Are whites to be ‘artificially stupid?’
by Melvyn L Fein
July 08, 2013 12:14 AM | 1413 views | 8 8 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The George Zimmerman trial has revealed many things about the state of race relations in the United States. It has demonstrated, in particular, that we still do not treat blacks and whites the same. The rules we apply to one group remain different from those employed with the other.

Trayvon Martin’s parents tell us that they do not wish to make race an issue in trying the man who shot their son — but it already is. They know, as should we all, that were this a black-on-black shooting, or a white-on-white one, or even a black-on-white one, this would not be national news.

And so we proceed as if we were walking on eggshells with far too many of us unwilling to be candid about what we are witnessing. Consider the issue of profiling.

The prosecution wished to be able to impute Zimmerman’s motivation to racial profiling, and thus to demonstrate that the shooter was a racist.

The judge, however, would not allow this. She has permitted the district attorney to use the term “profiling,” but not to link it inextricably with race. This, however, is turning out to be a distinction without a difference because the prosecution is doing all it can to plant the idea of racism with the jury.

Nevertheless, was Zimmerman profiling — and was this a moral transgression? It seems to me that the defendant was indeed profiling, yet this was the sensible thing to do. Under the circumstances it was something other whites would have done. It is also something a neighborhood-watch black would have done.

Let us remember that Zimmerman was on the outlook for potential criminals in a neighborhood that had been victimized by crime. Let us also understand that young black men are disproportionately responsible for crime. I am not talking about 6 or 7 percent more, but 600, 700 or 800 percent more.

Most blacks, to be sure, are not criminals; still when we are seeking to identify dangerous individuals, we must be on the alert to indicators of what we are trying to determine. Youth and race are such indicators. Whites know this, and so do blacks.

By now it is also common knowledge that blacks frequently use the N-word among themselves. Having worked with many black colleagues in Harlem and the South Bronx, I witnessed this first hand. As a consequence, I learned that the term is often used to designate someone as low-class, dangerous and/or vulgar.

Blacks do this because it is important for them to know whom they can trust and whom they cannot. With so many of them living in neighborhoods where crime is rampant, were they to refrain from making distinctions they would find themselves unnecessarily vulnerable.

Nonetheless, whites are asked not to note such differences. It is almost as if in having ancestors who victimized blacks, they are being asked to allow themselves to be victimized so as to compensate for those misdeeds.

The irony of this policy is that it runs counter to the goal of reducing discrimination. Discrimination occurs when we treat people differently because they belong to a particular social category. As such, solely handicapping whites contradicts our goal of universalization, i.e., of applying the same standards to all.

Indeed, if whites are required to abstain from profiling where blacks are concerned, they are being required to discriminate. Because they must treat blacks differently, they must make certain to notice differences in skin color. They cannot simply regard all of us as equally human.

And so when a young black man in a hoody is seen walking where no one should be walking, are we to demand that a white observer be artificially stupid? Is he not to notice what anyone who was merely being fair would notice? Must we then castigate him as a bigot and insist that he be punished?

How does this advance the cause of improved race relations?

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.

Comments
(8)
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anonymous
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July 12, 2013
Shorter Professor Fein: Black people who buy or rent houses in white neighborhoods deserve to get shot.
Just sayin'
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July 09, 2013
"And so when a young black man in a hoody is seen walking where no one should be walking, are we to demand that a white observer be artificially stupid?"

This isn't an artificially stupid statement. It's the genuine article. Trayvon Martin wasn't supposed to be walking in the neighborhood where he was living?

frogbreath
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July 09, 2013
@dasha

Look up the numbers yourself. Sadly, young black men are disproportionately committers of criminal acts.

My belief is that the crowded lifestyle of urban living is not conducive to living a peaceful, law abiding life.

Whatever the reason(s), the numbers agree with the professor.

dasha12345
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July 09, 2013
"Let us also understand that young black men are disproportionately responsible for crime. I am not talking about 6 or 7 percent more, but 600, 700 or 800 percent more."

Where did you get this statistic? 600, 700 percent more than WHAT?

frogbreath
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July 08, 2013
@James N. 101

"Shame on you. This is an age of new thoughts and scientific discoveries, but you want to live in the past."

It seems to me that you are the one living in the past. In your world of "new thoughts". is murder now a social grace? Are robbery and other crimes now well intentioned efforts to secure personal goods?

James N. 101
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July 09, 2013
Did I say murder was a social grace? Where in my comments did I say that? My point was that racial profiling is wrong. Please read before you make stupid comments.
James N. 101
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July 08, 2013
Profiling was the sensible thing to do, you say? What a sorry excuse of a professor you are. Should all Muslims be strip searched in airports because of a minority of extremists? Should all blacks be followed and stopped by police because of a minority of criminals? Should we say all Asians must be good at math and science, because some of them are? Should we pretend all whites are closet mass murder cases like James Holmes and Adam Lanza?

Your suggestion that whites ought to be "artificially stupid" isn't just a bad policy idea in general, it also smacks of Eurocentric privilege and racism wearing a suit of reason . Shame on you. This is an age of new thoughts and scientific discoveries, but you want to live in the past. Is that right?

Mary Grabar
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July 08, 2013
James N., You missed Professor Fein's point altogether. We all profile, even among our own race. Whites profile among other whites; blacks profile among other blacks. Fein speaks from experience. Do you? I might add to this excellent column that we also profile by sex. Middle-aged women, black and white, commit a low proportion of crimes.
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