Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Republican Racism Example #50: The Smearing Of Trayvon Martin






Stephanie Eisner's racist cartoon about the Trayvon Martin case. (Image taken from  http://gawker.com/5896863/university-of-texas-student-paper-wins-most-racist-trayvon-martin-cartoon-contes)


A disgusting cartoon on the Trayvon Martin shooting that ran in the University of Texas student newspaper this week served as part of a broader campaign by the racist right wing to vilify the black youth as a a dark criminal-in-waiting .

The March 27 cartoon by a UT student, Stephanie Eisner, depicts a white women reading a book called Trayvon Martin And The Case Of Yellow Journalism to a child.  She sits in a chair labeled “the media” and reads to the shocked kid, “AND THEN – the BIG, BAD WHITE man killed the HANDSOME, sweet innocent Colored boy.”  To underscore the racial dynamics of the cartoon, Eisner drew three arrows pointing to the word “white,” which were also underlined, and did the same with the word “Colored.”

Five members of The Daily Texan’s editorial board approved the cartoon before it appeared in print and  in online versions of the newspaper.   Someone pulled the cartoon from the online version by Tuesday evening, though the drawing was still included in the PDF copy of the print edition as of Thursday.  

In yet another moment of insensitive cluelessness, the Daily Texan released the cartoon the same day as a large downtown Austin rally held to protest the Martin shooting and to demand a criminal investigation of the death.  On Wednesday, the newspaper posted the following non-apologetic statement:

“"A controversial editorial cartoon on the Trayvon Martin shooting was published Tuesday on the Opinion page of The Daily Texan. The Daily Texan Editorial Board recognizes the sensitive nature of the cartoon’s subject matter. The views expressed in the cartoon are not those of the editorial board. They are those of the artist. It is the policy of the editorial board to publish the views of our columnists and cartoonists, even if we disagree with them. Please direct any inquiries to editor@dailytexanonline.com.”

Eisner also issued a statement:

"I apologize for what was in hindsight an ambiguous cartoon related to the Trayvon Martin shooting. I intended to contribute thoughtful commentary on the media coverage of the incident, however this goal fell flat. I would like to make it explicitly clear that I am not a racist, and that I am personally appalled by the killing of Trayvon Martin. I regret any pain the wording or message of my cartoon may have caused." (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/27/university-of-texas-trayvon-cartoon_n_1383539.html). 

Student protests beginning Wednesday afternoon pressured the Daily Texan to reverse course.  For days the newspaper refused to acknowledge the use of the crude, racist term “colored” and Eisner’s clear implication that the unarmed teenager Martin must have been shot because he was guilty of something.  On Thursday the newspaper finally apologized and fired Eisner.

Daily Texan editor-in-chief,  Viviana Aldous, a philosophy major, finally admitted that the cartoon should not have been published.  A junior journalism major at the school, and activist in the Black Student Alliance Jamine Kyles, condemned the newspaper for its callousness.  ““A lot of people don’t realize how insensitive this comic is, and this affects the recruitment of African-American students to the University by making the campus look bad,” Kyles said. “When they see things like this, they think the University is racist even though that hasn’t been everyone’s experience here.” (See http://www.dailytexanonline.com/university/2012/03/29/protesters-racism-still-affects-campus).

UT journalism professor Robert Jensen, who has written extensively on white racism, in books such as 2005’s The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (see http://www.amazon.com/The-Heart-Whiteness-Confronting-Privilege/dp/0872864499/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333050894&sr=1-1), rejected any contention that a cartoon that used the term dated term “colored” could be anything but racist. 

“Any cartoon that uses an overtly racist term such as ‘colored boy’ expresses a racist sentiment,” Jensen said to the Daily Texan. “The evidence is clear that in a white-supremacist society, we white people who do not endorse a racist ideology are not free of racist sentiments at an unconscious level.”
 Some defended the publication of the cartoon and claimed that the newspaper had violated Eisner’s free speech rights.  The Daily Texan on March 29 included these remarks in a story about the cartoon controversy:

“Journalism graduate student Tara Haelle, who taught journalism for four years at Sam Houston High School in Arlington, said she was disappointed by the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction of the alumni and believes the board should not have apologized.
 ‘I would expect the alumni to recognize the importance of free speech and not to chastise and patronize the editorial board,’ Haelle said. ‘I don’t happen to agree with the opinion of the cartoonist, but if nothing else, that cartoon encourages a discussion about race.’”
 Let’s assume that Haelle is just appallingly clueless  to the plantation-era tone of referring to an African American as a “colored boy” and that she’s not actually a racist.   The issue of free speech is a red herring.  Newspapers aren’t obligated to print any particular submission.  They exercise editorial judgment.   Content gets rejected all the time because it’s badly composed, badly reasoned, not relevant and so on.  The Eisner cartoon can be rejected simply on the grounds that it’s a crappy piece of art, that it doesn’t inform and is not funny or wise.  That aside, it contains a racist and dishonest assumption. 

