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Is White America Capable of Empathy?

Updated on January 18, 2014

I hate celebrity trials. I loathe the wall-to-wall Nancy Grace-style coverage, and universal tunnel-vision that emerges in the media. The sudden explosion of folks with law degrees in the break-room and on facebook. The misplaced pop-culture passion & investment which suddenly evaporates post-verdict...

Personally, I try to avoid the darned things - just tell me the verdict and salient points, skip the gory details.

The case of Trayvon Martin was in the news long before the arrest and trial of George Zimmerman. The six weeks that passed between the time of Martin's death and Zimmerman's arrest was the onus of the coverage (or lack thereof). After all, young black men die in the streets at a far-too-alarming rate for the death of a single, (previously) anonymous teen to turn many heads. The only reason that any of us have ever even heard of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is based solely upon the (in)actions of our law-enforcement system.

Post-verdict, the same can be said of our justice and legislative systems.

Emmett Till
Emmett Till | Source
Dred Scott
Dred Scott | Source
Kenneth Chamberlain
Kenneth Chamberlain | Source

For the people lifting their voices in righteous indignation, and those too resigned to the inevitability with bowed heads - this is about far more than just Trayvon Martin, (George Zimmerman), Tracy Martin, & Sabrina Fulton. This is about more than Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Kenneth Chamberlain, Patrick Dorismond, Chavis Carter, Ramarley Graham, Ervin Jefferson, Johnny Gammage, Kimani Gray, Yusef Hawkins, Charles Hill, Eleanor Bumpurs, Kenneth Harding, James Byrd Jr, Timothy Stansbury Jr., Danroy Henry, Kendrec McDade, Latasha Harlins. Sherrise Iverson, Marissa Alexander, Troy Davis, Bobby Hutton, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Emmett Till...

This is about a society and nation that has perpetually and institutionally failed the black community.

Just consider the US Constitution; "other persons" = 3/5! We fought a Civil War over the the right of whites to own blacks as pets and personal property! Dred Scott. Plessy. Jim Crow, whites only, segregation, KKK, lynchings, burning crosses, fire hoses, church bombings. James Crow Esquire III, Drug War, mandatory minimums, three strikes, stop & frisk, racial profiling, school-choice, predatory lending, suppressive voter laws...

Gains have been made to be sure, and have been paid for with blood, sweat and tears - Brown v Board, Loving v Virginia, 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act (ahem)...

Yes, the VRA, and our Supreme Court's recent gutting of Section 5 therein - the highest court in the land veritably declaring the extinction of racism in American society.

In America... where birthers, "food stamp president", and the "urban vote" with their "gifts" - have replaced the jezebel, the welfare queen, the strapping young buck, Willie Horton - 51% of whites and only 9% of blacks approve of the verdict.

Oscar Grant action
Oscar Grant action | Source
1. Life expectancy
2. US population
3. Prison population
4. Death row population
5. Executed since 1976
6. NYC population
7. Stopped & Frisked
8. 2009-2010 Doctorate's
9. 2009-2010 Associate's
10. College professors
11. Unemployment rate
12. Household income
13. Household wealth
14. Home ownership
15. Home value
16. Businesses owned
17. 500+ employee businesses
18. Fortune 500 CEOs
19. US Senators
20. US Presidents

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5 ) (6,7) (8,9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16,17) (18) (19)

Medgar Evers statue
Medgar Evers statue | Source
NC Moral Mondays
NC Moral Mondays | Source

The plight of black America is a long story involving hundreds of years of mistreatment. What the Zimmerman verdict shows, is the inability of many anglo-Americans to experience a little thing we call empathy. You don't have to be black experience at least a small fraction of the affects - just go to a restaurant or retail store with a few black friends, and notice the decreased level of customer service. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but the numbers above paint a pretty clear picture.

There may be an insidious vein out there, that simply believes blacks are mentally inferior or particularly violent and sexualized. Those people likely wouldn't have made it this far into the conversation...

Poverty. Whites have a 300+ year head start in accumulation of wealth. Most wealth is passed down in the form of real estate, and blacks weren't able to own property for much of our history. Property values are (ridiculously) diminished by the mere presence of blacks, who happen to have resources to live there. It takes a job to afford a house of course, and blacks are disproportionally unemployed. It's tough to get a job without an education of course, and blacks earn far fewer degrees in US colleges with few minority faculty. A white felon is still as likely as a black man to be hired - good-ole boy at work, and in the course of lean times nativism is ramped up to new levels.

Jailing. We've allowed the privatization of prisons, which in turn contribute to think tanks and politicians who author and pass legislation which ensures that the beds in prisons will be filled, and that resources for inmates will be seemingly nonexistent. We've shunned rehabilitation in favor of isolation and institutionalism. We've cut access to education in prisons, we shame inmates. Recidivism simply means repeat customers to the prison industrial complex.

We've utilized the War on Drugs as a tool to propagate the mass-incarceration of black men, who use and sell drugs at commensurate rates to whites. Blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, representing 37% arrested for overall drug use, and 59% in state prisons for drug offenses (which shows the racial disparity in sentencing). In 1980, 40,000 Americans were locked up for drug offenses, compared to 500,000 in 2012.

We're Number 1! In caging our own people. The US represents 5% of the world's populations, yet 25% of the incarcerated. And we get people in the system as soon as possible, thus our school to prison pipeline -
"Nationwide, African-Americans represent 15% of the population, 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons."

Black on black crime. Every ethnicity (but Native Americans) are victims of crimes committed by their own race at a far higher rate than the rate of interracial perpetrators. This is not at all unique to the black community . Straw-man.

We seed fear in, and of blacks in general. Indeed, some of this may be ingrained in the subconscious - but we are not born with inherent animus toward particular people, we (at least some) are conditioned to be that way. In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, every conservative media outlet was predicting mass race-riots across the country - profiling the entire black community the same way Zimmerman had done to Trayvon Martin that fateful night in February.

So this goes out to all of the ignoracists who don't see themselves as prejudiced, who may have black friends at work and might hold the door open for elderly black folk - the height of white privilege is to be ignorant of the institutional inequity inherent in America, to conveniently forget about hundreds of years oppression and suppression that persists today with thinly-veiled and seemingly-innocuous policy and practice.

Edmund Pettus Bridge - Bloody Sunday
Edmund Pettus Bridge - Bloody Sunday | Source

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