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the killer. The truth is that Obama was very mild (as usual about most everything—not a compliment) in his remarks, ending up by saying that the jury had spoken but that he was disappointed in the verdict and that the U.S. Justice Department would investigate the case and the trial.
Now, I’m no big fan of Barack Obama, although my criticisms are from the Left, not the Right, as Otis Page’s generally are. But what’s accurate is accurate and what’s inaccurate and distorted is just that. Even a cursory examination of the Martin/Zimmerman case and trial shows deep cultural and racial bias—and just plain boneheadedness—on the part of police, much of the media, the judge, the prosecutors, members of the jury, and the defense attorneys. Zimmerman had no need to go after Martin, and he in fact violated official rules of the neighborhood watch network, not to mention direct instructions from the 911 operator not to follow and pursue Martin. Zimmerman had shown long term racial animosity and an almost paranoid suspicion of young, black men in general. Being punched and slammed to the ground a few relatively mild times is not justifiable cause for using deadly force. The law should make that clear. What about just showing that you’re armed and giving a warning at the least? If anything, Obama’s reactions to the case were pathetically muted. Zimmerman’s were extreme and fanatical, and he went after Martin as the aggressor—and was the only one armed with anything.
Otis Page’s point about economic class being far more fundamentally important than racial issues is valid to a point, but Page uses it to almost totally throw out consideration of racial issues at all, pretty much saying that such factors are secondary or even tertiary in importance—or that it is petty to bring them up, period. This is patently wrong, especially in relation to Black/African American history on this continent. Whatever other tensions and prejudices there are about other races and ethnicities, and whatever other histories of racist terror and genocide there are, such as against Native Americans, the Black experience here is the only one involving millions of people being forcibly abducted, transported under horrible conditions, and sold as property, livestock, for use as forced laborers—slaves—followed by more than 100 years of semi slavery as sharecroppers (serfs), convict labor, and servants, all enforced by a virtual brutal police state and fascistic Klan thugs and mobs. Today, as much of the Black experience in many places, we see destroyed communities, mass poverty and unemployment, mass imprisonment, still-stubborn discrimination, and now roaming vigilante killers like Zimmerman. In this historical context, speaking up against Trayvon Martin’s murder and the botched trial and acquittal does not amount to bias or “using the race card.” It amounts only and justifiably to pointing to the ugly truth that tragically still applies to the United States even now.
Economic deprivation horrors are basic, yes, but racism is still alive and well, and must be dealt with directly, not somehow swept under the rug as passé. There is, in fact, a powerful and close link between economic impoverishment on one hand and racial/ethnic prejudice on the other. The regular working people of all races are hurt and kept down by racism, class, and gender chauvinism acting together.
Jim Griffin lives in San Luis Obispo. Send comments to the executive editor at rmillernewtimesslo.com.
-- Jim Griffin - San Luis Obispo
-- Jim Griffin - San Luis Obipso
-- Jim Griffin - SLO