Newt, the Trayvon Martin Shooting, and Race

Solutions come from understanding, not denial or political posturing

Earlier this week, President Obama said the following about Trayvon Martin:

“I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” Mr. Obama said from the White House Rose Garden, “and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out how this tragedy happened.”

Mr. Obama said he is glad the Justice Department is investigating the shooting and that Florida Gov. Rick Scott formed a task force in response to the incident as well. The president suggested he was sympathetic to suspicion that the shooting may have been racially motivated.

“You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” Mr. Obama said.

To which Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity:

“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said. “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, he is suggesting that had Trayvon Martin been a white teen in a hoodie with candy walking down the street his odds of being shot would have been greatly diminished.  It is, quite frankly, fairly despicable for Gingrich to suggest that the president, or anyone, is saying that if it had been “a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him.”  Indeed, Gingrich is playing into to some seriously reprehensible racial politics here.

The problem is this:  based on what we know about this case and about general public perceptions about race (especially young, black males) we know that the fact that Tayvon Martin looked the way he looked almost certainly played into why he was seen as a a threat and why he was shot and killed. There have been numerous studies on this subject.* For Gingrich to pretend otherwise is either a comment on his understanding of the world, or a calculation based on the audience to which he is appealing for support.  I think it is the latter, and again:  it is a reprehensible position to take, especially if, as is likely, he is taking it in a calculated attempt to achieve political gain.

While it is not fair to extrapolate Gingrich’s remarks to the Republican Party writ large, as ultimately this is just one individual making a comment, I will say the following:  Newt is a) one of the finalists for the GOP nomination, and b) is a calculating individual who is trying to make appeals to voters within the GOP selectorate.  If the GOP in general wants to understand why it has a race problem, politically speaking, the inability to understand how large numbers of African-American citizens view situations like the Trayvon Martin shooting is a good place to look.  Further, if Gingrich is right, and he can score political points with this kind of assertion, then at least that segment of the population that responds to this appeal needs to rethink their position.

To be clear:  Gingrich is not just saying that we should be employing colorblindness here.  No, he is 1) accusing the president of valuing blacks over whites (which plays into some of the fears of older whites in particular, i.e., the the black president is out to get whites), and 2) he is actively denying the reality that reality that young African-Americans live.

In general I think that this shooting should give all of us serious pause for thought in terms of those (including many commenters here at OTB) who pretend that we do not continue to have real issues with race in the United States.

Along these lines I would point to three related piece: Lonnae O’Neal Parker:  Trayvon Martin’s death: A community mourns, Donna Britt’s How I wept after attempts to dissociate from Trayvon Martin’s death, and from Thursday’s Morning EditionA Mom’s Advice To Her Young, Black Sons.

Solutions come from understanding, not denial or political posturing.

See also, WaPoTrayvon Martin ‘Million Hoodie March’: A short history of the hoodie.

——-

*See, for example, Harvard’s Project Implicit.

Some other possible readings:

Dixon, T. L. Maddox, K. B. 2005. “Skin Tone, Crime News, and Social Reality Judgments: Priming the Stereotype of the Dark and Dangerous Black Criminal.” Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol. 35, No. 8., 1555-1570. 

Hurwitz, Jon and Mark Peffley. 1997. “Public Perceptions of Race and Crime: The Role of Racial Stereotypes.” American Journal of Political Science. Vol. 41, No. 2 (April), pp. 375-401

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, Campaign 2012, Crime, Race and Politics, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Al says:

    I am shocked —shocked— that Gingrich would say such things.

  2. legion says:

    Imagine – a southern Republican using the classic Southern Strategy.

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Thanks, Steven.

    While your points probably seem self-evident to most people reading this, what may not be quite as evident is how important it is for people like you and I and most of the readers here to call this stuff out for what it blatantly is.

    Whether we want to admit it or not, we evolved as tribal creatures. As long as it is only racial or ethnic or religious or sexual minorities who point out these sorts of things, those complaints can be dismissed as the complaints of agitators or outsiders. It is much harder to ignore when it comes from someone who should – by appearances – be considered a member of Newt’s tribe.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    While it is not fair to extrapolate Gingrich’s remarks to the Republican Party writ large

    True but it probably applies to at least 30% of the Republican base and an even greater percentage in the south.

  5. Dean says:

    “It’s not fair to extrapolate,” but, Steven, you did anyway. Also, to call Gingrich a finalist for the Republican nomination for President simply means you are living in the same fantasyland as Newt. He’s only still in the race, because he’s too stupid and too arrogant to drop out. Not remotely a finalist.

  6. @Dean: Where did I extrapolate to all Republicans?

    And one need not be capable if wining to be a finalist. You cannot so easily dismiss Gingrich’s significance or the politics in which he is engaging here.

