Let me say at the outset that this column only tangentially relates to Trayvon Martin. So much has been written about his case that there’s little left to say. I only wish to use it as a coordinate on a political curve to examine the effective conservative agenda currently underway that indirectly paves the way for such tragedies.
Last month’s article in which I and five of my friends criticized President Obama for rarely talking about black men unless to criticize them unsurprisingly generated a great deal of response. One critic labeled us an “Academically Elitist Gang of Six.” He was clearly a religious fellow. I’d bow to his admonitions, but I usually avoid the righteous counsel of the holy given that they often stink of narrow-minded irrationality and hypocrisy. In spite of my past criticisms, I want to say that I was very proud of the president for his surprise July 19 comments on the Martin case, black men, race and America. They were clearly heartfelt and needed.
I also like the “Gang of Six” moniker. Unfortunately, my editor didn’t include the names of my fellow “gang members” in last month’s byline. For the curious, they are: Drs. Jeremy Levitt (Florida A&M), Peniel Joseph (Tufts), Matthew Whitaker (Arizona State), Jelani Cobb (UConn), Yohuru Williams (Fairfield), and yours truly.
My friends and I defy typical racist categorization of black men as rappers, athletes, thugs or thieves even though we mostly come from tough neighborhoods in concrete jungles like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. We are progressive intellectuals who belong to the less than 1 percent of Americans who hold PhDs. We analyze the big historical and political picture. So, we’re dangerous in a very different way. For instance, consider this: Some have argued the Martin/Zimmerman situation is confusing in this time of “unprecedented black political power.” It shouldn’t be.
To be sure, the illusion of great national black power is based largely on the fact that the current president is black. Many are also comforted by the belief that the Republican Party is, for all intents and purposes, dead. A serious look at the current state of American politics, however, disabuses us of that notion. Actually, a striking level of conservative re-entrenchment is taking place.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County vs. Holder is only the most salient of recent blows (though many people have quickly forgotten about it in the wake of Zimmerman’s acquittal). This was the latest reminder that politics run much deeper than voting every two, four or six years. Lifetime appointees to the High Court are but one example. The trouble doesn’t start or end there.
In his July 19 speech, President Obama correctly notes that the lion’s share of laws (criminal and otherwise) are established at the state and local levels. He is right, and we must be clear that these levels are dangerous territories for many. Three days before the Martin verdict, Thomas Edsall published an important article titled, “The Decline of Black Power in the South.” Edsall’s work reminds us that the GOP is definitely not dead. In the real world, the Republicans are very much alive and playing a patient, long-range political game that is yielding great rewards.
Though they’ve lost the last two presidential races, Republicans now control all 11 state legislatures in the former Confederacy (yes, that includes Florida). This enables them to stymie or destroy progressive legislation, push new retrograde policy through and oversee redistricting and reapportionment processes. As Karl Rove observed in 2010, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.” And the Republicans do. Indeed, the South has risen again.
The GOP’s reach does not stop at the Mason-Dixon line. Republicans also control 15 other state houses for a total of 26 nationally. Thirty out of 50 governors are Republican. The GOP holds the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and many believe they will re-seize the Senate in the next election cycle. These are the people behind some of the scariest ideologies and legislation in recent memory — including Florida’s “stand-your-ground law.” Can you see why our worries must extend beyond Trayvon?
Don’t misunderstand me, the release of Trayvon Martin’s murderer was wrong. People of good conscience across lines of race are rightfully upset. But do you really want to change the system? If so, my advice is that while you protest the Zimmerman verdict, you’d better also work at understanding politics, political strategy and what’s really going on in America’s halls of power.