The Trayvon Martin Case: A Lesson Still to be Learned

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

For years, my father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol.

My father had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue- eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife. Once back home, he faced discrimination because neighbors thought he was Mexican; the ones who knew better discriminated because he was a Jew.

When I was 11 years old, we moved about 120 miles north to a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents bought a house in a new tract of about 150 houses, all owned by Whites and a few Hispanics. Three or four years later, a Realtor came by, plastering flyers on all the houses, announcing he had a special real good, one-time only deal. A few wouldn’t sell their houses at any price if it was a Black who was planning to move into the area. Someone in the tract finally took up the offer, and a Black family—he was a mechanical engineer—moved in. It didn’t take long before other White families began putting their houses up for sale. Only this time, they weren’t getting as much as the first family that sold out. Soon, the prices began tumbling as other Blacks and Hispanics moved in.

Eventually, the first Black family moved out. But my parents refused to sell their house. They had no intention of becoming involved with what was now known as “block busting.” A few of our Hispanic and Black neighbors wondered why we stayed; some even said we were crazy. But, until my father died in 1983, he owned that house in a neighborhood that went from almost 100 percent White to almost 100 percent Black, Hispanic, and lower-class White, refusing to be sucked in by racism.

  1. At a synagogue in Sunbury, Pa., someone painted a swastika. In New York City, unidentified individuals threw several Molotov cocktails against a rabbi’s residence. These weren’t isolated incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,239 reported incidents in 2010. (The 2011 number is still being tallied.)

Several American communities and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted oppressive anti-immigration laws. On the surface, it appears they want to rid their areas of illegal immigrants, acting only to protect law-and-order. But, the deeper structure is that they fear Hispanics, more of them legal immigrants or citizens of the U.S. than undocumented workers, will get political, educational, and financial power and would reduce the influence of the ultra-conservative White population.

At the University of California at San Diego, a fraternity of Whites sent out invitations to a “ghetto-themed” party, which it called the “Compton Cookout.” The invitation noted that “ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes.” At that same school last year, a Klan hood was placed on a statue of Dr. Seuss.

In Kentucky, two men shouting anti-gay slurs kidnapped and beat a gay man. In Tulsa, Okla., an 18-year-old was beaten unconscious by men shouting slurs.

Several firebombs were thrown at an Islamic cultural center and a Hindu house of worship in New York City. Throughout the country, local government and citizens, in defiance of the First Amendment, are trying to prohibit the building of mosques and cultural centers.

At innumerable local schools, where the teachers had “cultural diversity” classes in college and on-the-job “diversity training,” it’s not unusual to hear a few teachers telling racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes, not just among themselves in a faculty lounge but also with students. 

White supremacists shout for “White Pride!” and Black militants call for “Black Power!” Each claims they aren’t planning to destroy any other race--although myriad Klan and Skinhead actions prove otherwise--but merely to strengthen their own. Add into the mix, a few who will shout “racism” when no racism occurs and, thus, make it difficult for those with true compassion for justice to separate the truth from the fiction. Peel the rhetoric, and the core is still fear.

And that may be why the death of Trayvon Martin is so important. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., killed Martin, Feb. 26. Zimmerman acknowledges he killed Martin, but claims it was in self-defense. Under Florida’s reactionary “stand your ground” law, borne from fear rather than logic, people who feel threatened can take whatever action they think necessary, even shooting Black teenagers who are armed only with a pack of Skittles.

There are numerous versions of what happened, all of them advanced by myriad people with social and political agendas rather than a search for justice, no matter what they claim. But, fear is at the core of the rhetoric.  Mistrust and distrust, often fueled by the mass media with their own agendas, may lead some to irrationally believe that entire demographics of people—White, Black, Hispanic, gay, Jew, Muslim—may pose threats to their own safety, leading them to react as if the threats were real rather than imagined.

The reasons no longer matter to Trayvon Martin. The lesson however, should matter to the rest of us.

[Walter Brasch is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished service award. His latest book is Before the First Snow; a major theme of the book looks at issues of racism and bigotry. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers or amazon, in both hardcover and ebook formats.]

 

 

 

The Trayvon Martin Case: A Lesson Still to be Learned

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

For years, my father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol.

