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Monday
Aug262013

Kathleen Parker Misses the Point on President's Comments About Race

I read Kathleen Parker, and I don't typically agree with the conservative columnist but usually I find her articles well-written and measured. But her most recent column, where she all but calls President Obama a race-baiter for saying if he had a son he'd look like slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin was, by far, the most offensive and misguided column I'd read about race relations in America by a mainstream columnist in years. Dripping with obtuseness, Parker alludes that racial profiling is all about just not dressing appropriately and that there would "riots" if white teens killed a black man akin to the Chris Lane murder (in which one of the killers actually was a white teen). 

From The Washington Post, here's what Parker wrote:

Obama went even further after the Zimmerman verdict, expressing his identification not as leader of a racially diverse nation — or as the son of a white mother — but as a black man who remembers women clutching their purses tighter when he entered an elevator and being followed in department stores. All because he was black?

Even today, I am followed when I go to the second floor of a boutique in Georgetown. Apparently, store policy requires that an attendant be upstairs when a shopper is. The way department store clerks follow me around, you’d think my face was plastered on a “Wanted for Shoplifting” poster. This is especially so if I’m dressed like a slob.

Then there was this bit of false equivalency.

Hard to say with any certainty, though one of those charged in the Oklahoma shooting apparently tweeted some messages this summer that unmistakenly convey racial animus toward whites. They might be dismissed as Twitter nonsense — but for the dead body.

We do know this much for certain: Had the races been reversed, the usual suspects would have had much to say. White teens beat up an elderly black veteran and leave him for dead? White teens shoot a talented black athlete visiting from another country?

Riots.

I make these observations not to exacerbate a problem but in the hope that we can stop this craziness before things escalate. The conversation-about-race that pundits keep insisting we need to have should end where it began. Maybe in his remarks on the 50th anniversary of the greatest peaceful demonstration in history, Obama can remind Americans that if we had sons and fathers, they’d look like Christopher Lane and Delbert Belton as well as Trayvon Martin.

Victim in chief is no role for a president.

It's a common trope for conservatives that when black people -- and in this case the back person is President of the United States -- to say that all this racism only exists in the mind of the person who dared to bring it up. Then the person is accused of crying victim, as if there are no victims when racism is present and prevalent in our society. But the most dangerous thing is that in Parker's imagination, just talking about race and racism could potentially lead to "craziness" that could potentially "escalate."

Escalate into what?

In America's history of interracial violence African Americans have always had more to fear from the tyranny of the majority than the other way around. It's not like white Americans have a history of injustice in the justice system. Unlike in the case with Trayvon Martin where George Zimmerman was only arrested after it became a national story (which took a while to happen in itself) and Civil Rights activists started showing up in Florida, the teens involved in the killing of Chris Lane were immediately arrested, the case was immediately in the news and justice will likely be swift and in favor of the victim. Even historically, if the Chris Lane murder had happened in 1963 instead of 2013 the result would have been a lynch mob and swift, vigilante justice, compared to what happened to Martin, which would have had the exact same result no matter the decade. Historically, whites murdering black people has not been a crime many white people have been punished for, but black people actually going to trial instead of getting murdered by vigilantes is a new thing since the 1960s.

(Ah, the simpler 1960s, where allegedly whistling at a white woman was a death sentence. This compared to today where you'll find people arguing that being black while wearing a hoodie is a murder-able offense.)

As for fears of "riots," there has not been a substantial "race riot" of any kind since the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King police brutality verdict more than twenty years ago. There's more likely to be a riot after a sporting event in this country than a court case.

Parker's obtuseness is one she can afford to have. It won't affect her one way or another as due to her race she has the choice to not think about race unless she feels like it. Therefore when she does think about it, she has the option to think these serious issues as imagined slights she challenges with dangerously naive, simplistic and sophistic arguments. 

This country still has a long way to go to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of equality for all Americans. And one of the main problems is our justice system that still operates under the scheme of "justice for some," something even Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged via his examination of our drug sentencing laws and the various discrepancies when it comes to race. But to look at something as complex as our prison industrial complex and how it breaks down according to race is too complex of an issue for Parker who would likely reduce everything to "black people commit more crimes, therefore more go to prison" instead of noting that the race of the defendant often affects the length of the sentencing, or in some cases whether or not there is sentencing at all. 

But from her perch, Parker can wave her hand and proclaim "victim-in-chief" and negate the real issue. Race in America still matters -- whether you want it to or not.

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