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I May Be White, But I’m Not Stupid

by CARL FINAMORE

The vigilante murder of young Trayvon Martin and his legal lynching in the courtroom is producing a valuable conversation about racism that is probing deep into the very heart of our country.

Hopefully, it all will lead to an honest and frank examination among the white population.

So far, the intense discussions unfolding on virtually every media outlet expose the baseless racist argument as pathetically shallow and empty, none more so than the charge that somehow Trayvon Martin was responsible for his own death.

This preposterous allegation belongs in the dustbin of history along with defense of America’s ugly legacy of slavery and segregation.

Certainly all the main racist arguments of our sordid history have been repeatedly repudiated but they continually get regurgitated as in re-circulated and re-packaged.

Right-wing commentators, for example, deny race was a factor in George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin. What? Trayvon was absolutely targeted because of his color. That is what originally aroused the biased fears of Zimmerman. Can any reasonably thoughtful person deny this?

I may be white, but I’m not stupid!

Another one of the favorite tactics of these throwback commentators is to rapidly shift attention away from an examination of Zimmerman’s actual stalking and profiling of Martin. They change the subject and attempt to shift blame onto the Black community by citing crime statistics in large cities like Chicago.

Of course, crime in Chicago has nothing to do with the facts of Trayvon’s murder. Plus, a genuine discussion of crime cannot possibly be separated from a discussion of how the enduring legacy of racism and poverty tears apart the social fabric of a community.

But that’s not their purpose. The whole premise of conservatives is to suggest that Blacks, as in their fabricated example of Chicago, are responsible for their own self-induced plight, thus tying into the twisted notion repeatedly mentioned that Trayvon himself was responsible for his own death. This is abhorrent nonsense.

I may be white, but I’m not stupid.

To further buttress their retrograde prejudices, these bloviating loudmouths cite the judge prohibiting mention of race in the trial, Sanford police and FBI reports rejecting race as a factor and the prosecution team still insisting post-trial that race was not a factor.

But these denials by almost all the powerful government institutions and their representatives that race did not play a role in Trayvon’s murder does actually reveal an important point, but it’s the opposite one intended by the reactionary race-deniers.

Prosecution: Not So Much Incompetent as Unfair

Racism in America not only exists, it is excruciatingly deep, seeping not just into personal consciousness but into the most powerful institutions of our society.

For example, a criminal justice system that prosecutes on a federal and local level more Blacks, imprisons more Blacks and sentences more Blacks to longer prison terms than whites with similar charges cannot be relied upon to change its colors and vigorously and thoroughly prosecute a racist crime like Zimmerman’s.

Recognizing racism as Zimmerman’s motivation would challenge the documented long-standing biased assumptions of Sanford authorities. Their history explains why Zimmerman was at first promptly released without charges.

The local prosecution was, therefore, not so much incompetent as it was unfair. It’s the only way to understand how the extremely experienced legal team, among other numerous failings, refused to challenge their own police investigator testifying he “believed” Zimmerman.

Blacks are treated differently by cops and courts all across this country. It’s obvious and it’s on the record.

I may be white, but I’m not stupid.

Why Racism Persists

The dominant culture always controls the message and spreads its biases everywhere.

For example, none of the monumental civil rights reforms won in this country started at the top. All were jump started by massive movements from below, outside of and often against institutions of power.

But besides persisting inside government, police and courts, racism goes even deeper into the very fabric of our society. For instance, among employers, there is money, lots of money in discrimination.

The undercurrent of racism, never openly stated these days, crudely portrays Blacks as lazy and violent without any aspirations to succeed. Similarly, sexism portrays women’s role primarily as caretakers for children, another prejudice seldom expressed openly.

In both cases, these false stereotypes create social stigmas that in the workplace appear to justify lower wages, benefits and opportunities for advancement. The more Blacks and women, for example, are socially compartmentalized into these false categories, the more it appears as an acceptable rationale for their lower status in the workplace.

Untold billions of dollars accrue to businesses each year paying less to Blacks and women, particularly Black women according to statistics, for comparable types of work performed by whites with less education and skill.

This is fact, this is the record. As long as businesses profit from discrimination, there exists a huge incentive for it to endure.

I may be white, but I’m not stupid!

How to Fix It

I am particularly inspired by the words of leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He continually agitated for building mass protest movements. “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without plowing the ground….,” he famously said.

And he urged people to become active in liberating themselves. “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs,” the escaped slave wrote so vividly.

I always understood his powerful words to mean that the harsh realities of prejudice had to be clearly recognized and directly confronted before racism would ever take a backseat to reason and humanity.

In other words, people will repudiate racial attitudes after they embrace a social consciousness that understands the vast racial problems in our society are not personal excuses and not self-induced but, instead, actual harsh conditions imposed on people of color by powerful entrenched interests who benefit and profit.

It is this progressive social awareness, once embraced, that promotes more humanity and more activism, a powerful combination that has in the past and can once again literally change our world.

Of course, most of us prefer to be loved and, in particular, respected, but we can’t really control how we feel about each other. But society can control how we all are treated and in that regard, we must act to make sure everyone is treated fairly. Taking a cue from whistleblower Edward Snowden, “that’s the society I want to live in.”

I may be white, but I’m not stupid!

Carl Finamore grew up in the all-white, working-class northwest-side neighborhood of Chicago in the 1950s. The civil rights movement showed him people had to “fight the power” to win freedom. He now lives in San Francisco. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

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