My father had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue- eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife. Once back home, he faced discrimination because neighbors thought he was Mexican; the ones who knew better discriminated because he was a Jew.

When I was 11 years old, we moved about 120 miles north to a suburb of Los Angeles. My parents bought a house in a new tract of about 150 houses, all owned by Whites and a few Hispanics. Three or four years later, a Realtor came by, plastering flyers on all the houses, announcing he had a special real good, one-time only deal. A few wouldn’t sell their houses at any price if it was a Black who was planning to move into the area. Someone in the tract finally took up the offer, and a Black family—he was a mechanical engineer—moved in. It didn’t take long before other White families began putting their houses up for sale. Only this time, they weren’t getting as much as the first family that sold out. Soon, the prices began tumbling as other Blacks and Hispanics moved in.

Eventually, the first Black family moved out. But my parents refused to sell their house. They had no intention of becoming involved with what was now known as “block busting.” A few of our Hispanic and Black neighbors wondered why we stayed; some even said we were crazy. But, until my father died in 1983, he owned that house in a neighborhood that went from almost 100 percent White to almost 100 percent Black, Hispanic, and lower-class White, refusing to be sucked in by racism.

  1. At a synagogue in Sunbury, Pa., someone painted a swastika. In New York City, unidentified individuals threw several Molotov cocktails against a rabbi’s residence. These weren’t isolated incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 1,239 reported incidents in 2010. (The 2011 number is still being tallied.)

Several American communities and the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah have enacted oppressive anti-immigration laws. On the surface, it appears they want to rid their areas of illegal immigrants, acting only to protect law-and-order. But, the deeper structure is that they fear Hispanics, more of them legal immigrants or citizens of the U.S. than undocumented workers, will get political, educational, and financial power and would reduce the influence of the ultra-conservative White population.

At the University of California at San Diego, a fraternity of Whites sent out invitations to a “ghetto-themed” party, which it called the “Compton Cookout.” The invitation noted that “ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes.” At that same school last year, a Klan hood was placed on a statue of Dr. Seuss.

In Kentucky, two men shouting anti-gay slurs kidnapped and beat a gay man. In Tulsa, Okla., an 18-year-old was beaten unconscious by men shouting slurs.

Several firebombs were thrown at an Islamic cultural center and a Hindu house of worship in New York City. Throughout the country, local government and citizens, in defiance of the First Amendment, are trying to prohibit the building of mosques and cultural centers.

At innumerable local schools, where the teachers had “cultural diversity” classes in college and on-the-job “diversity training,” it’s not unusual to hear a few teachers telling racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic jokes, not just among themselves in a faculty lounge but also with students. 

White supremacists shout for “White Pride!” and Black militants call for “Black Power!” Each claims they aren’t planning to destroy any other race--although myriad Klan and Skinhead actions prove otherwise--but merely to strengthen their own. Add into the mix, a few who will shout “racism” when no racism occurs and, thus, make it difficult for those with true compassion for justice to separate the truth from the fiction. Peel the rhetoric, and the core is still fear.

And that may be why the death of Trayvon Martin is so important. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Fla., killed Martin, Feb. 26. Zimmerman acknowledges he killed Martin, but claims it was in self-defense. Under Florida’s reactionary “stand your ground” law, borne from fear rather than logic, people who feel threatened can take whatever action they think necessary, even shooting Black teenagers who are armed only with a pack of Skittles.

There are numerous versions of what happened, all of them advanced by myriad people with social and political agendas rather than a search for justice, no matter what they claim. But, fear is at the core of the rhetoric.  Mistrust and distrust, often fueled by the mass media with their own agendas, may lead some to irrationally believe that entire demographics of people—White, Black, Hispanic, gay, Jew, Muslim—may pose threats to their own safety, leading them to react as if the threats were real rather than imagined.

The reasons no longer matter to Trayvon Martin. The lesson however, should matter to the rest of us.

[Walter Brasch is the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished service award. His latest book is Before the First Snow; a major theme of the book looks at issues of racism and bigotry. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers or amazon, in both hardcover and ebook formats.]

 

 

 

The Soul of the Party?