Eisner mocks the media for engaging in “yellow journalism” because of the assumption that Martin was “innocent.”  Let’s be clear.  Martin was an American citizens walking on the streets of a neighborhood where he was visiting his father, carrying nothing more lethal than a bag of Skittles and an ice tea.  He was followed by a larger man carrying a gun who was not a law enforcement officer in any jurisdiction.  Even if we accept his shooter George Zimmerman’s dubious story that he was attacked by the significantly smaller Martin, the black teenager was well within his rights to lunge at a gun-bearing man under the same controversial “stand your ground” law that has been cited to defend the Martin shooting.

Martin’s “innocence” is not even an issue.  He was doing nothing illegal.   Would Eisner question the “innocence” of someone killed by a drunk driver, a bank robber, or in an industrial accident. 

As many have pointed out, Martin can be convicted on one crime: walking while black.  Eisner may not say that Martin is “guilty” of anything, but she assumes we should question the innocence of a black person shot while exercising the rights of any American citizen.  And, yes, Ms. Haelle, responsible newspapers should reject material on the basis of such egregious racism.


This blog is about Republican racism.  I don’t know if Ms. Eisner is a Republican and based on her other cartoons,  I’m not sure she has any coherent political ideology.  The cartoon is relevant to this blog, however, because it echoes the campaign of right wing Republicans to distort the few facts we have about Trayvon Martin’s short life and to posthumously criminalize him – to, in effect, say he deserved to be shot even if he did nothing criminal on the night Zimmerman gunned him down.

Hence, when a neo-Nazi website Stormfront posted a Facebook  picture supposedly of the Trayvon Martin so much in the news – an image showing a black teenage posing shirtless with a menacing glare and wearing sagging pants and flipping off the photographer with both hands – the picture went viral. It leaped from neo-Nazi circles to the Republican Party mainstream.  “This kid’s a dangerous, violent punk,” the image screamed to some whites. 

White backlashers around across the virtual world posted the picture.  Bottom-feeding reactionary columnist Michelle Malkin included the picture of “Trayvon Martin” in a column, placing next to a photo of a cleaned up George Zimmerman wearing a suit and a tie. (Previous photos of Zimmerman appearing in the media showed a scruffy Zimmerman just after an arrest).  Eager to imply that the dead black kid had to be guilty of something and deserved to be shot, Malkin captioned the paired photos with the following the following character defamation:

“Recognize these two people? If you don’t, we’ll help you out. The man on the left is George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering the boy on the right, Trayvon Martin. The mainstream media won’t show you these two photos because they convey a message that no one else wants to take into consideration.”


Right-wing blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin posted a picture of the wrong Trayvon Martin in order to make the slain teenager appear more menacing. (Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Malkin).

A dishonest, shabby coward, Malkin doesn’t bother to spell out what that “message” is to her, Eisner and similar cretins: that black people are scary and she feels better when they’re safely dead.  Unfortunately for Malkin, it turned out that the threatening “boy in the hood” photo turned out to be of a different Trayvon Martin.  That’s what happens when you rely on Neo-Nazis for your news.



When Malkin posted a photo of killer George Zimmerman in a suit next to a picture of a black youth who turned out to not have been his black target, the juxtaposed images became a right-wing internet meme.  The liberal media, racists suggested,  had conspired against the neighborhood watch captain by using pictures of a young, innocent looking Martin that concealed his threatening nature. (Photo from http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/03/27/when_in_doubt_smear_the_dead_kid.html)


The distance between Stormfront and so-called “mainstream” conservative websites shrank since the shooting. The Drudge Report has devoted itself almost full time to “smearing the dead kid” as David Weigel put it on Slate. 


"Drudge Report" headlines on the Tryavon Martin case that cast the victim of the shooting as the victimizer. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/03/27/when_in_doubt_smear_the_dead_kid.html).

Right-wingers made much of the fact that Martin received a suspension from school because officials discovered he possessed an empty bag that once apparently contained marijuana, as if this had any relevance to whether Zimmerman had cause to shoot the young man. (See http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/01/how-a-mix-of-racism-and-our-need-to-see-the-world-as-just-is-slandering-trayvon-martin.html.)   Another Republican right web site, Daily Caller presented a highly distorted sampling from Martin’s Twitter account designed to play to anti-black “gangsta” stereotypes.  As the New York Times reports, the Daily Caller coverage provided readers with:

“ . . . what appears to be a profile photograph he used, in which he was wearing a grill, a type of removable dental jewelry associated with rappers, but did not show or discuss the eight other Twitpic photographs associated with and linked to from the account. Those images — a bag of candy, a pencil drawing of the name ‘Tray’ sketched by his girlfriend; a school lunch; a tattoo of his mother Sybrina’s name; portraits of two girls; a football field; a new pair of sneakers — which remain online even though the associated Twitter account has been closed, paint an image of a fairly ordinary teenager’s life.”


