It must seem incomprehensible to many at this point that anyone would still publicly defend admitted killer George Zimmerman – with the possible exception of Zimmerman’s family and his Black Friend/Acquaintance™, Joe Oliver. Even those defenses seem much more understandable than the rush of voices from the political Right that have not only sought to justify Zimmerman’s actions, but to also shame and shift blame onto his shooting victim, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Geraldo Rivera’s “hoodie” comments prompted him to apologize (for real this time) on-air today to Trayvon’s parents, but not everyone on the Right has been so regretful. Now, true enough, the legal aspects of the case – especially Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which then-governor Jeb Bush signed with the blessing of the NRA, and behind which Zimmerman is hiding – makes Trayvon’s case a political story. The racial stereotypes that perhaps led to Trayvon’s death and have been raised by those calling for Zimmerman’s arrest (he’s been free for all 36 days since the shooting) – that also makes it political. Even the involvement of certain leaders makes it so.
Sexual politics are a part of this, too, apparently. I came across an anti-abortion post today decrying the focus on Trayvon’s case, for fear we ignore the “killing of (unborn) black babies.” Another conservative Trayvon-related meme that the Right is disguising as concern-trolling is succinctly summed up as, “Why don’t black people protest black-on-black crime, too?” (Though he shouldn’t have had to do so, Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates disposed of that today with several examples of just that.)
But as Alex Pareene notes in Salon today, what really changed things was President Obama speaking up on March 23. If you believe folks like Newt Gingrich, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” is a racially divisive statement. If you believe Zimmerman’s dad, that’s a statement of hatred. Calling out everyone from Tucker Carlson to Peggy Noonan to libertarians at Reason Magazine, Pareene gives a number of reasons why the Right has gone there, so to speak.
The top three:
- The conservative movement denies the existence (or prevalence or impact) of racism.
- The president is extremely polarizing.
- The killing was already political.
From reason number 1:
As Elspeth Reeve pointed out in a sharp piece for the Atlantic Wire, the Trayvon Martin case posed something of a problem: No one was accusing anyone other than George Zimmerman of racism. There wasn’t an obvious political partisan advantage to raising awareness of Martin’s death. But some right-wingers find any acknowledgment of racism by liberals to be blood libel against all conservatives. And so … they began defending George Zimmerman’s honor, and smearing Trayvon Martin…
The “highbrow” version of this barrel-scraping garbage is, say, Jonah Goldberg’s ponderous column and blog post on how middle-class blacks don’t understand that white racism is no longer a problem in black communities.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend that you read Jamelle Bouie’s remarkable counter-argument to that Goldberg post in the American Prospect. And though I touched on reasons 2 and 3, you should read the rest of Pareene’s post today – including the fourth and final reason why he thinks the Right may be doing this:
Of course at the root of the most noxious material from the far right is simple racism — the sincere belief that if a black kid got shot, he probably had it coming.
Melissa led off Saturday’s show with a discussion about what theGrio’s managing editor Joy-Ann Reid called the “culture war” surrounding Trayvon’s death. Please take a look at the discussion, which also involved political science professor Frances Fox Piven and author, blogger and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti.