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There is a “liberals are hypocrites” post that is going viral among right-wing zealots on facebook, with thousands of shares and hundreds of comments on some of them, in which a news story about two African Americans who committed a violent crime against a white is, once again, proffered as proof that 1) George Zimmerman was right to pursue and shoot Trayvon Martin, 2) “Stand Your Ground” laws are good and necessary, 3) those who oppose them are trying to turn good, law-abiding (i.e., “white”) folks into unarmed innocent victims of bad, law-breaking (i.e., “black”) folks, and 4) Liberals are hypocrites because we aren’t concerned enough about black-on-white violence.

My following response, which is an expression of sheer disgust at continuing to see this ugly bigotry repeated over and over again, apparently resonating with far too many people, only addresses the first three of these issues. (The fourth can be summed up as follows: There is virtually no one defending black-on-white violence, and no laws bringing into question whether some incidents of it –or, more precisely, acts of violence by those you DON’T identify with against those you DO identify with– can be prosecuted or not. The reason the white-on-black violence of the Trayvon Martin shooting is a larger issue is because there are people defending it as a non-issue and advocating laws that make it more likely to occur more often.)

The news story (about an incident of black-on-white violence), used in this way, highlights the fundamental difference between almost all variations of right-wing ideology and almost all variations of left-wing ideology: The former is firmly rooted in fear and hatred, while the latter aspires to hope and humanity. Those on the right scoff that those on the left would be so naive, though, in reality, hope and humanity is not only a more positive orientation, but, when leavened with reason and information, is also more pragmatic, better serves one’s own self-interest, than the fear and hatred that informs those on the right. (See, for instance, Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems, for one reason why this is so.)

Those on the far-right are blithely indifferent to the death of an unarmed black teen at the hands of an armed white vigilante, because the armed white vigilante, in their mind, had every right to defend himself against any and all potential or perceived dangers, while the unarmed black teen lacked even the right to life, as long as it is one of them rather than the government that deprives him of it. One rationalization that is used is the presumption of guilt laid on the teen due to the possibility that he reacted violently to being pursued, something that these ideologues should respect rather than condemn, if we each have a right to protect ourselves against perceived threats! Ironically, however, they only defend the armed pursuer’s right to “defend” himself, and not the unarmed pursued’s right to do so!

If these right-wing ideologues had any integrity, any consistency, were anything other than implicitly racist hypocrits, they would not point to the possibility that Martin was beating Zimmerman before he (Martin) was shot as justification for the shooting, but rather with approval that Martin was defending himself against the armed individual pursuing him! Why aren’t they chanting that it’s a shame Martin didn’t kill Zimmerman before Zimmerman killed Martin, since it was Zimmerman who was the armed pursuer, and Martin who was the unarmed pursued?

But, of course, that’s not the way their little minds work, because it’s all about who they identify with, and who they identify as their implicit enemy. The armed vigilante is LIKE THEM, and that’s all that counts. The unarmed victim is THE OTHER that they fear and hate, and so his innocence, the fact that he had his life taken away unjustly, is just no big deal. They excuse the armed pursuer, because they identify with him (racially, and ideologically as an armed pursuer of someone he thought was a criminal); they implicitly condemn the unarmed teen to a death sentence without a trial because they don’t identify with him (racially, and as someone who someone like them was inclined to suspect of being up to no good). It’s the very nature of their way of thinking, and the reason why it should be odious to all rational people of goodwill.

What an amazingly convoluted ideology it is that does such contortions to be indignant that anyone would raise any objections to an armed pursuer shooting to death an unarmed teen apparently doing absolutely nothing illegal at the time the pursuit began, but spares no indignation whatsoever on behalf of the unarmed teen who was shot to death! The imagined threat to Zimmerman, who was both the pursuer and the wielder of deadly force in this instance, is more salient to them than the real danger to Martin, who was the pursued and unarmed victim of a shooting death!

What gets me most about this is what it indicates about how far we’ve sunk as a nation. This isn’t just a fringe ideology that a few grease-painted jack-asses adhere to. This has become a mainstream ideology, a cult of implicit violence and hatred justified by fear and generalized enmity.

