Thursday, May 21, 2015

Notes From Post-Racial America, Ctd.

I was not the only one to notice that the coverage of Waco and Baltimore was different.

Unlike in Ferguson and Baltimore, where protests went on for days, there was no live news coverage of the Waco shootout. And yet the incident at a Texas restaurant hasn’t been used as a bridge to discuss other issues about families, poverty and crime, media critics, columnists and civil rights activists say.

They complain that there appears to be little societal concern about the gunplay at a restaurant in Texas, whereas politicians — including President Barack Obama — described violent looters in Baltimore as “thugs,” and the media devoted hours of television and radio airtime to dissecting social ills that affect the black community.

On Twitter, #wacothugs and #whiteonwhitecrime were trending, with columnists around the nation debating the differences. “So the mainstream media refuses to talk (hashtag)WacoThugs, huh? No panel discussion on their childhood? Fatherless homes?” radio and TV commentator Roland Martin said on Facebook. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted sarcastically, “Why won’t America’s biker gangs be more like Dr. Martin Luther King?”

There are a lot of reasons for this cognitive dissonance, but the most obvious one is that we — all of us — have a tendency to think in terms of groups.  Political parties tend to think that all people in a certain group will vote a certain way, so they pitch their message to the broadest denominator they can come up with to attract them and then run with it.  For example, Republicans hope that by nominating Marco Rubio, they’ll attract the Latino vote all over the country despite the fact that Mr. Rubio is Cuban and there’s a history of animus between Cubans and Latinos who are not.  (Not to pick on just the Latinos; there’s animus between any number of groups within groups.  Go to an antique car club meeting, toss out “Mustangs kick Camaros ass,” and run for your life.)   Democrats try to find candidates who will appeal to the patchwork of groups that vote for them, so they’re on the hunt for a black Latina lesbian from a working-class neighborhood in Evansville to give the keynote speech at the convention.

The problem with that is that thinking all people in a certain group think alike, even if they agree overwhelmingly on an issue such as immigration or marriage equality, may say so for vastly different reasons.  A businessman may want amnesty-granting immigration reform not because he cares about the horrible living conditions in a foreign country but because he needs someone to pick his tomatoes.  A gay man could be unalterably opposed to same-sex marriage not because of any biblical imprecation but because he sees it as just one more way the queer community is desperately trying to conform to the ways and mores of the straight world.  It’s been shown that one reason Obamacare still polls unfavorably is because not only are there those who say it’s Commie socialized medicine, but there are those who don’t think it’s Commie socialized medicine enough.

It is hard-wired in our nature to lump people together by identifiers such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any convenient way of categorizing someone else, including social groups like clubs or gangs.  Even the most open-minded of us will still see the world in what is basically an “us vs. them” mentality, and Waco vs. Baltimore is one more example.

4 barks and woofs on “Notes From Post-Racial America, Ctd.

  1. One wonders whether the relative silence is the well-documented history of white males shooting people just because.

  2. The idea that “white biker gangs” and “whites” are separate things is intuitively obvious to most whites. However we tend not to discern such differences in out-groups

  3. @KenB: there may be a distinction that white people make; however, for every “white biker gang member” there are a dozen ordinary volk who think it’s perfectly normal to keep firearms for shooting niCLANGs that trespass on their property just like any other pest (they just use the dogwhistle equivalents for those terms when they talk about it). At least bikers are detectable from some distance.

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