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ROBINSON: To be black in America ...

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON — For every black man in America, from the millionaire in the corner office to the mechanic in the local garage, the Trayvon Martin tragedy is personal. It could have been me or one of my sons. It could have been any of us.

How many George Zimmermans are out there cruising the streets? How many guys with chips on their shoulders and itchy fingers on the triggers of loaded handguns? How many self-imagined guardians of the peace who say the words "black male" with a sneer?

We don't yet know every detail of the incident between Martin and Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., that ended with an unarmed 17-year-old high-school student being shot dead. But we know enough to conclude that this is an old, familiar story.

We know from tapes of Zimmerman's 911 call that he initiated the encounter, having decided that Martin's presence in the neighborhood was suspicious. We know that when Zimmerman told the 911 operator that he was following Martin, the operator responded, "OK, we don't need you to do that." We know that Zimmerman kept following Martin anyway.

"This guy looks like he is up to no good," Zimmerman said on the 911 tape.

Please tell me, what would be the innocent way to walk down the street with an iced tea and some Skittles? Hint: For black men, that's a trick question.

Some commentators have sought to liken Martin's killing to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, an unspeakable crime that helped galvanize the civil rights movement. To make a facile comparison is a disservice to history -- and to the memory of both young men. It is ridiculous to imply that nothing has changed.

When Till was killed in Mississippi at 14 -- accused of flirting with a white woman -- this was a different country. State-sanctioned terrorism and assassination were official policy throughout the South. Today, the laws and institutions that enforced Jim Crow repression have long since been dismantled. Mississippi, of all places, has more black elected officials than any other state. An African-American family lives in the White House.

Black America was never a monolith but over the past five decades it has become much more diverse -- economically, socially, culturally. If you stood on a street corner and chose five black men at random, you might meet a doctor who lives in the high-priced suburbs, an immigrant from Ethiopia who drives a cab, a young aspiring filmmaker with flowing dreadlocks, an unemployed dropout trying to hustle his next meal, and a midlevel government worker struggling to put his kids through college.

Those men would have nothing in common, really, except one thing: For each of them, walking down the wrong street at the wrong time could be a fatal mistake.

I hear from people who contend that racism no longer exists in this country. I tell them I wish they were right.

Does it matter than Zimmerman is himself a member of a minority group -- he is Hispanic -- or that his family says he has black friends? Not in the least. The issue isn't Zimmerman's race or ethnicity; it's the hair-trigger assumption he made that "black male" equals "up to no good."

This is one thing that hasn't changed in all the eventful years since Emmett Till's mutilated body was laid to rest. It is instructive to note that Till grew up in Chicago and just happened to be in Mississippi visiting relatives. Young black men who were born and raised in the South knew where the red lines were drawn, understood the unwritten code of behavior that made the difference between survival and mortal danger. Till didn't.

Today, young black men grow up in a society where racism is no longer deemed acceptable. Many live in integrated neighborhoods, attend integrated schools, have interracial relationships. They wonder why their parents prattle on so tediously about race, warning about this or that or the other, when their own youthful experience tells them that race doesn't matter.

What could happen on the way home from the store with some Skittles and an iced tea?

Whether Zimmerman can or should be prosecuted, given Florida's "stand your ground" law providing broad latitude to claim self-defense, is an important question. But the tragic and essential thing, for me, is the bull's-eye that black men wear throughout their lives -- and the vital imperative to never, ever, be caught on the wrong street at the wrong time.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

kevin 2 years, 6 months ago

To be black i American means one thing to this reporter. Get what you can from everyone because you are black. Keep pressure on whitie so we can in effect change laws without Congress. Rasie hell about everyhting and keep playing the race card. It works with politicians all the time. The people are too stupid to stop us.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 6 months ago

President Obama hasn't provided the hope and change needed for black Americans?

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

Eugene, until you admit that actions affect attitudes you will never be able to identify the problem.

