The “not guilty” verdict in George Zimmerman‘s trial for the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin continues to resonate, and while there are encouraging signs that many Americans are finally beginning to “get it,” some media outlets continue to push a racial divide that doesn’t really seem to exist. The Washington Post, for example, published the results of a new poll on the verdict with the headline “Zimmerman verdict: Poll finds chasm between white and black reactions,” but a fairer reading of that survey indicates a partisan divide, not a racial one.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll does show that 86% of black adults disapprove of the verdict, versus 31% of white adults who disapprove, but to call this a “black/white chasm” is to ignore the more significant partisan divide that over-arches it. The 86% of black people who disapprove of the verdict is nearly identical to the 88% of black voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, and that 31% of white adults who disapprove of the verdict is exactly identical to the 31% of the poll’s respondents who identified themselves as Democrats.
Among all Democrats, 62% disapprove of the verdict, versus just 20% of Republicans. To chharacterize these results as a racial chasm is to ignore the fact that significant numbers of white people disapprove of the verdict, a similar number to the 39% of white voters who joined a diverse coalition to reelect President Obama in 2012.
Tim Wise says that “white America” is still in denial about race, and that may be somewhat true of the more-monolithic white American culture, where change occurs in glacially-paced tipping points, but in terms of actual white people, a realistic view of race in America breaks down along partisan lines. Asked if “blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system,” 41% of white people responded no, damn near the same number who voted for President Obama, and the partisan breakdown on that question was overwhelming, too, with 70% of all Democrats answering “no,” versus just 29% of Republicans.
There have been some ugly reactions to the verdict, and to President Obama’s Friday speech on Trayvon’s killing, but there are also signs that “white America” is beginning to get it, and the President’s speech may turn out to be a tipping point that spreads a realistic view of race beyond his own coalition. While partisan dead-enders like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and Dana Perino spouted predictable outrage, the President’s speech got high marks from the likes of Sen. John McCain and Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. If John McCain and Joe Scarborough get it, then maybe there’s hope for us after all. The first step to solving any problem is admitting you have one, and increasing numbers of white people are finally admitting that things aren’t equal in this country. Maybe not all white people, or even most white people, but enough white people to make a difference.
How that shakes out will have a lot to do with how the mainstream media handles this issue. The only real confusion in that WaPo poll was among so-called independents, and it is that group which will take its cues from the likes of The Washington Post. By framing the post-Zimmerman conversation as a black/white one, rather than a black-and-white-and-everybody-else/white Republican conversation, the Post makes itself part of the problem, just as surely as their recognition of racism as a valid “side” of this argument did.
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