  7. Delmar says:

    Whenever Rev. Al shows up, any sort of reason and intelligent behavior goes out the window.

  8. anjin-san says:

    any sort of reason

    I suppose. That is if you think its reasonable that a kid who is in high school doing nothing more than walking back to his father’s house from the store with some candy in his pocket is shot dead, and the shooter walks away from it.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @Delmar:

    Whenever Rev. Al shows up, any sort of reason and intelligent behavior goes out the window.

    Thatta boy. When a child is shot dead, find a black man to blame. How proud you must be of yourself.

    @Steven Tayler,

    Well written and about as balanced as one can be on the subject. I’m glad you continue to write at OTB.

  10. bandit says:

    @Ben Wolf: @Ben Wolf:

    Good projection – you’re right Al sharpton is a healer. Good to see the POSUS vicariously playing the victim. ‘My son would look like that’. Talk about mental illness by fantasizing about being a victim. And oh yeah – the shooting victim assaulted the shooter.

  11. bandit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sorry you’re an idiot – what’s despicable is the President trying to exploit the situation for political gain. ‘My son would look like Trayvon’. With that POS it’s always about him.

  12. Good piece, Steven.

    (bandit, I think what you are asking is that the President should shy away from what he is feeling, to protect your politics. That is wrong.)

  13. G.A. says:

    Come on, you guys don’t find anything suspect about the left in this whole situation and on this whole subject?I understand the Obama worship, but come on…

  14. Ben Wolf says:

    @john personna: Bandit is a silly little person. Best to ignore it.

  15. @Ben Wolf:

    Yeah, I later saw worse comments from him. Sad.

  16. G.A. says:

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/report-new-black-panther-party-issues-wanted-dead-or-alive-poster-for-george-zimmerman/

    Don’t worry libs one of your favorite organizations is taking care of this white/mexican racist.

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    @john personna: I just can’t fathom the mind of a person who is incapable of looking at this situation and saying, “This should not have happened.” Somehow a boy being unjustly killed gets turned into demagoguery about how liberals suck, the President is s**t and everything is always black peoples’ fault. This kid is dead and yet some commentators here immediately think of themselves as the real victims and start lashing out.

  18. Bennett says:

    @G.A.: If you ever get outside the bubble, go find links to this on left wing sites. Look at the comments. Lefties comparing the NBPP to the KKK, saying this is a bad development, that they are terrible. A favorite organisation? WTF are you even talking about?

  19. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/report-new-black-panther-party-issues-wanted-dead-or-alive-poster-for-george-zimmerman/

    Don’t worry libs one of your favorite organizations is taking care of this white/mexican racist.

    Wow. Look at that. Hate begets hate. Who could’ve known?

    Still, I get ya. Because some anonymous, presumably liberal person in some obscure group said something bad about some anonymous guy who is currently the darling of the Right, that makes it TOTALLY OK that Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. I get it. Thanks, G.A.!

  20. bandit says:

    @Ben Wolf: Good projection – maybe someday you’ll untwist yourself from your knots of racism and accept that people can put aside race and treat the President on the basis of his words and actions. Just like with the cop in Cambridge he saw an opportunity to exploit racial tension and is either too stupid to know better or too opportunistic to let it go. And his vicarious victimology fantasy is just pathetic.

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    @bandit:

    Good projection – maybe someday you’ll untwist yourself from your knots of racism and accept that people can put aside race and treat the President on the basis of his words and actions.

    1) You don’t appear to understand the meaning of the psychological term “projection.”

    2) You continue to write as someone who sees herself as the real victim, not Trayvon.

    3) I didn’t say anything about the President’s race, so why are you bringing it up if you were able to “put it aside?”

    4) You also don’t appear to understand the meaning of the term “racism.”

    5) You just can’t stop attacking other people. Perhaps you feel guilty about something and should go to Confession.

  22. DRS says:

    Yeah, how dare the President point out the obvious – where does he get off? Doesn’t Obama know that white people are the only victims ever?

  23. Franklin says:

    Gingrich, it’s called “relating” … you should try it sometime.

  24. @Gromitt Gunn, @Ben Wolf, @john personna: Thanks–I appreciate you all saying so.

  25. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    In general I think that this shooting should give all of us serious pause for thought in terms of those (including many commenters here at OTB) who pretend that we do not continue to have real issues with race in the United States.

    Some of us have sons around Trayvon’s age, and it makes it hard to be objective and dispassionate and to calmly and rationally discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of this killing when your brain keeps putting your own son’s face inside that hoodie in Trayvon’s photo. I know exactly what the President was trying to convey when he spoke about having a son who would look like Trayvon, and anyone who thinks ill of it needs to be damn sure he won’t ever meet me face to face.

    Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for this post and for all you have written about this case. And thank you to all the OTB commenters who have stood up for Trayvon Martin. I’m going to have to take a break from reading the comments on any more of these stories, though. I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m angry and if one more idiot says something stupid and racist, I will lose my shit utterly.

  26. @Ben Wolf:

    Somehow a boy being unjustly killed gets turned into demagoguery about how liberals suck, the President is s**t and everything is always black peoples’ fault. This kid is dead and yet some commentators here immediately think of themselves as the real victims and start lashing out.

    Indeed–this is truly remarkable. Someone a dead 17 year old is reason to start drawing crude left/right lines. More information may yet be revealed, but at the moment it seems like Zimmerman unnecessarily pursued Martin due to unsubstantiated suspicions and created a confrontation that led to the young man’s death. It is troubling (to put it mildly) that some many people see this as a reason to call the president names or to worry about Al Sharpton.

  27. @Rufus T. Firefly:

    Some of us have sons around Trayvon’s age, and it makes it hard to be objective and dispassionate and to calmly and rationally discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of this killing when your brain keeps putting your own son’s face inside that hoodie in Trayvon’s photo. I know exactly what the President was trying to convey when he spoke about having a son who would look like Trayvon, and anyone who thinks ill of it needs to be damn sure he won’t ever meet me face to face.

    Exactly. This is exactly right: Obama’s words were those of a parent. Further, they were the words of an African-American parent which means looking at this situation differently than a white parent (the fact that this is true is important and needs acknowledging).

    And thanks.

  28. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Ben Wolf: find a black man to blame.

    He didn’t say “a black man,” he cited Al Sharpton by name. Can you cite a single example of a case where Sharpton inserted himself where he didn’t make things worse?

    It’s what he does.

  29. An Interested Party says:

    Oh the irony…a post, about Newt Gingrich–a total scumbag trying to use this tragedy to smear the President, gets twisted into how horrible Al Sharpton is…

  30. WR says:

    @DRS: ” Doesn’t Obama know that white people are the only victims ever?”

    It’s actually “conservatives” who are the only victims ever.

  31. anjin-san says:

    Can you cite a single example of a case where Sharpton inserted himself where he didn’t make things worse?

    Sounds like a white boy talking. If you ask black folks, a lot of them will tell you Sharpton is often the only one who can deliver media coverage when a black child is missing or killed. The media in general, and Fox in particular, tends to focus on attractive white children.

  32. anjin-san says:

    You know what the saddest part of this very sad story is? Black people expect this shit. They KNOW it’s going to happen. Same as it has always been.

  33. ronb says:

    leticia olalia morales of 15501 pasadena ave #h tustin ca 92780 submitted fake documents and 5000 dollars to a person name sandman at the US embassy in manila. she also submitted fake employment records to obtain a work visa. Her husband carlos b. morales also submitted fake documents (land titles and bank statements) to obtain a tourist visa. Her son carlo iii also used such and helped 2 other people to obtain a US tourist visa.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    If a young black male is murder, the probably that the murderer is black is over 90%. Yet, the media insist on portraying black life in a way saying that blacks are murdered all the time by whites and that blacks are at a higher risk of being murdered by a white than other blacks.

    If you look at FBI statistics, blacks are 10 times more likely to be murdered by another black than by a white (Hispanics or non-Hispanic).

    Once again the reality-based community refuses to face reality.

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer: For the last time, this is not just about the murder of a young black man, but the indifference of society towards it. Especially when the shooter is not black.

    That handy dandy chart puts the lie to all of your and bandits statements.

  36. superdestroyer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The murderers of the 6 y/o girl in Chicago were not black. Yet no one cares because the shooters were Hispanic gang members and thus the story cannot be used to launch a two-minute hate against whites.

    The real story that the MSM is unintentionally sending is that whites sound avoid blacks since whites will always be held to different standards than blacks. Of course, this was the same message that was sent from the Rodney King riots, the wildings in NYC, the racial assaults in Milwaukee, and the response of the AFrican-american community to the OJ verdict. But the media seems to fail to understand how they really affect race in the U.S.

  37. DRS says:

    Superdestroyer, your racism is truly poisonous. I don’t know how you manage to live with yourself.

  38. superdestroyer says:

    @DRS:

    I find it odd that people who watch Al shaprton on MSNBC could ever call anyone a raicst. I find it odd that people who had the pants pulled down in public over Tawan Brawley, Duke Lacrosse, or all of the racist graffiti incidents in college would ever call anyone racist.

    Why is it racist to notice that blacks commit more crime per capita than whites and that blacks are the victims of crimes more than whites?

    If blacks have anything to fear in today’s society, it is other blacks, not whites.

  39. An Interested Party says:

    Why is it racist to notice that blacks commit more crime per capita than whites and that blacks are the victims of crimes more than whites?

