Trayvon Martin, Obama, and the persistence of bias

By Sally Kohn
March 21, 2012

By now the facts are well-known: Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old young black man who, on Feb. 26, 2012, was walking home from a 7-Eleven in Sanford, Florida, with a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman of white and Latino heritage, though advised by police not to pursue Trayvon himself, got out of his car carrying his 9-millimeter handgun. Allegedly after some confrontation, Zimmerman shot Trayvon dead.

Should we think about this horrendous incident as a random encounter, or does it teach us something about the politics of race and the persistence of racial bias in America today?

When Zimmerman first called the police about Trayvon Martin, he said: “There’s a real suspicious guy. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, on drugs or something. It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about.” Writer E.J. Graff termed this “Walking While Black.” In other words, Trayvon was presumed to be guilty of something nefarious simply because of the color of his skin.

Some who’ve listened to the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call believe they heard him use an obscenity and a racial slur. But whether Zimmerman is an overt racist or not is largely beside the point. Focusing on relatively isolated instances of overt racism tends to obscure and excuse the very pernicious, very persistent reality of implicit racial bias that runs throughout our society — and very much shaped how the world saw Trayvon Martin and how the world sees President Obama still.

Most people don’t throw around racial epithets, let alone admit they do so to researchers. Yet we know that racial stereotypes still exist in America, leading scientists now to focus on implicit bias: unconscious mental shortcuts that we form based on our life experience as well as the stories, culture and history we absorb around us.

In one study, researchers used computers to generate several faces that were exactly the same except for the skin color — half were black and half were white. All respondents (yes, including black people studied for the project) were more likely to rate the black faces as showing greater hostility. In another study, scientists showed a group of subjects a video of one person pushing another person. When the “shover” was black and the “victim” was white, 75 percent of research subjects said the push was aggressive. When the “shover” was white and the victim was “black,” only 17 percent of subjects said the push was aggressive.

Implicit racial bias has also been found in what researchers call a “shooter bias” — in which subjects playing a simulated video game are more likely to mistakenly pull the trigger on unarmed black men than on unarmed white suspects. The phenomenon has been tested and proved with police officers, too.

Watching conservative attacks on Obama, it’s hard not to conclude that they are tainted by implicit bias. Consider: President Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the United States of America. From day one, conservatives have attacked the president’s religion, citizenship and essential patriotism. Conservatives condemned healthcare reform in general and the individual mandate in particular, even though the mandate was originally a Republican proposal. Republicans, who historically never met a tax cut they didn’t like, have opposed virtually every tax cut proposal that President Obama has put forth. Amidst high unemployment and a crumbling economy, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his number one goal was to destroy the president’s chance for re-election.

Now, I do not believe that Mitch McConnell or most Republican leaders or rank-and-file voters are overt racists. But their rhetoric often evokes the same racial animus that Zimmerman seems to have expressed. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has labeled President Obama “the most dangerous president in history.” Glenn Beck once accused President Obama of having a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” And long before he called Sandra Fluke a slut, conservative mascot Rush Limbaugh said: “Obama is an angry black guy.” The parallel imagery is clear: President Obama, like Trayvon Williams, is a dangerous, suspicious black man clearly up to no good, guilty of Governing While Black.

And implicit bias has been tested with respect to President Obama. Researchers have shown that those with high rates of implicit racial bias were not only less likely to vote for President Obama but less likely to support his healthcare reform proposal. In fact, researchers were able to demonstrate that subjects were more supportive of the exact same healthcare reform proposals if they were ascribed to President Bill Clinton as opposed to President Obama.

In his book The Trouble With Black Boys, New York University professor of education Pedro Noguera writes:

Unlike men and women from other racial and ethnic groups, Black males are rarely seen as individuals in possession of a full range of attributes and flaws, strengths and weaknesses.  The stereotypes that shape the American images of Black males are so stark and extreme that even the most ordinary and unexceptional Black males find they are forced to contend with the fantasies and fears that others hold toward them.

Trayvon Martin had a handful of Skittles. Barack Obama holds the presidential pen. But both are viewed, especially by white America, as holding weapons, and in my view, both have been mistakenly fired upon, whether with real bullets or unprecedented political vitriol.

PHOTO: An undated handout photo released by the Martin family’s public relations representative shows 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.  REUTERS/Handout

51 comments

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If you’re correct in your assertion, that white people are just racist, then all political parties are to blame equally if they have white people in them, but you don’t point out racism in other political parties so that points to your own bias against the republican party.

You cannot assert a logic that is leading to the defamation of one party while also showing your bias against that party.

Are you white? Then you are also a racist by your own logic and cannot be trusted in your assessment of racist white people because you are subject to your own standard.

Sally, please go back to school and take some higher logic and reasoning courses, you make white people look bad.

Posted by Bassgenius | Report as abusive

Well done, and overdue in terms of bias towards our President. It needs to stop. It is tearing the country apart.

Posted by Maggy519 | Report as abusive

It’s not that I don’t agree with you, but are you saying America has not changed from 20, 30, or 40 years ago?

