Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

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Location: North Carolina, United States

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Zimmerman, and Other Bits on Race (and Gender)

If you’ve watched or read any news in the last couple weeks, you’ve probably caught wind of the recent Zimmerman trial for the alleged killing of Trayvon Martin: the trial (blown by the prosecutors, but still, c’mon), the verdict (not guilty of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter), the aftermath (protesting of both peaceful and violent varieties), and the conversation about race throughout. As far as I can tell, this verdict basically reaffirms, in a microcosm—seriously, this shit happens pretty often, but sometimes one story latches on to everyone’s empathy-feelers—that young black males are hugely mistreated in our legal system. One of the major culprits is the “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws that almost half of US states have. These laws essentially create the possibility of a “guilty until proven innocent” situation, as this article clearly illustrates, with the point summarized in this quote:

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“Sanford Police Chief Billy Lee initially said there is no evidence to dispute self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman's assertion that he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

‘Until we can establish probable cause to dispute that, we don't have the grounds to arrest him,’ Lee said.”

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Now that the trial is over and the technicalities have fallen away in favor of more general discussion, the public conversation is mostly about race—but, I don’t think that it hurts to also point out gender in this case. Since the conversation on discrimination is in full swing right now, I figured I would share a couple other interesting videos about racial attitudes in America, with a few comments on gender as well.

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First, we have an interesting micro-documentary about stop-and-frisk policies in New York City. Here’s a summary of some of the stats cited in the video: cops in NYC stopped 685,724 people in 2011, and these people were disproportionately black or Hispanic. Gender is not mentioned in this segment, save for one quote from by Tyquan’s teacher, Drew: “Young men of color are targeted, period. End of story.” The  gender stats are not typically highlighted, including at the New York Civil Liberties Union website, which gives a more detailed race breakdown. But, if you dig into the data files provided on the website (which has data for all 685,724 people), you’ll find that 93.1% of those randomly stopped are male, excluding those with no gender recorded. For black people only, this percentage basically holds, at 93.3%. Ain’t that a treat? If you want to talk about men's problems in the media, you must, must, must tread carefully, and oftentimes it’s just not worth it—so, you gloss over the point instead.

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This entry has been a downer so far, so let’s move on to something more uplifting. Watch this commercial. You can probably guess why a storm of hateful comments descended on this poor video, posted just a couple months ago on YouTube. Now, the story about this commercial is, again, nothing new: YouTube comment sections, like most online comment sections, are stomping grounds for trolls and bigots cloaked in anonymity. But the reaction to this commercial caught on, and the Fine Bros, who have a long-running series of reaction videos on YouTube, took this opportunity to ask some kids what they think about commercial.

Lots and lots of confused looks from kids, color-indifferent attitudes, and a general focus on nice things like love and happiness. One of the girls made an especially cute comment—“But, some people just fall in love like that”—while shrugging her shoulders. Sure, there’s probably some selection bias because of the kids that the Fine brothers interviewed, but there is a decrease in racist tendencies as the generations pass, on the whole.As a side note, part of the reaction to this video might have had to do with the specific pairing of a white woman with a black man (no data, but work with me here). White men can more or less date, bang, and marry whatever kind of women they’d like without worrying about too much backlash toward either party: the white guy can bring the gal up to his social level. But, if a black man marries a white chick, then both face some judgment because the black man is somehow “corrupting” or bringing down the white woman.

A few points are embedded in all this (I’m going to roll with “black” and “white” here, so forgive me for oversimplifying): one, the man’s standing shouldn’t determine the dynamic of the relationship more than the woman’s standing; two, black men get a sore deal if they happen to love white women; and three, white women also get a sore deal if they love black men. From these points, we can take a couple general ideas: one, it’s important not to oversimplify discrimination; and two, it’s possible for men to suffer consequences within a patriarchal system, though not nearly to the extent that women suffer.

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Take care,
~Neil

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