It goes beyond the rationalization of offensive deadly violence by an armed pursuer against an unarmed victim, justified only by the pursuers “reasonable” fear of crime in general (!), essentially legalizing paranoid racist violence. It goes beyond conveniently targeting those “scary blacks” (as the news story used to stoke the right-wing indignation so poignantly illustrates) whose crimes justify Zimmerman acting as police, judge, jury, and executioner at the sight of a black kid in his neighborhood. It even goes beyond their assertion that there is no racism in America, that their now oft-invoked fear and hatred of those blacks who have not proven that they are not a threat isn’t racism at all, but rather merely the rational response to the “racism” of those who think that laws that facilitate killing unarmed black teens due to a generalized fear of crime are a bad idea.

It includes and goes beyond all of this. It extends to and is fed by the delusion that there is no social injustice in America, that people fare well or poorly primarily by virtue of their own merit,  a notion that is not only absurd on the face of it, but is also thoroughly disproved by statistical evidence (see The Presence of the Past). It combines a blithe indifference to the legacies of history that relegate people to sharply unequal opportunity structures at birth, with the equally blithe willingness to subtly loathe the entire categories of people who, born into such opportunity structures, are overrepresented among the poor. But irrational bigots are not swayed by such things as fact and reason and human decency.

The fact that such a belligerent, inhumane, and just generally dysfunctional ideology can survive as a major ideological strain in American culture is scary beyond belief. This cultural virus has always been with us, but never before in my memory so virulent and widespread as it is today. Anyone who has any desire for us to remain or become a rational and humane people needs to take stock of this, to repudiate it, and to oppose it, passionately and constantly, because it is truly ugly and destructive insanity.

(See the following related essays on different aspects of American racism and xenophobia: “Sharianity” and Godwin’s Law Notwithstanding.)

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  • One of the defining qualities of “the new American racism” is that it is just one implicit aspect, rather than the dominant belief, of the most frequently (though not exclusively) right-wing ideologies in which it is embedded.

    These “new American racists,” unlike their dwindling but still extant more fervantly and explicitly racist predecessors, are sincerely convinced that they are not racists, “deplore” racism, and embrace most aspects of passive equal rights legislation and protection (but not affirmative action of any kind). They will eagerly embrace, befriend, and support for elected office a member of a “suspect” race who speaks and thinks and acts similarly enough to themselves, is a reliable enough carrier of their overarching ideology, to “remove the stain” of his or her race, and at the same time provide a convenient exception that they can tout as “proof” of the absence of their racism.

    It reminds me of some very mainstream, liberal people from my childhood in the 1960s, who frequently said “I have nothing against blacks, but I hate n——s.” That is, of course, a completely racist statement, but one which does not preclude admission into the in-group of some members of that generally or partially reviled race.

    The new face of American racism is that lesser racism of yesterday promoted to a mainstream, self-perceived non-racist component of much contemporary right-wing ideology. (I think it’s important to emphasize that there are some well-educated and urbane conservatives who find all of this as deplorable as any progressive does, among them many fiscal conservatives and social progressives who self-identify as right-wing or conservative; and there are some on the left who find their own pretexts for racism of various kinds. But the predominant trend is that this it is now a right-wing ideology, articulating with extreme individualism, theocratic moralizing, and a general rejection of any responsibility or commitment to continue the unfinished project of rectifying the injustices that remain a legacy of a racist history.)

    Racism isn’t the defining belief of these ideologies, but rather one implicit thread of them, one expression of the same modality of thought slightly more sublimated and disguised. As I have traced out in several other essays (see, e.g., and, the ideological geneology of modern libertarian/tea party ideology is the anti-Constitution (and pro-Articles of Confederation that the Constitution was drafted to replace in order to create a STRONG federal government), states’ rights, nullification doctrine, slavery-defending, confederate, anti-civil rights ideology that has, thankfully, repeatedly been the loser in American history (though always after far too long a delay), and, hopefully, soon will be yet again.