Gun intercepted at Gwinnett jail

Gun intercepted at Gwinnett jail by Josh Green

Probation officer charged with theft, bribery

Probation officer charged with theft, bribery by Josh Green

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

It's no wonder that the Republican party still resorts to the "Southern Strategy" first used by Nixon. Note the extreme racist content in the comments section. Notblind even posts pictures with an attempt to imply that racial profiling is okay because he can show you two non-whites charged with a crime. Unfortunately, the "Southern Strategy" will, once again, result in people in the South voting without even considering the other issues.

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

All minorities are over-represented in our judicial system [ courts, jails, prisons ]. This is a hard cold fact. Unfortunately we can't discuss our country's problems because the cold hard facts are painful to the minorities. It's far easier to yell "RACIST".

Mr. Robinson decries the reality of a black male's "...bull's-eye..." on his back but only brave black men like Bill Cosby are willing to speak the truth about it.

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

While it is true that the percentage of minorities in the jail population is greater than the general population, it is also true that the percentage of military personnel that are minorities is greater than the general population. Also, we can see show a prejudice in the system to longer jail sentences for minorities than their white counterparts. Don't use this to justify your racism. Don't tell me that you have friends among the minorities to attempt to justify this. I have friends that are bigots but I don't accept bigotry.

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

I guess Bill Cosby is a racist too. If he was white you can be sure he would be vilified but since he is black all the black agitators just ignore him and his truthful message.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 6 months ago

"I have friends that are bigots but I don't accept bigotry"

So you obviously have NO FRIENDS? Not that hard to believe! People that think that are better than others and call people nasty names usually have no friends.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 6 months ago

Bless your heart, Jan! Your avatar is a blue faced donkey with an Elvis hairdon't. You expect anyone to take you seriously?

Keep slapping your racist label on everything till you wear it out - the more you use it the less effective it becomes. Sterotyping and prejudice are not racism.

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the laugh! Love your description of my avatar which in reality is a character from the movie "Avatar". Did notice the slight resemblance to a donkey in the small size displayed on the web site, however, donkeys do have much longer ears. Had not notice the "Elvis Hairdon't". I hope you were trying to be funny with "Sterotyping (sic) and prejudice are not racism". Straight from Wiktionary: "Prejudice or discrimination based upon race.". Note that stereotyping is acting on preconceived prejudices.

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Sthrnldy 2 years, 6 months ago

Oh, "Jan" .. I know what the movie "Avatar" is! It is a work of FICTION with characters created though FANTASY. You using an identifier or avatar as something that is seen as FAKE (aka NOT REAL) means people won't take take what you say seriously. So yes, I guess I am prejudice against AVATARS. Call me a racist or whatever.

The death of Trayvon Wilson needs to drop the race card. This is not a race issue! If Trayvon was wearing a hoodie then how did Zimmerman target him because he was black (race)? Zimmerman went after him because he thought he was in his neighborhood to potentially commit a crime - he targeted him as a criminal. Should Zimmerman be charged with a crime for taking a human life? Absolutely! However targeting a alleged criminal is not racist! Saying this is a hate crime is damaging - hating or feeling superior to criminals is not racist! Stupid, deadly & criminal - but NOT RACIST.

If Americans have learned anything about the criminal justice system is that charges have to be brought about accordingly so that the justice matches the crime. Casey Anthony walked because they could not prove her guilt based on the charges. Zimmerman will be hopefully be charged with homicide, but they cannot and should not include racism as a motive. To do so means he walks.

The fact remains that the label RACIST is thrown around so much that it has divided our country. The time and energy spent falsely labeling people racist or crimes like this as RACISM should be used fixing problems within the community.

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news2me 2 years, 6 months ago

"Zimmerman went after him because he thought he was in his neighborhood to potentially commit a crime - he targeted him as a criminal. Should Zimmerman be charged with a crime for taking a human life? Absolutely! However targeting a alleged criminal is not racist! Saying this is a hate crime is damaging - hating or feeling superior to criminals is not racist! Stupid, deadly & criminal - but NOT RACIST."

