The president’s speech and its implications

As I suggested yesterday, President Obama’s little speech about the Trayvon Martin matter seemed to have two purposes. First, he wanted to explain to whites why so many blacks are up in arms about a jury decision that most whites believe was correct (and that Obama himself apparently finds no fault with). Second, he wanted to assure blacks that he shares their pain, while preparing them for the prospect of federal inaction against George Zimmerman.

Both of these purposes seem marginally worthwhile to me. However, in serving them, Obama put plenty of stuff out there, much of which has interesting implications that he may or may not have considered. During the next few days, I plan to write about some of these implications.

Let’s start with the implications of Obama’s discussion of how African-Americans are scarred by their nearly universal experiences of being profiled and receiving adverse reactions from whites as they go about their everyday business. A very perceptive friend, who has studied racial disparities for decades, writes:

[O]ne implication is that persons who have the experience of being profiled in the manner described by Obama cannot fairly evaluate a self-defense claim in a case like [Zimmerman’s]. . . .

But it also is a reason why Trayvon Martin would have reason to believe that he was being followed because he was suspected of being a criminal, rather than [because] he was being targeted by some predator. [In this scenario] he had little reason to fear for his safety but did have reason to be resentful, all supporting Zimmerman’s account.

I suspect that most white people now are rather more apprehensive when they pass young black men on dark streets because they have reason to believe that the black man is harboring more resentment against whites than [they believed] he did a week ago.

This, indeed, would be a logical conclusion for whites to draw from Obama’s speech.

My friend also argues that many law abiding black males are deeply resentful of the young blacks whose conduct produces the tendency to profile blacks as a class. Thus, there’s a twist to Obama’s thought experiment about how the Martin-Zimmerman confrontation might have played out in different racial circumstances.

On this issue of switching the races and imagining what would have occurred, it seems to me that being overlooked is whether in a situation where the neighborhood watch person had been a black man (while TM also was black) the role of TM’s race would have been any less influence than it had for GZ.

Any anger, and any racial element in the anger, would probably have been greater. For many law abiding black men are very resentful of the conduct of young black men that causes all blacks to be profiled.

The soundest study I have seen so far attempting to sort out race from conduct in analyzing racial differences in [public school] discipline rates seems to attribute the largest [differences] to the rigorous discipline practices of black male teachers.

President Obama was right in saying yesterday that “when politicians try to organize conversations they end up being stilted and politicized.” Obama’s talk wasn’t stilted, but it was politicized (see the first paragraph above) and dumbed down.

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