Trayvon Martin wearing a grill. (Image from http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/03/27/when_in_doubt_smear_the_dead_kid.html).







Photos of the correct Trayvon Martin that The Daily Caller chose to not post. (Photos from http://www.myspace.com/t_r_a_y_9/photos/17846860#%7B%22ImageId%22%3A17846860%7D



Frequent TV talking head and short-lived Dancing With the Stars contestant Tucker Carlson established the Daily Caller.  As the New York Times and The Huffington Post write, Daily Caller executive editor David Martosko selectively quoted tweets by Martin that made him appear sullen and foul mouthed.  According to the Times:

“The Daily Caller’s selection of messages posted to that account — which used a nickname featuring a word that is a racial slur on African-Americans, but has been reclaimed by some young people as a term of endearment — includes several riddled with obscenities, but excludes others that might make the author seem more sympathetic, like a poignant update posted last month that read: ‘You never notice da bad until all da good gone away.’”  (See http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/29/bloggers-cherry-pick-from-social-media-to-cast-trayvon-martin-as-a-menace/). 


Tucker Carlson: the respectable face of Republican right-wing racism.  (Photo from http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/7/2009/09/tucker.jpg). 

Martosko took supposedly incriminating material from Martin’s social media sites that, out of context, made Martin appear dangerous and ignored other tweets and social media postings that made him seem just like any kid with big dreams.  As The Gawker website points out:

“A screenshot of Trayvon's Gmail inbox our source provided us is heartbreaking. Martin apparently used his Gmail account for his college search, and it's filled with emails about upcoming SAT tests and scholarship applications. (‘Trayvon, now is the best time to take the SATs!’) One email included the results of a career aptitude test, our source said. It ‘talked about his interest in aeronautics and stuff.’"

Martosko and Carlson are  “respectable” race-baiters, the later wearing a bow tie rather than the Doc Martens favored by skinheads.  The two got the reaction they wanted from their easily frightened readers.   The Times said:

“One Daily Caller reader commented [about Martin’s photos and tweets]:  ‘Nice young man, huh? He clearly was headed for trouble.’  Another suggested that the language showed that ‘he wasn’t as innocent has you’ve heard.’”

Not as innocent you’ve heard.  Not a “HANDSOME, sweet innocent Colored boy.”

He was black.  He had to be guilty of something.  That’s what Eisner and the right-wing Greek chorus want their audience to think.  Better that than admit that we live in a racist country that sees black life as cheap.

As Tim Wise, a thoughtful analyst of white privilege in America, put it so well on his blog post, too many white people in America today still accept the logic of the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, that the black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.  As he writes:

“This they make clear from their hateful and bigoted musings about Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old black male who made the mistake, in their mind, of forgetting that he had . . . no right to go where he pleased, ‘without molestation,’ no right to be treated like a citizen, indeed like a human being. No rights to due process, to peaceably assemble on a public street, to free speech (which he foolishly tried to exercise by asking his pursuer, Zimmerman, why he was following him), to be free from cruel and unusual punishment (such as extra-judicial execution for being black in a hoodie and thus arousing the suspicions of a paranoid negrophobe). No rights at all.

“And not even the well-established right to self-defense — the very right Zimmerman would now claim for himself, but which apparently did not extend to the young man whose life he ended. And so we hear (whether true or not — it remains to be seen) that Zimmerman had a broken nose and head injuries, that Martin attacked him: never mind that Zimmerman took out after Martin, that Zimmerman accosted Martin and asked him what he was doing in the neighborhood, that, according to witnesses, it was Zimmerman who pinned Martin down. We are supposed to feel sorry for the shooter because even in the light most favorable to him, his victim might have actually fought back!

 “Imagine that, fighting back against a total stranger who attacks you. That Martin would still be alive and Zimmerman would never have suffered the indignity of a broken septum, nor the anger of millions aimed in his direction had he just kept his stupid ass in his SUV like the police told him to do apparently matters not. Because, as some wish to remind us, Trayvon Martin had been suspended for school on suspicion of marijuana possession (an allegation so weak that he received no citation for the incident); and because Trayvon didn’t have a receipt for those Skittles he had in his possession when he was murdered (as if any 17 year old asks for a receipt when they purchase candy like they were going to need it for an expense report); and because Trayvon posed like a gangster on Facebook. Oh no, sorry, wrong Trayvon, but racists are like the Honey Badger–they don’t give a shit.

“The active and putrescent campaign of defamation now in full swing against this dead child is a reminder of just how little black life matters to some. No matter the facts, their deaths are always justified.” (See http://www.timwise.org/2012/03/trayvon-martin-white-america-and-the-return-of-dred-scott/).  


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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