Archive - Mar 2012

Date

March 26th

Made You Flinch!

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Memo to the right: THANKS FOR MAKING ME TALK ABOUT TRAYVON MARTIN.

I was going to let it go, beyond the occasional off-hand reference for effect. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's a tragic and wrong what happened down in Florida.

At best, George Zimmerman was completely wrong about Trayvon Martin being a threat. You can argue about a lot of things - the nature of why he perceived Martin to be a threat, how he responded to that perceived threat, what should happen next, etc. - but at the end of the day, the kid was a guest in the gated community where his dad lived, and was armed with Skittles. He was not a trespasser, he was not a threat, ergo Zimmerman was wrong. And generally speaking, if you make a mistake, and kill someone as a result, you're at least guilty of SOMETHING. You get arrested for SOMETHING.

But I was gonna leave it alone, because the fact is, lots of people are looking into this and writing about it right now, and I didn't have anything to add. Sure, it'd be nice if America's Penis stopped writing its laws based on NRA wet-dream LARPing fantasies, but it's Florida, and Florida is fucking crazy.

But you can tell how big a stone is by the size of the ripples it makes when it drops in the pond. And what fascinates me most aren't the machinations of the case or the quest for justice, which will both wend their way toward ultimately unsatisfying conclusions long after everyone's stopped paying attention, but rather, who's reacting, how, and why.

Because the reaction to this case clearly shows that some people think it threatens a worldview. There's very little up-side to defending George Zimmerman here, because, as I mentioned above, the best-case scenario is that Zimmerman fucked up to an unforgivable degree. So the people defending Zimmerman aren't defending Zimmerman, they're defending a worldview that Zimmerman represents.

Some of it is knee-jerk reactionary spite, of course. Tribal shit. Who raised the issue? Who champions the cause? Is it someone we like? If not, well, we can't let them score any points, so we have to push back against their ideas. The best example of this is Gingrich trying to go after Obama for saying "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon." Gingrich immediately accused Obama of race-baiting:

"Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him?" - No, the president is suggesting that if it had been a white, that white wouldn't have gotten shot. Duh. Which brings us to the second worldview that needs defending - the worldview that it's OK to be scared by young black men, because young black men are scary. Which brings us to Geraldo Rivera.

You probably know what Geraldo said and why it's stupid, but let's dig a little deeper. I'm gonna need a big quote. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"When you, when you see a kid walking — Juliet — when you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark skinned kid like my son Cruz, who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles. Take that hood off, people look at you and they — what do they think? What’s the instant identification, what’s the instant association? It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangster, you're gonna be a gangster wannabe? Well, people are gonna perceive you as a menace." - Rivera, on Fox News.

Notice I didn't include the quote that's been making the rounds, because this one has the more salient point. Geraldo Rivera is suggesting that we should accept that deadly force can be used in service of a logical fallacy. And that he counsels his own children to behave in a way that serves that fallacy in the hopes that they will avoid the use of deadly force upon their persons by self-styled vigilantes.

All cats have fur. A dog has fur. Therefore, a dog is a cat.

That's the reasoning George Zimmerman was operating under. It doesn't matter whether the "fur" is that Trayvon was black, or was wearing a hoodie (in the rain, mind you), or "pants around the ankles" (which has been a trend for so goddamned long now you'd think that either the fogies would have gotten used to it or the kids would have thought of something else to piss the fogies off by now), or whatever. It doesn't matter whether Zimmerman said "coons" on his 911 tape, or, as his friend somewhat dubiously claims, a "term of endearment" in the form of "goons".

What matters is that despite the fact that millions of people go about their lives every single goddamned day in hoodies and, yes, loose-fitting pants, without hurting anyone or robbing any convenience stores, Geraldo thinks it's wise to fear them, and wise to conform to the norms of the terrified wrong people to keep the terrified wrong people from doing something horrible. We've seen it a million times before, with women's clothes and rape, with Muslims, planes, and praying. And every time, it's the irrational fear that gets coddled, and the victims of that fear that get blamed.

How far will the right go to defend irrational fear? How fucking far do you think? Deep in the bowels of the wingnut blogosphere, the never-bright Dan Riehl is promoting the idea that the media is lightening Martin's skin in pictures so that, and this is a direct quote, "he looks far more, perhaps innocent is the right word." Oh, also, he found a picture on the Facebook page of -a- "Trayvon Martin" which shows a black kid who is not -the- Trayvon Martin flipping off the camera. Which proves whatever Dan Riehl's racist fever dreams want it to prove, I guess.

What we're seeing, basically, is the flinching of the conservative id. A flinch we can measure, and learn a lot from. I mean, we're not going to learn much new from it, but we can use the flinch to measure the size, direction, and velocity of the problem as it stands right now. And it's still big, still dumb, and still fast.