Sthrnldy, as usual you are right on target with this sentiment.

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CaptainJack58 2 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately, I am not at all surprised at the comments attached to this article. It seems there is no end to racist idiots who spew their hatred in the comments section of - oh, let's see - EVERYWHERE!

Mr. Robinson, thank you for your insightful commentary on the Trayvon Martin murder. Because I am Caucasian, I see and hear on a daily basis the kinds of comments and behavior among my Caucasian co-workers, neighbors and yes, even some family, that would lead to just such a tragedy as the senseless murder of Trayvon. So many simply assume that I will agree with their ignorant comments. I have to fight to stay calm and rational as I (yet again) present an opposing view. I don't need to tell you that racism is alive and well. We have a long way to go!!!

It is critically important that we continue the good fight. You are not alone and you have brothers and sisters of all races who are standing next to you in this struggle. If you are not familiar with the work of Tim Wise, I would encourage you to find his website. It is a wonderful source of material for me as I work with young people every day. Thank you again!

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

Put your hands over your ears then tightly shut your eyes and mouth. Now you are practicing how liberals come up with solutions to difficult problems.

Here is what my original post did. It illustrated the EXACT reason so many people of ALL races think your typical black male is up to no good. It's because so many black males that ARE up to no good make it into the newspaper or on internet forums. You even read about black people that feel this fear when being followed somewhere by black men in typical thug garb.

You people need to get your head out of the sand. Our society needs to be moving forward on race relations and it's patently obvious that the opposite is actually what is happening for a large portion of the populace.

The ironic thing is that black on black crime is far more prevalent than any other. Black people should be screaming for dialogue. Only Bill Cosby has the guts to go against Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et al.

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

Here's you people a quote from Jesse Jackson himself. 1993 Push Convention speech excerpt:

"There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.... After all we have been through. Just to think we can't walk down our own streets, how humiliating."

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

Notblind, as long as you see the problem as black vs white, you will remain a racist. Facts actually show that being poor is the root problem. Unfortunately, due to the history of slavery and legislated racism, people of color are much more likely to be poor. I do understand that not all racist are the same: We have the extreme cases of the KKK, Neo-Nazis and similar groups on one end of the scale. This does not forgive the racism demonstrated by relief of not being followed by a black. If you try to understand Jesse Jackson, he is admitting that this is racist and is expressing pain in facing up to that fact. From your writing, Notblind, I do not believe your attitudes even approach those of the KKK but the underlying attitude of prejudice still remains.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 6 months ago

Jan, so what's your answer to the poor problem? Redistribution of wealth? Seems to me if you give someone something for free then they have no incentive to get up and make changes in their life. You can blame history all you want. But blaming history feeds into the idea that people should be categorized as groups and not individuals. I'm white. I grew up poor. I never really knew it until I was older because I grew up happy. I had a complete family (mother, father, both sets of grandparents, etc.). I now make more money than either of my parents. I have my own home, car, ability to travel, all because I applied myself and didn't sit around waiting for someone to hand me a better life. We've become such an entitlement society that it's likely the economic inequalities won't change. If you keep waiting on someone else to amke your life better, then don't complain when your life continues to suck.

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news2me 2 years, 6 months ago

So do you condone the actions of the black supremacy groups like the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party? The NBPP has put a bounty on Zimmerman. You don't have a problem with that do you?

The more racism is screamed in this case, support for Zimmerman only increases. The race card is has become meaningless when anyone that disagrees with you is labeled as such.

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

Poor has nothing to do with most minority children being born out of wedlock and being raised without a responsible father figure in the home.

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Jan 2 years, 6 months ago

Notblind, your statement that most minority children are born out of wedlock is just demonstrates your racist outlook. If you want to criticize our welfare system for encouraging out of wedlock births, I would agree; however, this is a policy that effects all poor. Before responding, I did the research. While technically your information is true, if you consider economic class also, it is false. Stats show that 41% of whites babies in America are born out of wedlock (2009 study by CDC). (I, too was surprised at this number). The high number is due to the increasing acceptance of cohabitation without marriage, according to the researchers analysis of past data. (In Iceland, this number is 66%).

