Fifty Years Now

Fifty years is a long time. Fifty years ago, in 1963, Liz Taylor was relatively young and sleek, and she was Cleopatra in that movie that broke the back of Twentieth Century Fox – they had to sell off a lot of assets just to survive – but Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant had a fine time in Paris playing witty and dangerous charades, and Hitchcock made everyone very afraid of birds. None of this was very revolutionary. The sixties that we all think we know hadn’t even begun. In early June that year the Rolling Stones released their first single in the UK – a cover version of the Chuck Berry’s “Come On” that didn’t even make the top ten over there – and on August 3, 1963, the Beatles performed at the Cavern Club in Liverpool for the final time. They were still obscure. Others weren’t. Later that month, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and Marian Anderson popped up in Washington. They performed at the big event. That was August 28 – Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of at least a quarter million people, to cap off that March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – and his speech was carried on national television too.

That was a big deal, the one speech in American history that actually changed hearts and minds, and that may be when the sixties actually began. The country was changing, or something had changed. The next year the Civil Rights Act passed, finally, and the year after that the Voting Rights Act passed. We were on our way. King was assassinated a few years later, but that couldn’t stop the momentum. King eventually got his own national holiday and now we have a black president – who gave his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver on the exact anniversary of the King speech. That was only fitting.

That’s something to think about. Fifty years ago, this month, something important happened, and that calls for some serious reflection. On this week’s Meet the Press, NBC will air their original 1963 interview with King, and MSNBC, their cable operation which caters to progressives, is devoting endless hours to what it all meant, with their own Al Sharpton part of this year’s commemorative march on Washington. This Week and Face the Nation will also be about little else – unless we invade Syria or something. CNN is all over this too, with their perfunctory brief discussions of what has changed in these fifty years, and what hasn’t. The History Channel will do its thing of course, and the Travel Channel will no doubt visit various civil rights museums. The odd man out here is Fox News. The anniversary of the King speech will get some play, but only as an artifact of ancient history, as something that happened long ago but doesn’t much matter now, as we’ve moved on and the issues King raised have been resolved. Their general position seems to be that racism is over in America. The election of Barack Obama proved that, and anyone who talks about race now is stirring a pot that doesn’t need stirring. Anyone who even brings up the topic of race is the real racist, you see. There’s no point in even talking about such things. We’d all be better off if there were no troublemakers. Fox News will be treating the original event as a curiosity. Perhaps they’ll mention the day is also the birthday of Leo Tolstoy, for what that’s worth.

It’s easy enough to follow their reasoning. After all, that Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of those curiosities, with the Supreme Court this June saying that old thing might have been a good idea, at the time, but now that fusty old thing is just quaint, and it has to go. That may not be so, as from North Carolina to Texas to Florida, now, a whole lot of minority folks, and the young, are going to find it damned hard to ever vote again, what with all the checks on voter suppression lifted – but everyone on the right says that’s not about race at all. It’s just being careful and precise, so no one cheats. Few believe that, even they don’t believe that, but they lost the black vote, and the Hispanic vote, and they lost women and the young and the urban vote, so they have to do something, and they can, so they are doing this. It’ll do, and Rand Paul keeps saying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was stupid too – people should do the right thing on their own. The government really had no business telling anyone how to run their business in the first place – so presumably he’d be okay with segregated lunch counters coming back. He’d be sad if that happened, but it’s a free country, or ought to be – and that has nothing to do with race. He’s deeply offended that anyone would think that. This has to do with freedom from big government.

In short, don’t talk about race. They’re not talking about race. You’re just being a troublemaker, even if the net effect of what they’re saying takes all of us back to Birmingham, down in Alabama, back in the late fifties, and it gets even odder:

Pat Robertson today, while discussing the shooting of an Australian baseball player in Oklahoma by three teenagers, two of them black and one white, accused President Obama of inciting anti-white violence. The 700 Club host said, “We are having a tremendous amount of this black-on-white violence and I have a feeling that instead of bringing racial harmony, having an African-American president has exacerbated the problem.”

“He seems to be wanting to bring division among people instead of bringing them together; he is one of the most divisive leaders this country has ever had,” Robertson continued. “It just seems he wants to rub the edges raw every chance he gets.” Robertson argued that Obama is trying to divide people by race and class: “There’s always something there to stir up controversy.”

That’s the word from this man of God. Whites aren’t safe anymore. Every single day it’s black-on-white violence, everywhere, and it’s Obama’s fault, or something else is going on, as Peter Finocchiaro explains:

Australian baseball player Christopher Lane was gunned down last week while out on a jog in Duncan, Okla., where he had been visiting his girlfriend. Three local teenagers have been arrested. James Edwards, 15, and Chancey Luna, 16, were charged with first-degree murder. Michael Jones, 17, was accused of being an accessory to first-degree murder.

According to police, Jones made a detailed confession explaining the motive. “We were bored and didn’t have anything to do, so we decided to kill somebody,” the teen reportedly said.

Police have not ascribed any racial motive to the killing. Two of the alleged perpetrators, Edwards and Luna, are black. Jones is white.

