When everybody looks evil to you, racism comes naturally

One a.m. here in Los Angeles, in the Venice area. Time to take a walk. I’ve been doing this recently, going on 2 or 3 mile walks. It gets me thinking, and it gets me around to see the neighborhood. I assume it’s good exercise as well. I can imagine myself doing this when I’m older, when walking a few miles will be a big deal. I’d run the three miles, but my back is beat to hell, so it’s walking for now.

I’m not keen on doing this so late, but I’m not worried. There are a few criminals around, but the odds of being accosted by one are very low. I also assume they’d prefer to pick on a better target. At 5’8″ and 185 lbs., I could be a dangerous victim. Being a blue-eyed Irish American with a shaved head and a beard probably adds to the safety factor. People are far more likely to approach and ask me if I could help push their cars than to cough up my wallet.

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So I go down to the corner, and I cross the street. The two penny-ante drug dealers are there. After about midnight or so, they’re always there. One of them is wearing a hoodie. Half a mile up an eerily quiet neighborhood street, some guy rides slowly by me on a bike, and he’s wearing a hoodie. And me, I’m wearing one, too. Like I said, I have a shaved head, and the early morning is cool, so I haven’t warmed up yet. That’s three out of four.

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The Martin tragedy has played out in a nearly perfect way to reaffirm both sides of the political divide. To conservatives, Trayvon’s a candy-thieving, dope-smoking teen who played gangsta on his Facebook page by calling himself “nigga.” Those punks, when you want to know what they’re doing in your neighborhood, they knock you down and beat you. To liberals, Trayvon’s just a black kid out to do no one harm, merely walking down the sidewalk when he’s 9-1-1’d, accosted, beaten and shot dead. You take the kid’s skin color out of the story, and he’s alive and well today. The two sides are now staring into looking glasses, shouting at the perceived other, “See? SEE?!?” I doubt anything we now learn of the murder will ever change this expression of dual righteousness. We’re stuck.

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This is where I began to try to get past the entrenched thinking, when I began my walk. Here’s the thing:

To conservatives, it is proper that Americans see themselves first as debased souls. This is the legacy of historic, self-hating Christianity, to be drummed into you in childhood. You stink. And because of that, there’s not much you deserve to get in life. Sex, pleasure, money, leisure time, even healthcare — these should not be given to the ugly and dirty. You have to earn these things. And you earn them through sacrifice.

Until then, you have no right to be blessed with American Spoils. Those are the rewards you get by accepting your nasty self and killing it. You want sex? You must sacrifice your freedom by entering into the marriage covenant. You want money? You must sacrifice your free will by doing what the boss tells you. You want healthcare? You must sacrifice your choices by staying with one employer for five, or ten, or twenty years. Then you can have it. Good boy, now run along and get yourself a check-up.

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What’s this got to do with the Martin killing? It sets up the essential tragedy and divide. Long before there was a fist fight, conservatives saw the politics of whatever could happen clearly. I’m not sure, to their minds, if it mattered at all what happened next.

Zimmerman is the man. He’s been married, he’s been employed. He’s accepted his true nature and sacrificed it for a share of the Spoils. He’s doing everything he should, in just the right way. And he’s a neighborhood watch guy. He knows about the essential rotten ways of people. Hell, he’s doing whatever he can to fight it.

Trayvon is the boy. With his iced tea and candy, he’s just your mindless pleasure-seeking force of defiant nature. You can bet he doesn’t do what his teachers tell him to do. He breaks the law and smokes pot. And he brags about being a “nigga,” as if that weren’t the height of anti-social narcissism.

You contrast the two, and, for conservatives, it is epic drama. To them, the guy who’s playing the Christian role is in the clear. He has every right to confront the unrepentant kid. Who are you? What are you doing here? Who the hell do you think you are? A good conservative will prefer to live in a world full of these neighborhood watch captains. Evil, as always, must lose out.

But what Zimmerman did was wrong. In a civil society, absent actual evidence of wrongdoing, he’s got no business stalking and harassing a teenager because he’s black. Right-wingers, of course, would protest the indictment. No, they’re not being racist at all, they’re just being careful. After all, look how many evil people there are in the world. But when your personal and political beliefs command you to be contemptuous of everyone else, secure in knowing your neighbors are inferior beings — to the point of accosting and occasionally killing them — what’s the difference?

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