Posted by LawrenceElliott | Report as abusive

[...] And like so many people, I know that in no way is Trayvon’s murder an isolated incident. In my op-ed for Reuters, I explore what scientists tell us about implicit racial bias — and what it means for [...]

Bravo! Its high time someone wrote what you wrote for this column. Glad you had the courage to write it and say it. Calling this just racial bias is too kind. Mr. Trayvon Martin
did not die from mere racial bias. President Barack Obama is a Harvard educated lawyer, former US Senator and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. His earnest capabilities are the very soul of America. As one white woman said while he was touring the midwest last year, “he is a good and decent man”. Its so obvious unless racial bias or worse clouds the perception.

Posted by iceform | Report as abusive

Bassguy: Focus. The comment was not a question but a statement of verifable fact. Maybe you can tag team on the “back to school thing”.
@LawrenceElliott: That’s a real stupid question that if anyone answered it, would definitely be proven the bigger idiot.

Posted by FuriousStyles | Report as abusive

This is outrageous reporting – even if Zimmerman is the killer you say he is. Why must you make this white against black? And suppose Zimmerman did reach for something or and or strike at Zimmerman thereby threatening Zimmerman. We don’t live in a civilized country anymore – a quick reach can be for a gun or knife. Why was the lad inside the gated community in the first place?

At all events your reporting is reckless as you are assuming facts before there has been a trail. Maybe you have never been accused unjustly in the dock, I have. There is no greater outrage fomented in the human heart than such injustice. Indeed being put unjustly in the dock is what caused Ben Franklin to flip over and support the revolution. I sympathize with the young lad and his loving mom and would be the first to convict and sentence Zimmerman to the ultimate penalty if warranted, but he is right now innocent and your assumptions don’t prove him guilty. Come to your senses, stop the accusations and let the system work. I’ve been there and I can tell your for the most part it does work.

Posted by Truth_Teller | Report as abusive

It’s sad to say blacks will always be hated it on. I don’t let it phase me. We are envied cause of our swag. We were brought over here against our will and we are not leaving. Obama who is black is more intelligent than any repub. running against him.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

This is a very honest op-ed on a topic that is considered by the media best played safe and ignored. Thank you for your courage, honesty, and the fine skill in which you conveyed this truth. The two topics, the attitude of Sanford law enforcement officials toward the murder of a black youth and the attitudes on the right toward President Obama, do overlap, as you accurately point out.

In the case of simmering bigotry toward Obama, I believe much of it is encouraged by Republican Party leaders as they try to make the case for defeating Obama in the fall, that he is not one of “us”, not really American or Christian and, therefore, can’t be trusted to do what’s right for our country. In fact, he might have truly nefarious intentions and do we really want to take that chance? That’s been the right’s prevaricating game plan from the start: GOP leaders and their financial supporters are playing on the bigotry, ignorance, and fears of the American people, mostly conservative.

What bothers me most is that it encourages bigotry. A lot of these Americans are still trying to figure out how to think about race relations and they could go either way on the issue of race. But when the “leaders” of the Party they align themselves with give them permission to backslide into their prejudices, a feeling that comes with a considerable amount of comfort and familiarity, and even confirm their fears and suspicions about people from other races, religions, sexual orientations, etc, then it’s game over; a lot of these people will now remain bigots until the day they die because their fears have been validated by people they trust. This is the disservice too many on the right are doing to our country and the world by using this low-ball political “tactic”. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that they are sacrificing the soul of America for political gain. Shame on them. They seem to have lost all decency.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

Beautifully persuasive. Sending to colleague in Criminal Justice. And will cite on my website. Thanks, Sally,

Posted by jeannecurran | Report as abusive

Honestly I forgot Obama was a black guy. He just seems like a President. One that hurt our economy, and one who ironically is more conservative than the GOP candidates except Ron Paul.

Posted by johhnybgoood | Report as abusive

Here’s an idea. Let’s just admit and live with it. If we (whites) admit to ourselves that our reflexes our racist, then we will be better equipped to avoid tragedies like this and to be more fair to African Americans in real life.

Posted by bruce1963 | Report as abusive

Here’s an idea. Let’s just admit and live with it. If we (whites) admit to ourselves that our reflexes our racist, then we will be better equipped to avoid tragedies like this and to be more fair to African Americans in real life.

Posted by bruce1963 | Report as abusive

@Truth_Teller, he was visiting his father and step-mother who lived in the neighborhood, that’s why he was there.

Posted by Ecks | Report as abusive

This was a tragedy of epic proportions, and was racially motivated. Just to here him say that a young African American walking through his neighborhood, maybe “on drugs”, is “Suspicious looking”,is insulting and vile.

But you would like to ascribe that to anyone who disagrees with the President. Of course people with a racial bias don’t like our him. What a shock, racists don’t like African Americans!! But you would use that in reverse…if racists don’t like someone, then anyone who doesn’t like that person is a racist?

And may our prayers go out to the family who has lost this young son.