  • sblecher:

    The fact that he had a gun gave Zimmerman the courage to pursue and confront Trayvon. It appears that Zimmerman was injured in this confrontation, and we will probably never know exactly how Zimmerman suffered those injuries. It does give some credence to Zimmerman’s story, and helps confirm the beliefs of Zimmerman’s defenders.
    Some right-wing folks are very adept at doublethink, and I’m sure that they are also against civil rights for gay people, but claim they “hate the sin but love the sinner”. It has recently become fashionable in right wing circles to declare that they are in no way racist, but any liberals who accuse them of racism are the REAL racists. The assertion is that liberals are opening the old wounds of former times in order to gain political points and divide the country.

  • Steven, Zimmerman’s injuries occurred AFTER he made the decision to pursue an unarmed teen who had committed no crime. If an armed pursuer has the right to shoot, in “self-defense,” an unarmed person who he had chosen to pursue, then certainly the unarmed pursued had the right to fight back against his pursuer!

    I suspect that Martin acted stupidly, and perhaps overly aggressively under the circumstances, though he may have been genuinely afraid for his life (we can’t know what was going on in his mind, and being pursued by a stranger at night whose intentions are unknown can certainly be unsettling). And I have always felt sorry for Zimmerman, though he brought this on himself by buying into this gun-crazy nonsense that statistics have proven over and over again more often end up in stories LIKE THIS ONE (the shooting death of an innocent person) than in successful defenses against armed or otherwise dangerous predators. But those who try to dismiss this incident as a liberal invention, that there is no issue here, are being conveniently inconsistent: An armed man had the right to defend himself against an unarmed man who committed no crime who the armed man chose to pursue, but an unarmed man who committed no crime has no right to defend himself against an armed pursuer? That really makes no sense at all.

  • I posted links to the above essay on those threads following the post alluded to in it on which I was able to. On one, the poster responded “just reporting what the news media won’t,” to which I replied:

    Local news reports on these incidents ALL THE TIME. The national news doesn’t because our violent crime rates are so high that it only becomes national news when there is something to distinguish it. What distinguished the Trayvon Martin shooting WASN’T the races of the shooter and victim, but rather the fact that the shooter –an armed individual who chose to pursue an unarmed individual who had committed no crime, and ended up shooting to death the unarmed individual he was pursuing– wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime (leaving it to a jury to decide whether it was self-defense or not). Race only came in as a discussion about whether the race of the victim, the “stand your ground” law, and the possible prejudices of both the shooter and those who are OUTRAGED that anyone would dare suggest that when an armed pursuer shoots to death an unarmed pursued that necessitates a thorough investigation (the “investigation,” such as it was, was very cursory and inadequate), played a role the occurrence and is playing a role in the positions taken since.

    The notion that reposting the above post (that not only reports the incident, but claims it as proof that “stand your ground” laws are necessary and good, despite the overwhelming statistical evidence that the private dispension of justice more often than not results in the death of innocent victims than of guilty predators, and claims that liberals are hypocrites for taking a position based on reason applied to evidence in service to the public interest in opposition to that claim) is “just reporting what the news won’t” is too absurd for words. This whole tactic of appealing to people’s fears and bigotries in service to a violent orientation to the world is a cultural pathology in America, and one that continues to cost us dearly: We have by far the highest violent crime rates of any developed nation in the world, and both the largest number of people and the largest percentage of national population incarcerated of ANY nation on Earth, bar none. No totalitarian dictatorship, no third world banana republic, no country of any kind (not even China, which has both a repressive autocratic government and five times our population), throws more of its citizens into jail than we do. That makes us, by the most literal of measurements, the LEAST free nation on Earth!!!

    And why? Because we are saddled with a large faction that lives, eats and breathes self-destructive belligerence, aggravating the very problems that it claims to be, literally, “up in arms” about. The irony that you all are so appalled that liberals would consider it a problem that we have laws that lead to innocent unarmed teens being shot to death by over-zealous defenders of dangers that, as the Zimmerman incident illustrated, are sometimes created by the fears (and perhaps prejudices) of armed pursuers of unarmed victims, because you are opposed to those who commit violent crimes and defenders of the innocent who suffer from them, is clearly lost on you. But, guess what? It doesn’t take a genius to see the tragic and violent irrationality of that position.

