Sunday's Meet the Press was supposed to be a "serious" discussion about race in the context of the Trayvon Martin case. What it felt like to me was David Gregory trying to flog the idea that President Obama hasn't led us into some "meaningful" national discussion about race while at the same time trying to minimize the impact race had on how the Trayvon Martin case has been handled.
Let's begin with David Brooks' statement at the very beginning of this particular segment, where he opines that racism is a "natural sin"; that is, it's inherent in all of us, and not learned. Without climbing deep down into the weeds about whether it is racism or tribalism that's natural, I think we can safely say that the hateful parts of racist behavior are learned and reinforced rather than genetic. It is one thing to gravitate toward others who look the same and another to shoot them. Or believe one is justified in shooting them, so making a statement like:
I would say it means that racism isn't a disease, it's a natural sin that we're born into. And therefore, we have to fight it through civilization and through artifice. And by the way, it's one of the reasons, when you have somebody with the gun in a neighborhood, it has to be someone trained--
See, I think it's a disease. And even if it is a natural inclination, what makes Brooks think training would somehow erase a person's racist inclinations? I think that even if it is natural, it is a disease and one that has been incubated and gone viral in this country, unleashed in 2008 with the full blessing of the right-wing politicians in our country.
Speaking of right-wing politicians, let's shift right on over to Haley Barbour, who says Newt Gingrich's comments are wrong but oh, so right.
DAVID GREGORY: Newt Gingrich spoke out pretty powerfully about this in the political realm. This is how he reacted, in part, to President Obama's comments.
What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period.
DAVID GREGORY: Was that responsible, governor, what he said?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR:
Well, I wouldn't have characterized it that way. But look, he's right. Any child, white, black, brown, red or yellow that gets killed, it's a tragedy. And we need to get to the bottom of it. Now there's-- he's absolutely dead right, there's no difference because of what race somebody is when something like this happens.
In order to understand President Obama's comment, one must accept on some level that the reason this case is now on the national radar is because there is a distinct possibility that George Zimmerman had drawn a bead on black kids in his neighborhood, and because the Sanford police department was willing to sweep the entire case under the rug as "justifiable homicide". If this tragedy had happened in reverse; that is, Martin had shot Zimmerman, do you think for one New York second that the cops would have let Martin go, much less written off the entire case as justifiable?
Hell yes, race is an issue here, no matter what Newtie and his buddy Barbour think. Yes, any teenager dying is a tragedy, no question. But it's not the fact of a teenager dying that's the issue in this case. The issue in this case is a double standard and set of assumptions that blamed the victim while letting his killer off the hook. When the president said his own son would look just like Trayvon, he was making a powerful statement about how race impacts judgment and for this panel to sweep that under the rug simply undoes the idea that this is any sort of "serious" discussion about race.