Tag: racial bias

Learning from Juror B-37

By Alan Bean

A week ago I wrote two posts related to the composition of the jury in the George Zimmerman case.  In the first, I said that common sense suggested that the defendant would be found guilty of manslaughter.  The prosecution had only Zimmerman’s description of the altercation between the two men to work with and that made Murder 2 a tough sell.  But the fact that none of the six jurors looked like the victim in this story troubled me.  My fear was that the jurors would understand why Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin’s presence in the neighborhood suspicious and potentially dangerous.  A single Black juror would have challenged this identification and argued for another way of reading the story.

My second post (which also appeared in the Associated Baptist Press) argued that the jury, though conscientious and well-intentioned, lacked the social experience and the cultural competency to sift through a blizzard of legal considerations.

Most readers who bothered to comment were unimpressed. Some felt that race had no bearing on this case, so the racial composition of the jury didn’t matter. Others insisted that Zimmerman received what the Constitution guarantees: a jury of his peers.

As Bill Stuntz observed shortly before his death, Black jurors are commonly tried by predominantly White juries who are inclined to side with authority figures like police officers and prosecutors and subject to racial bias. (more…)

Probing the subtleties of white racial bias

By Alan Bean

I came across two columns this morning making the case that white people can be riddled with racial bias without feeling any particular ill will toward racial minorities.

In a guest column in the New York Times, Ta-Nehisi Coates uses a grotesque incident of racial profiling involving academy award-winning actor Forest Whitaker as his jumping off point.  The deli employee who accused Whitaker of shop lifting, and frisked him on the spot, claims to be a “good person” without a single racist bone in his body.  Coates doesn’t argue with this self-assessment, but disputes the assumption that racism necessarily involves a conscious dislike of a particular racial group.

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” (more…)