Is 'the system' really to blame for the death of Trayvon Martin?
“White Hispanic.” That's how the New York Times, Reuters and other media outlets have opted to describe George Zimmerman, a man who would simply be Hispanic if he hadn't shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The term, rarely if ever used before this tragedy, is necessary in telling the Martin story in a more comfortable way.
What's the comfortable way? It's the way the blame for Martin's death belongs squarely at the feet of “the system.” And “the system” is a white thing, don't you know.
For instance, in a remarkably uncritical interview with the Los Angeles Times, the Rev. Jesse Jackson explained that with the election of President Obama, “there was this feeling that we were kind of beyond racism.” He continued: “That's not true. His victory has triggered tremendous backlash.” Indeed, “Blacks are under attack.”
Jackson apparently includes in this racist Obama “backlash” record home foreclosures for African Americans and black unemployment. It would have been nice if the L.A. Times had asked Jackson to work a little harder to connect those dots.
Jackson also laments that “targeting, arresting, convicting blacks and ultimately killing us is big business” in America.
On the saner end of the liberal spectrum, Reniqua Allen of the New America Foundation writes in the Washington Post that it's harder to talk about race now that we have a black President (note: not a “white African American President,” a la the new Zimmerman standard, although both men have a white parent).
Allen is surely right that having a black President makes it hard to talk about race, particularly if you want to have the hackneyed monologue that hustlers such as Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton want to have. Weak-tea Marxist rants about a system that parasitically feeds off black men sound absurdly antiquated when that system is run, at the top, by black men (Eric Holder, let's not forget, runs the Justice Department).
But the aging race industry that continues to see the world through a half-century-old prism of Jim Crow, and still wants you to see it that way, too, is determined to bum-rush Zimmerman into his assigned role, heedless of facts or the lack of them.
Meanwhile, Obama, who promised a new conversation on race, seems happier in an election year to lend heft to the old one. He called for soul-searching — but absent a full set of facts, why does this homicide of all U.S. homicides require it?
Zimmerman may well deserve to go to jail. Or this may just be a confluence of horrible mistakes with no criminal intent whatsoever. That's what a Justice Department probe and a Florida grand jury will determine. But for the forces demanding action, that isn't good enough. Jackson, as is his wont, threatens there will be “no peace” until Zimmerman is arrested.
Others are not so patient. The New Black Panther Party has put a $10,000 bounty on Zimmerman's head. “He should be fearful for his life,” leader Mikhail Muhammad said. “You can't keep killing black children.” Spike Lee joined the digital lynch mob and tweeted what he thought was Zimmerman's home address.
Yes, absolutely, there are pockets of racism in America. But among the myriad problems with a “blame the system” narrative is that it obscures and often silences far greater problems than white-on-black racist violence.
Martin's tragic death is a statistical outlier. More whites are killed by blacks than blacks killed by whites (or “white Hispanics”). And far, far more blacks are killed by other blacks. Indeed, if we're going to use the prism of race to analyze murder rates, then the real epidemic is that of black murderers. Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute notes that recent data show black males age 14 to 24 commit homicides at a rate nearly 10 times higher than that of young white and Latino males combined. Surely that's worthy of some soul-searching, too.
And yet, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow says “the burden of black boys in America” is fear of racist assaults.
No doubt, white — and “white Hispanic” — prejudice is a problem for young black men, but the notion that it is the singular or chief “burden of black boys in America” is nonsense. Alas, the very people begging for an honest conversation on race will likely accuse you of racism for saying so.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online. You can write to him at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.