Many people have described what took place in the 23rd district of New York congressional race as an internal struggle within the Republican Party, an internal struggle for the soul of the Republican Party. I find this analogy difficult to accept and understand because how can you fight for something that doesn't exist? To say the Republicans are fighting over their soul is akin to saying the Civil War was a fight for the soul of America, while poetically it sounds good the truth is somewhat less pleasant. The Civil War was not about the soul of America, it was about the viability of a nation and its dependence on a corrupt regional power structure. What happened in New York was not about the soul of the Republican Party, it was about the viability of a national party and its reliance on a corrupt regional power base.

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Scary Isn't a Kid in a Halloween Costume

Kids in costumes can be scary -- but the greatest fear is what adults in suits have done to the nation.

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The Chilling Rise of Right-Wing Hate in America

[Originally posted on my blog, Library Grape.]

Crooks and Liars posted new details about the right-wing psychopath who gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh:

Thanks to some sleuth work on the Internet, we're starting to learn more about Richard Poplawski, the 23-year-old who killed three police officers yesterday in Pittsburgh, evidently out of fear that his guns were going to be taken away.

It appears that what police may be looking at is a budding white supremacist who frequented one of the most popular neo-Nazi websites and harbored an apocalyptic dread of the federal government...

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has some corroboration from other sources that indicates he fits this profile:

Richard Andrew "Pop" Poplawski's ex-girlfriend said he dragged her by the hair and threatened to shoot her.

He slept with a gun under his pillow in a basement room filled with firearms and ammunition, convinced that Jews controlled the media and President Obama was scheming to take away his arsenal, friends and relatives said Saturday.

"He was a violent, abusive man. He dragged me by the hair, pulling me across the floor. I saw him choke his own mother. He was controlling," said Melissa Gladish, 23, of Verona, his former girlfriend who received a protection from abuse order against him in 2005. She said she had no doubt he would kill someone.

I can't begin to tell you how frightened this makes me.  The radical right wingers that were so prevalent during the Clinton administration went dormant during the Bush years.  Now that Obama is in office, and irresponsible sociopaths like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and Rep. Michele Bachmann are recklessly stoking the fires of paranoid rightwing victimization, I fear we will face countless tragedies like what just went on in Pittsburgh.

When liberal radicals get upset, they engage in protests and damage property, like the unfocused, anti-everything nonsense you saw outside the G-20 summit.

When right wing radicals get upset, they shoot lots of people and or blow up a building with lots of people in it (see, e.g., the FBI building in Oklahoma City).

As Tim F. at Balloon Juice opines:

  How is that "orderly revolution" going, Michelle?  How about that laundry soap rebellion, Erick? This is what Glenn Beck's citizen army looks like. People like Michelle Malkin fantasize about citizens rising up against the (Democratic) state. They stoke their followers' paranoia with bullshit that, mostly, they know is bullshit, for ratings and a shot at political traction. Did they expect the American revolution?

In response to John's famous Peak Wingnut post I pointed out that political irrelevance will hardly stifle rightwing victimology but feed it like CO2, manure and sunlight.  I tend to call the relevant phenomenon `toxic victim syndrome', or TVS. The feeling that one is a powerless victim has a corrosive psychological effect. It exempts self-appointed victims from normal moral standards. It justifies (in one's own mind) an endless list of behaviors that an ordinary person would never consider.

John Cole, as usual, has a spot-on view of the situation:
And, of course, when you point out that certain individuals with all their talk about "revolution" and "armed insurrection" are inciting this kind of behavior in unstable people, you will get howls of protest about the 1st Amendment and what not. Sure, crazy people do crazy things. But that doesn't make it responsible to encourage them, which is what a lot of really foolish people are doing right now for purely political reasons.
And for a final word on the responsibility of the media, here's Andrew Sullivan:
Many of us have worried that the heated, apocalyptic rhetoric of the anti-Obama forces might spill over at some point into violence in the hands of individuals prone to lashing out. We now have what seems to be a clear instance of that and three dead police officers.  One wonders whether Fox News or the Second Amendment fanatics will chill it out a little. And then one realizes who we're talking about.

How many people have to die before the right-wing media acknowledges their complicity in these kinds of attacks and voluntarily dials back their inflammatory rhetoric and incitements to violence?

Sadly, I think it's going to take a long time for that to happen -- and a lot more innocent people are going to die in the interim.  I guess this is what "America First" means for the radical right under an Obama presidency.

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