The Hard Truths Revealed by the Trayvon Tragedy, by Hughey Newsome

newsome_smIn the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin trial, the only surprise is that the media is missing the real race issue — perhaps because they are behind it.

Left-leaning media generally chastise George Zimmerman, his lawyers and the authorities in Sanford, Florida, insisting race drove the incident that led to Martin’s death and disregarding Zimmerman’s claims of self-defense. Meanwhile, right-leaning media insists race played no factor in either Zimmerman’s actions or those of Sanford authorities.

As an African-American conservative, I am torn.

It pains me to see any attempt to manipulate the issue of race and the racial pain those before me suffered during more volatile times in our nation’s history. But I cannot completely disregard that race may have played some role in the case.

On a much higher level, there is an undeniable undercurrent of racial tension the media is not addressing.

In fact, they seem to perpetuating the tension. Media naturally play to specific audiences. Each audience member, in turn, has a unique viewpoint based on life experiences. Though often ignored, it must be understood that most people do not harbor overt malicious feelings toward other races.

There is, however, a racial undercurrent in America. It’s not rooted in overtly malicious feelings towards different people. Instead, it’s an uncertainty based in subconscious racial attitudes we all harbor.

For example, what does it say when the left-leaning media doesn’t show age-accurate photos of Trayvon Martin? More often, photos of Martin come from back when he was a tween as opposed to when he died at the age of 17.

Clearly, showing a younger, smiling Martin in a Hollister t-shirt or football uniform projects innocence better than the saggy-pants, flipping-off-the-camera shots from later in his life. It implies that the mainstream media wants to project a more appealing, less hostile image of Martin — even though latter photos are indicative of a lot of kids of that age these days.

While this implies a bias toward Martin, doesn’t it also reveal feelings among the media that an age-accurate photo of a 17-year-old African-American male cannot exude innocence? Is it the media’s assumption that the 17-year-old Martin’s photos can’t elicit sympathy because they are somehow fearsome and might generate negative feelings among audiences?

How many major-media stories about white shooting victims intentionally use out-of-date photos?

Also, consider the accusation of race manipulation through the Willie Horton ads during the 1988 presidential election. The campaign of George H.W. Bush was rebuked for using an African-American criminal to scare voters away from opponent Michael Dukakis. Did that not also imply the accusers were actually more fearful of African-American criminals than white ones?

The subconscious generalities and fears society holds against certain races do not limit themselves to ideology. They do not limit themselves to a demographic, political party or even a race since many African-Americans harbor subconscious prejudices just like other racial groups.

Consider all of the research done with resumes and people with ethnic names. Despite exhibiting identical levels of experience, a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that resumes submitted by those with traditional names (Emily, Greg) generated 50 percent more callbacks than resumes from people with ethnic African-American-sounding names (Lakisha, Jamal). The research was conducted in the politically “blue” cities of Chicago and Boston, but similar studies were done throughout the country with comparable results. No evidence of a correlation to ideology or ethnicity was suggested.

Society does itself a disservice by focusing conversations on overt racism. But glaring bias is mostly marginalized in today’s society. Despite this, some opportunists still prefer focusing on it for personal gain or fame.

America really needs to begin to discuss subtle, underlying racial factors rather then chasing past demons. It will be a tough discussion, but it needs to happen. And it will likely not happen as long as it is profitable for some to focus on the less pervasive but more exciting fears of overt racism.

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Hughey Newsome, a business consultant in the D.C. area, is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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