What will Treyvon Martin rallies change, if anything?

President Barack Obama in his speech: Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.

Questions:

1. We have witnessed continuing marches for Treyvon Martin. Where this may lead in your opinion, I mean politically and maybe also legally?

2. President Barack Obama said in his speech: “Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.“ How would you describe those changing attitudes in the current generation?

Answers:

Kerry Haynie, Associate Professor of Political Science, Co-Director, Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences, Duke University

1. I think all the marches in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict potentially have important political implication because the verdict came at a time and in the context of other perceived offenses against African Americans and other minorities. The US Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act, along with decisions by several state legislatures that will make voting more burdensome for many created a context in which people of color were already beginning to feel besieged , and then along comes the Zimmerman verdict. Suddenly being under attack became more than a metaphor for black people. It became reality. I think the verdict has the potential to galvanize minority and other left leaning voters heading into important midterm elections in 2014. Remember Treyvon Martin may become the rallying cry for activists seeking to change the tide in states with so-called stand your ground laws, extreme anti-immigration laws, and laws that restrict voting rights.

2. Generally speaking there have been tremendously positive changes in racial attitudes in the US, and I think the trend line is still very much positive. However, Jim Crow is as resilient as kudzu, and it recently has sprouted new growth. Similar to how kudzu overruns native plants and trees along the southern countryside, the re-emergent Jim Crow is overrunning and choking-off much of the racial progress we’ve made in this country over the past 60 years. The “old South” mentality never disappeared. Kudzu, when it is met with persistent resistance, goes dormant, and this is what happened to the old South in the face of federal legislation and widespread grass root attention and efforts. But we let our guard down and assumed that the election of a black president and other significant changes signaled the final defeat of Jim Crow. Now we are having to confront Jim Crow’s seedlings, who are residing comfortably in the mainstream of today’s Republican Party. This resistant contingent is shrinking in size for sure, but it’s managed to gain control over several state legislatures and is giving voice and action to old South attitudes. The majority of Americans want to see racial progress. This is especially true of younger generations. In time, the re-emergent Jim Crow will be faced with strong resistance, and will again go dormant. But it won’t disappear. This is the lesson we need to learn.

Andra Gillespie, Associate Professor of Political Science, Emory University

1. The marches had three purposes. First, they were successful in pushing President Obama to speak forcefully about race. Second, the Saturday marches were speecifically designed to put pressure on the US Department of Justice to file federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. This may not succeed, as it is going to be difficult to prove that Zimmerman harbored racists attitudes at the time of the murder. Finally, yesterday’s marches are likely the beginning of a national campaign to get “stand your ground” laws removed from the 30 states which have those statutes.

2. By highlighting improvements in race relations, President Obama had two purposes. First, he was trying to blunt the impact of his comments, which were especially frank and drew criticism from those who thought that Obama was obsessing about race. Second, he was acknowledging, as most public opinion polls have noticed, that explicitly racist attitudes have waned in this country in the past 50 years. That being said, there still remains tremendous opportunity for growth. It would be a mistake to assume that all the remaining racists in America are elderly people who are close to death. As an anecdote, right now, there is an American reality show competition featuring a 22 year old contestant who is now infamous for making numerous bigoted comments about her black, Asian and gay co-competitors. So, while racism has gotten better, it certainly is still a relevant topic for discussion.

Robert Smith, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University

1.I do not expect the protests to lead to any change legally or politically. These recurring incidents of racial conflict usually result in a few weeks of talk,and then the nation moves on to the next media obsession, having done little to address the problem of racial poverty and crime.

2. At the level of attitudes, White Americans have become more liberal and racially tolerant but in terms of policies to address the problems of poverty and racial ghettoization they, whether Democrat or Republican or young or old, remain largely conservative which is why Obama as president is able to do little beyond talk.

Ibram X. KendiAssistant Professor, Department of Africana Studies, University at Albany – SUNY

1. The protests around the nation, the anger around the nation among all the races may lead to the Department of Justice charging George Zimmerman with violating the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. Ironically, it took protest activity to compel Florida to prosecute Zimmerman. Now, it may take protests to compel the federal government to prosecute Zimmerman. In a larger sense, these protests may be the beginning of a mass movement against what is known as mass incarceration. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, mostly imprisoning black males.

2. The changed attitude among this generation is that racism is bad, to believe a black person to be inferior is bad, to discriminate against a black person is bad. However, even though we view racism as bad, and no once wants to be identified as a racist, America remains a society defined by racism. Often without knowing it, or more so acknowledging it as racism, Americans still show they believe blacks to be inferior and discriminate against blacks. The Zimmerman defense team throughout the case proclaiming Zimmerman not to be a racist. If he was not a racist, then he would not have tagged Trayvon as a criminal, and Trayvon would be alive today.

Mark SawyerProfessor of African American Studies and Political Science, Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, UCLA

1. I think it is forcing the justice department to review stand your ground laws and their disparate racial application.

2. Attitudes are improving but the legacy of racism that flows from slavery, Indian removal & the defeat of Mexicans still runs deep & is encoded in the DNA if the US.

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