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To comprehend any issue it is important to have a understanding of key terms base principles at work. Two very different narratives of how racism works are identified by John Stoehr in this excerpt from his article on Al-Jazeera.
“[…] Everyone agreed the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager killed by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, was tragic, but liberals and conservatives disagreed on what caused it. On the left, racism was ultimately to blame. Why else would the shooter, George Zimmerman (who was recently arrested), spot Martin walking around a gated community, call the police, follow him and then later shoot him? On the right, race had nothing to do with it. This was a case of horrible judgment, bad policy and a tragic wrong that should be righted.
These are two views of racism. In one, racism is a concrete social force that exerts power over individuals. In the other, racism is an abstract universal human failing like any other that can be overcome with the right attitude. While the liberal view is often exaggerated, the conservative view does not account for who is doing what to whom. In this case, a half-white man killing a black boy.
The conservative view of “racism” is ambivalent, unmoored from history and freed of its long association with white violence. This has given rise to laughable locutions like “reverse racism” of which conservatives regularly accuse blacks whenever they rage against the racist machine, as Al Sharpton and others did in the wake of Martin’s death and the fact that justice did not prevail.
Yet when conservatives say race doesn’t matter, what they are saying, hopefully without meaning to, is that white violence doesn’t matter – and obviously white violence matters. In US history, blacks did not lynch whites with the blessing of the establishment, but whites did lynch blacks in the name of white supremacy.
Conservatives rightly say blacks kill more blacks than whites kill blacks. But that’s another one of those false equivalencies that hides what’s really going on. Black violence, even on those very rare occasions when whites are its victims, is scary and unjust, but white violence, especially when the victims are black, echoes through the web of history and can terrorise African Americans into submission. That’s been the historical purpose of white violence. If explicit laws and pernicious social norms didn’t control you, then the threat of violence did. That’s why racism is not about race so much as power – who has it, who doesn’t, what’s done with it and why.
And power is often above the law. Zimmerman and the man who killed Jake England’s dad are equally protected under a similar law that allows you to “Stand Your Ground” when facing life-threatening situations. Neither man was changed, because both claimed they acted in self-defence. But that’s where the similarities end. Trayvon Martin’s family has appealed to public opinion for justice. Jake England appealed to his gun. The present is a product of the past. To take white supremacy out of racism is to willfully ignore that reality.”
I’ve seen some of the arguments that more conservative commentators put forth regarding racism, and it seems they miss the key point (as they often do)- as highlighted from Stoehr’s article – the imbalance of power in society and how power is used and misused by those in control. The discussion of racism needs to be framed around this idea of the misuse of power in society and how we can best redress the imbalance that is the cause of much racial violence.