That hasn’t stopped a slew of conservative commentators from insisting that race was an important factor in the shooting. The same voices insist the media is guilty of a massive double-standard – one that traces back to coverage of teen Trayvon Martin’s shooting death in Florida at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer.

All this talk about the King speech fifty years ago is dangerous, after that business with Trayvon Martin:

Rush Limbaugh used his radio show Wednesday to insist that Lane’s killing was “Trayvon Martin in reverse.” Limbaugh insisted that the “mainstream media’s” failure to cover the racial dimensions of the crime was clear evidence of complicity in “the destruction of American culture and society.” He said one of the accused shooters “worships rappers” and celebrates “thug culture.”

A similar message was put forward by Fox News, with more embarrassing results. On Wednesday morning, “Fox & Friends” falsely reported that all three of the suspects were black, during a segment in which host Steve Doocy, like Limbaugh, brought up Trayvon Martin.

The Daily Caller made the same factual error, and compounded it by showing what it claimed to be photos of each of the suspects. The person identified by the website as Michael Jones, who is white, was a black man entirely uninvolved to the shooting.

Oops. This is getting strange. Racism is over, or would be, if everyone hadn’t been all over George Zimmerman for shooting the black kid dead?

It’s something like that:

Present in each of these breathless rebukes is the same central idea – that the media’s alleged refusal to make race a central issue in the killing of Lane amounts to an abrupt shift in crime coverage less than a month after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, who was black.

Mediaite’s Noah Rothman elaborated on this argument on Wednesday: “A media that arguably fostered the creation of a racial angle in the killing of Trayvon Martin … has contorted itself in tortured ways to avoid describing the suspects in Lane’s murder.”

Ah! No one should have ever talked about that in the first place, but Finocchiaro notes that it’s more complicated than that:

As the Poynter Institute’s Eric Deggans pointed out in February, early reports on the Trayvon Martin shooting omitted the races of both Martin and Zimmerman. The Orlando Sentinel published its first article about the Feb. 26 shooting the very next day, according to Poynter, but described shooter and victim simply as “two men.”

It wasn’t until nearly two weeks later that Martin was identified as African American by CBS News, Reuters and The Huffington Post. By that point, Martin’s family was already raising questions about the role of race in the shooting.

Which brings up an important point: There is no hard rule dictating how journalists report matters of race. However, the idea of “relevancy” generally applies.

Yes, but one side says it’s never relevant, or hasn’t been since 1963 or so, which drives Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, a bit up the wall:

If you have any profile on the web and thought there was any problem with the Martin killing, you’ve probably been inundated with a lot of emails or tweets or whatever jagging about the “double standard” when the same thing happens and the races are reversed. And it’s always a bit of a challenge to distinguish the people who simply are lazy or dimwitted and haven’t considered the pretty obvious difference in the case that led to the media uproar in the Martin case and the majority of people searching for the “anti-Trayvon” and hankering for evidence of the increasing struggle of white people to get a fair shake in America.

Stepping back from the projectile vomit of ignorant nonsense about this tragic murder, the response to it is part and parcel of the mass of writing on the right about the growing tide of black “mobs” killing white people. Read World Net Daily and you’ll find virtually every other issue has a Birth of a Nation-like story along these lines…

There is reality:

Young black men commit murders in this country at a vastly disproportionate rate to young white men. But murder victims of both races are overwhelming killed by members of their own race. 86% of white murder victims were killed by other whites and 94% of blacks were killed by blacks, from 1976 to 2005, a period that includes the highest murder rate era of the late 20th century. The differential today is likely lower since as murder rates have declined to historic levels over the last 20 years, the fall has been particularly sharp among black men – a small data point that among other things lends some additional credence to the theory that lead poisoning was a significant driver of crime rates in the late 20th century.

This is the part where this kind of article falls back to say, well, race is complicated. It’s not as simple as it was in the old days. But actually, it’s still not that complicated. This whole episode amounts to little more than another plea from the subsection of aggrieved white Americans who still crave both social dominance and to sit at the front of the racial victimization bus.

Heck, you can go the other way, and Gawker does, riffing on the recent surfer riot out here in Huntington Beach:

A frightening and violent mob swept through the normally quiet seaside community of Huntington Beach last night following a surfing competition in the area. Businesses were vandalized and looted, portable toilets overturned, and brutal fistfights waged right out in the open. It was an ugly display and a sad day for California. But more than that, it was a reminder that we must begin to seriously consider the values of our thuggish white youth.

Many people don’t want to hear this kind of tough love, of course. They’d like to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that all white children are as sweet and harmless as Taylor Swift.

Two can play at this game:

White-on-white violence is a menace to white communities across the country, and yet you never hear white leaders like Pastor Joel Osteen, Bill O’Reilly, or Hillary Clinton taking a firm stance against the scourge.

More important than white politicians are the white parents. I’d like to ask the caregivers of the children in these videos what they’ve been doing. When did so many white parents fall asleep at the wheel? You can complain about poor schools all you’d like, but the fact of the matter is that it’s the parents of these children who are letting them leave the house looking like slobs in their baggy board shorts and Hollister t-shirts. It’s the parents of these kids who are letting them listen to violent, self-destructive trash like “Anarchy in the UK” or “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” – performed loudly by noted conservative rocker Johnny Ramone.