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

One of us has NO idea what a racist is.

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notblind 2 years, 6 months ago

Jan, Go back and reread that CDC pdf. The "Non-Hispanic White unmarried mother" birthrate is 29 %. The OVERALL unmarried mother birthrate is 41 %.

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Say_that_again 2 years, 6 months ago

Interesting. So we should profile based on economics but not race. Pull over that guy with an older car! Go after those kids that get reduced lunch prices at school! While we are profiling, better start hassling those in the priesthood since anecdotal evidence shows that they are more likely to be child molesters than any other career choice. Add to the list CPA's for they are often found guilty of embezzling. Of course the police and politicians should be targeted since they are the ones most frequently found taking bribes or redirecting campaign funds to private use.

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FordGalaxy 2 years, 6 months ago

I really like how you admit that we don't know enough of the details about the case, but you go on to pass judgment anyway. To my knowledge, Zimmerman was told not to interact with Martin after he called the police. Somehow Zimmerman and Martin wound up in a confrontation. I've heard reports that Zimmerman ended up with a broken nose and another injury to his head. We all know the outcome for Martin. But how many times does a white teenager die in a drug deal? or how many times does a white person die at the hands of another? You never hear whites say that it should be personal for all of us.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 6 months ago

http://www.project.org/info.php?recordID=174

Mr. Robbinson, I could say a lot. But seeing the statistics I just linked above pretty much sums up what is true, black men have a bullseye on their back because black men before them and currently living next door and in thier neighborhoods have put it on them.

Whitey has not put it on them, their own people, black males have done it to their brothers and cousins. Because black men, stasticly, can not behave and follow the law, they end up in prison. Why can they not behave or act right? Listen to rap music, read twitter from "black leaders" and more importantly "black activist". They encourage bad behavior and the results are time in front of a judge and jury and then time behind bars.

Does it sound like Zimmerman was wrong? Sounds like it to me. But given the statistics above, a black male in America has a better chance of assualting me or killing me for that matter than any other individual in this country. Statisticaly speaking of course. So am I not to take that into account when I am walking down the street? Or better yet my door bell rings and there stands a black male? Maybe I should just tell myself that Obama has not put this country in deeper debt? Would that make me less of a racist too?

No, the fact is black males stand a higher chance of assualting, raping or killing you and that is the cold, hard facts. I am sure Jesse Jackson or the beloved Al Sharpton would tell us that so many black males are in jail because whitey made them that way or they are only there because they are black.

Mr. Robbinson, black America has a real problem and it's not racism, it behaviorism. Until black males learn how to be good upstanding citizens, have respect for others and not have negative influences on their life, like black rappers and the likes of Jesse Jackson making excuses for them, black males are going to always being leading the way in prison.

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Max 2 years, 6 months ago

Without disagreeing that there is still an enormous amount of racism, EVERYWHERE. There are plenty of this sort in all races. The application here is more to the point of the investigators, and not so much the shooter. I deduce from everything that I have read, that this individual was out to shoot somebody sometime. I think whoever happened to walk through in a hoodie or whatever at that time, on that night would have been shot. The investigation as I see it, should have concluded, that the shooter continued to follow the victim after being told to stop following, and he didn't. If the victims body was not found in extremely close proximity to were he was told to wait and meet the responding officer then, I submit any injuries to the shooter, were issued in what the victim perceived as the need to protect himself, and " stand his ground ". So the fact that the shooter has not been arrested leans more toward racism etc. than just the fact that a non-black shot a black. I believe the shooter here would have shot a person of any race in this same situation. Therefore the individual should be charged, not his race, not his right to bear arms but his decision to shoot another person when he was in no danger at all if he just walks away.

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