    Because that has nothing to do with this case…

  40. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    \The data matters a lot. The media is filled with stories and editorials about how black males needs to fear whites and fear the police. Yet, blacks are much more likely to be killed by other blacks than any other demographic group.

    Yet, when blacks kill blacks, lying racist like Al Sharpton does not show up. MCNBC does not mention the crime. CNN does not obsess about crimes where blacks kill blacks.

    so, the real world risks to blacks is actually very different than the risks as being reported in the media. But even knowing the real world risk to blacks is now considered racist.

  41. An Interested Party says:

    But even knowing the real world risk to blacks is now considered racist.

    Actually, your repeated rantings that illustrate your fear of a majority-minority country are what is considered racist…

  42. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Since progressive refuse to face what the U.S. will be as a majority Hispanic country is the same problem that progressive have facing the real risks to blacks or the real crime rates in the U.S.

    Progressive refuse to face the future as much as they refuse to face the present. That is why snark is the basis of politics in the U.S. Snark can be done without bothering with facts.

  43. An Interested Party says:

    @superdestroyer: Because of the horse$hit that you spew, snark is all that you deserve…do you actually think you deserve any more than that? You’re more delusional than I thought…

  44. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Progressive snark goes beyond any single person. If you look at most progressives blogs, if you watch Jon Stewart, if you read progressive writers, snark is about all there is.

    Why would anyone want to get involved in politics when all they are facing is snark, irony, and insults.

    Also, if progressives are going to advertise themselves as reality-based, and fact oriented, the least those progressives should do is actually discuss facts and ata. But as I have pointed out many times, if a fact does not support a progressives’s POV, then the data will be ignored.

  45. Unholyimage says:

    Before we make this about a couple of politicians, I certainly wish the “evidence to the contrary” would’ve been mentioned explicitly in the article. All I’ve heard about this case is generally inconclusive, and I would condemn neither party. While I think that societies wherein a “stand your ground” style of law have genuine problems regarding mutual respect and civility, I none the less stand by the law where it is applicable.
    Doesn’t anyone find it curious that there is no mention of highly salient facts like who threw the first blow, whether it was even possible for either party to flee, and what led up to the shot being fired? All we have is anecdotes about skittles, an ugly mugshot of Zim, a cute one of Tayvon, and rumors about “a history of violence”.
    Let me just say, finally, that I find Mr. Obama’s statements very much on the mark and in no way racially charged (as is his leaning). He merely sympathized with the clearly understandable emotions of the family and stood behind the system that is working to bring the truth to light so that justice may be served.

  46. J-Dub says:

    Blacks may be more likely to die at the hands of other blacks but if the police catch the killer at the scene with a gun in his hands he gets arrested, whether he claims self defense or not! You can spew all the statistics you want about black on black, black on white, white on black crime but this case boils down to the fact that Zimmerman pursued and killed an innocent kid and was not arrested at the scene. Arrest him and let the courts decide if he is not guilty. That is not for the police to decide.

  47. Andrei Vfeked says:

    As tragic as the death of young Mr. Martin is, what saddens me most is that we live in a country where a member of the media thinks it appropriate to even ask the President of the United States a question about it in a press conference. And while I found his response to be dignified and, let’s face it, politically expedient, his answer in a just and sane world should have been something more long the lines of:

    “I am aware of the incident and it is a tragedy when a young man dies, but I have more important things to deal with right now.”

    In much the same way that Fox News bangs on its drum whenever a cute blond white girl gets kidnapped, other networks are banging the drum when something that appears to be race-related violence against a minority occurs. They are equally inexcusable examples of shoddy “journalism.” Can you imagine what things would be like if the following had happened here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-17509969

  48. Alan says:

    “No, he is suggesting that had Trayvon Martin been a white teen in a hoodie with candy walking down the street his odds of being shot would have been greatly diminished. ” I’m not exactly sure how you concluded with that interpretation. My belief is that Obama tried to indicate how he related to such an incident in a personal matter and ended up with a statement that could be taken in several different directions. I believe that he saw a minor that was killed and he felt he could relate on the level that he has two daughters who are minors. I guess some of us see through logical filters while liberal “professors” use racial filters. People make ignorant comments all the time (sometimes entire articles). I think Newt should be given a pass for his ignorant remark since Obama has received several.

  49. Drew says:

    @anjin-san:

    http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/06/06/6-teens-charged-in-streeterville-mob-attacks/

    I guess the President and Mr. Sharp ton were too busy to comment when this was going on.

  50. matt says:

    @Drew: Crimes were committed and people were arrested..

    So what’s your point? That Zimmerman should of been arrested too like those in your link? Or is your point that since some black kids somewhere did something bad we’re all allowed to shoot shady looking black kids at will?