As I said, I know a lot of whites don’t want to hear this kind of tough talk. But as an American of color who considers himself an ally to the white community, I’m just tired of seeing young, belligerent white people disgrace themselves year after year at surfing events, horse racing infields, and Ivy League campuses. Whites in America have been out from under their European ancestors’ boot heels for centuries; California specifically outlawed preferences for nonwhites in state hiring and education nearly two decades ago. So being “oppressed” is no longer an excuse for behavior like this. How long must we wait for the white community to get its act together?

That’s amusing, or it isn’t, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice blog is not amused:

The angry right approves of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The angry right doesn’t wish Martin were alive today. We know angry right-wingers don’t think it was an outrage, but they don’t think it was a horrible misunderstanding that led to tragedy, either. They interpret everything piece of evidence about Martin in the worst possible light, to portray him as a thug-in-development. They absolutely believe he was on the verge of killing George Zimmerman before Zimmerman killed him. …

Few right-wingers will say it outright, but the angry-right-wing message on race seems to be that black people are incorrigible – shiftless, dependent, and violence-prone. The exceptions to this are the ones who’ve gone Republican; the rest can’t be salvaged. It’s basically the angry right’s message about Muslims. It’s an ugly message, but if it rallies the troops, it’s the message the right is going to go with.

Salon’s Brian Beutler is just tired of the nonsense this has generated:

So let’s review: George Zimmerman wouldn’t have shot Trayvon Martin if he hadn’t been profiling by race. And even if he had been, the shooting feasibly wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been legally allowed to carry a handgun and didn’t think he was empowered by law to take matters into his own hands. The monstrous killing of Chris Lane has no such back story. The killers apparently had no motive whatsoever, were armed illegally, and certainly weren’t trailing Lane because they believed, based on his race, that he might be a criminal. They are, however, likely to face serious prison time for their crimes. Zimmerman walked.

Put that all together, and it turns out these stories aren’t counter-parallel at all. And more to the point, the events don’t even anecdotally augur for policies the right supports. The kids in Oklahoma weren’t “standing their ground,” and a “stand your ground” law wouldn’t have saved Chris Lane. Neither would a stop-and-frisk regime – the killers were trailing him in a car. By contrast, a “stand your ground” environment and a stop-and-frisk mentality were instrumental in Trayvon Martin’s death. Take either away, and there’s a good chance he’d be alive today. Martin in fact personified the statistical folly of stop-and-frisk. If Zimmerman had yielded to real police, they would have, in absence of any suspicious behavior, stopped Martin, frisked him and found only the skittles and iced tea that made his death that much more tragically poignant.

A lot of the policy preferences on the right get people killed:

What might well have stopped both killings, though, is making it harder for people, legally or illegally, to come into possession of handguns. That’s a conversation the right is less obsessed with.

Nope, they’re not obsessed with that. They’re obsessed with how all the black folks who aren’t totally useless are murderous thugs out to kill them all, and with how no one should talk about race, because even talking about race is in itself deeply racist, and makes all those murderous thugs even more murderous. That’s why, this year, on the fiftieth anniversary of the King speech, about his dream, they’ll say nothing much should be said about that. It’s ancient history, and should stay that way – but he really didn’t mean to frighten anyone.

King didn’t frighten anyone. He wasn’t some bomb-throwing radical, and he was about the farthest thing from a thug anyone could imagine. He just suggested a far better way to arrange things. The speech was all about justice and fairness and even restraint, and about basic decency. Most everyone found that reasonable and the nation changed, because of him, and it changed for the better. It just takes some folks a bit longer than others to feel comfortable with the change. But fifty years is really pushing it.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Fifty Years Now

  1. Rick says:

    Stephen Colbert’s quintessentially conservative character does this whole bit — which is uniquely clever, although I must admit, it got old with me a long time ago — in which he pretends, especially when he’s interviewing a black person, not to “see race”. He’s always saying something like, “Am I white? I don’t know. I’m told I’m white, so I must be.”

    It actually is a subtle little slap at the disingenuousness of conservatism, an ideology that practically invented racial discrimination but now pretends to be totally color-blind in all its dealings involving “people of the negro persuasion.” It’s unclear whether this attitude is something they are supposed to have picked up from liberals, or whether it’s just supposed to be an objective view that they held all along, which would support the argument that goes, “it’s not we on the right who are the racists — we don’t even see race — it’s you liberals who are the real racists, because you see racism everywhere you look!”

    It’s insidious, and in its own way, absolutely brilliant. Someone should ask Colbert to explain its twisted logic; I’m sure he could do it better justice than I.

    And I swear I’m not doing a Colbert here when I say this, but until you mentioned it, I didn’t see any parallels whatsoever between the Trayvon and the Australian ball-player shootings. I suppose the reason those people over on the right do see the comparison is that, despite their claims to the contrary, all those people on the right ever see is race, everywhere they look.


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