  • sblecher:

    I said Zimmerman would never have gotten out of his car if he didn’t have a gun. Furthermore the local police didn’t bother to conduct a proper investigation, so useful evidence was probably lost. I think the Florida law is crazy, but some other states have similar laws, and more states are considering the same kind of legislation. Given the way the law is written and the lack of hard evidence, and the fact that Zimmerman was injured, there is enough doubt to make a conviction practically impossible, unless the prosecution has significant evidence they haven’t revealed. If there isn’t more evidence as the trial date approaches, the prosecution may have to drop the case. I don’t know why the US permits such savagery, and why people can carry assault weapons, and why the government is powerless against the NRA lobby. Conservatives claim they want to interpret the Constitution they way the Founding Fathers did, but I’m not convinced that folks like James Madison would have approved of assault weapons.

  • Conservatives very explicitly reinterpret the Constitution, while making the claim that it should be interpreted “literally” (an impossibility, given the ambiguity of the language, the impossibility of reconstructing original meanings in some cases, and the lack of definition of some key terms). For instance, small government conservatives insist that Art I, Section 8, Clause i of the Constitution, which grants Congress unlimited power (meaning, they placed no limitation on the power) to tax and spend in the general welfare, CAN’T be interpreted literally, because that would mean (they claim) that the 10th amendment (which reserves to the states any powers not granted to Congress or otherwise prohibited to the states) is meaningless, insisting that a literal interpretation of Art I, Section 8, Clause i would leave nothing for the states. Unfortunately, this is absurd, since it leaves to the states a virtually innumerable range of police powers not granted to Congress (i.e., powers to pass laws constraining or obligating conduct in some way or another).

  • On a long and rancorous thread that followed my posting a link to this essay on a fb page titled “I’m Not A Racist Stupid! You Are Here Illegally!” (in which one fellow, from his first comment onward, continually referred to me as a RETARD in all caps; and this from a grown man!), another (not much more civil) participant, echoed by the page owner, argued that since some undocumented immigrants commit predatory crimes once here, that is yet one more argument why we should deport them all. This points to yet another aspect of “the new face of American racism,” because it frequently isn’t explicit racism, but rather something very similar applied to groups defined by some characteristic other than race. Here are two excerpts from my responses to this argument:

    There is no more connection between otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants and criminal undocumented immigrants that there is between law abiding blacks/whites/muslims/​christians/women/men…, and criminal blacks/whites/muslims/​christians/women/men….. Conflating the two in service to an argument that depends on the vilification of the group in its entirety is identical to conflating the two in service to the racist vilification of racial groups in their entirety.

    Racism is one version of a broader set of bigotries, which involve certain kinds of categorical thought. You are vilifying a whole group (illegal immigrants) on the basis of the crimes committed by some…. To argue that defense of the members of that category is an insult to the victims of crimes committed by some members of that category is logically indistinguishable from the argument that defense of civil rights for African Americans (whites/women/jews/​blue-eyed people/whatever) is an insult to the victims of crimes of African Americans (whites/women/jews/​blue-eyed people/whatever).

    (It took them a long time to figure out that the argument was not that they were explicitly racist toward a defined race –which I think they probably are– but rather that their form of thought, and their argument, was identical in form and attitude to a racist argument, and demonstrated the same modality of thought and the same rationalizations. One more afternote: I proffered, as always, the suggestion that none of us has all of the answers, and that we should all strive to be reasonable people of goodwill working together to do the best we can, which, of course, was received with the same limitless belligerence. I have to admit, these people are beyond the reach of reason or human decency….)

  • Here’s a link to a report of a skinhead group in Florida preparing for and fomenting what they consider to be an inevitable and imminent race war in America:

    Most of the folks sharing and posting on that thread about the “scary blacks” that justify the vigilantism that led to the Trayvon Martin shooting think they have nothing in common with these even more overt racists, but the fact is that the former are the wind in the sails of the latter, feeding the fear and hatred and sense of malicious opportunity that the worst among them seize hold of and act on. This is exactly how it works, folks.

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