Racial defeatism and the Trayvon Martin case

Despite popular opinion, the Treyvon Martin case was not decided on race, but on its legal merits. Photo: AP

FORT SMITH, Ark., July 16, 2013 ― Immediately after the verdict in the case of Trayvon Martin was announced, people took to their social networks to express either outrage or pleasure with the decision.

Many people who logged into Facebook saw a flood of opinion on the case; as one popular image wryly observed, 60 million Americans suddenly earned their law degrees Saturday night. One user, a politically active black-Hispanic woman, made several comments that conveyed her lack of trust in society, a sense conveyed by many others. She indicated that she was canceling her vacation to Florida over the ordeal because she “can’t take my children somewhere even I don’t feel safe.” She also wrote that she “cried as I spoke to my kids about the verdict.”

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Her comments were histrionic and made in the heat of the moment, but the sentiment in them is, sadly, not rare. And it exists as an undercurrent of public thought even out of the heat of the moment.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a commentator employed by MSNBC, took to her show to say, “I live in a country that makes me wish my sons away, wish that they don’t exist, because it’s not safe.”

People forget that, contrary to predominant leftist opinion, the Trayvon Martin case had little to do with race, and it was ultimately decided on its legal merits. Yet, the lie is constantly fed and continues to grow. The cynic might even be inclined to outright accuse some liberal media outlets of promoting a race war for ratings.

This brand of racial defeatism is execrable. It perpetuates the sense among minorities that the white man is out to get them and there is nothing that they can do about it. It indoctrinates them into a feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, precisely the opposite of its intended effect. It is not healthy, and it actually prevents positive change from being brought about.

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Numerous studies have shown that this sense of defeatism has a strong correlation with minority test scores. Most psychologists concur about the “stereotype threat” and the self-fulfilling prophecy that it creates. It has also been shown to place a major burden of stress on minority students.

The undiscussed truth is that the bar is set too low for black Americans. We justify it by saying that all black people have likely faced hardship of some kind. But many white people face hardship, too, if not systematically, and they do not have recourse to affirmative action in educational and hiring practices. People frequently wind up fulfilling popular stereotypes, and that is why proper media coverage — which America is not getting — is essential to solving the problems of minorities.

Does this stance inherently make one a bigot or a racist? No.

Real equality, the kind that emphasizes personal responsibility, sets the same general standards for everyone, regardless of race and other factors. It gives people a helping hand because they need it, regardless of race. And that is the trait that America has lost. Americans have been taught to divvy up expectations according to many stereotypical factors that are not based much in reality.

America must stop labeling its people so freely, so that it might fix the problems that divide it in the first place.


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Matthew Olson

Matthew Olson is a journalist in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His primary interests are theology, Church history, and ecumenism. He enjoys the thrill of politics, and always seeks to enlighten politics with Catholic principles. He writes for The Washington Times, Ignitum Today, and other outlets.


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