Posted by WAJ2916 | Report as abusive

Here’s a better idea. Since everybody thinks blacks are equal to whites and asians, and also believe that blacks are victims of an evil white system, the ONLY logical conclusion that we can draw from that is that it would be in the best interest of blacks to separate from whites.

There are ONLY 2 possibilities for why someone disagree with that conclusion. Either they believe that black people need to be oppressed, OR they believe that blacks are not equal to whites or asians. The only way out of it would be to CHANGE THE ARGUMENT

Posted by datruthmonstah | Report as abusive

Sure racial bias is alive and well but that is not the same as racism.

I moved to the US twelve years ago and have been assaulted three times. Despite the very small black population here all my attackers were black. I have now developed that bias and my black friends have that bias too as do my Asian and Hispanic friends. That bias helps me identify potential threats when walking alone at night and if someone is offended because I walk across the street to avoid them on a dark evening I’d prefer they were offended rather than have a knife or a gun held up against me ever again. I’ve also had police fabricate evidence against me here so that’s another bias and one that gets me out of jury duty pretty quick. I voted for Obama and I intend to vote for him again.

Call me a racist… I really don’t care when it comes down to my own safety anymore. As a black friend of mine said to another black guy who was threatening a tourist a few years back…. “It’s ni@@ers like you that give black people a bad reputation.”

Yes we should examine and be honest about our assorted biases but we should also be honest about how those biases are formed and not jump to the conclusion that racism is behind every bias.

Posted by lexy | Report as abusive

An excellent article. I have watched with curiosity the way in which people become addicted. When they wish to beat their addiction, they admit it and seek counseling. However there are others who while addicted will always defend themselves and say its not as bad as we think.

Posted by gussom | Report as abusive

To the person who asked why Trayvon was in the gated community. He was visiting his Dad, not that it should have any bearing on the situation.
A young boy was shot & killed for no apparent reason by a person who definitely had a prejudice against blacks. There were many calls to the police since Jan. 2011, many about blacks.
I love my President and my heart breaks for what he has had to endure (with such grace and dignity I might add) over the last 3 plus years. If you cannot see what the GOP has done and continues to do, you are part of the problem.
Not that it matters, but I want you to know that I am a 69 year old white woman.

Posted by blueyes43 | Report as abusive

This logic can’t be used to characterize people as you say. What do you believe when a liar tells you he is lying? If Republican choices are so clouded by their bias, then what is happening with the white Democrats, and for that matter, the black Democrats? Are they racist? Black Democrats seem more overtly racist than most any Republican.

I am Hispanic. I don’t see Pres. Obama the same as Al Sharpton or even Herman Cane. I don’t see him as African-American as the other two. Maybe it’s because he is really from Kenyan descent and half white. I don’t think he acts or carry himself as even his wife does. The racial black jokes that sometimes come out don’t even make sense when they are applied to him as they would other American blacks. I am independent and I just can’t stand his policies. I also don’t like the way the country is heading under his administration. It wouldn’t matter if he were white or Hispanic. I want someone else in office that can turn things around. I’m not a racist, I am usually a victim of racism, but if I were running the country like he is, I would have to assume it is because I am doing an incompetent job, not because I was Hispanic. Sorry Sally. Reporting such as this is very dangerous. You shift the conversation to racism rather than policy issues.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

jmo1: So what you’re saying is that it’s fine for the GOP to gain political ground by using racist tactics in suggesting Obama wasn’t born in the US, is a Muslim, is not one of us, etc., but it’s not okay for anyone to point it out? I’m sorry, but that’s absurd, and that’s exactly what you’re saying. And keep in mind that if Obama was white, such charges wouldn’t have legs, and thus the GOP is playing on the fears and prejudices of their would be constituents. But forget race for a moment. The charges are simply lies, an attempt to sidestep having an issue-based election and instead rely on tearing down Obama with lies, playing on the ignorance and fears of many Americans.

Ms Kohn in no way suggests that if you don’t support Obama you’re a racist, and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to quote this op-ed where she makes such statements. What this op-ed does point out is that there is a “very pernicious, very persistent reality of implicit racial bias that runs throughout our society”. Can anyone really deny that? So why criticize an editorial writer for pointing out something negative and potentially dangerous in our society? That’s exactly the job of an op-ed writer.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

Ironically, this piece is as full of the stereotypes it purports to comment on. It is hardly true that “the facts are well known” about this incident – anything but. Sliding over “after some confrontation” avoids the central issue – what did happen? Only a measured investigation would have any hope of doing that — and certainly not a morass of stereotypes compilation.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

Flashrooter: Not saying that at all. It is not about gaining political ground based on racial overtones. You fall right into the trap Ms. Kohn set out. I see Pre. Obama neutrally. I don’t think of race. If thought he were turning the economy around, then I would be supporting his policies. There is no lie in 4 dollar gas and mounting debt under his watch. Blame previous administrations if you wish, but every president takes scrutiny when they are in office. Sally IS playing on people’s ignorance and fears. and it is not ignorance or fears about policies, it is about race she is baiting.

I thought the shooting of Treyvon was horrific. My kids have black friends (some of whom Treyvon reminds me of) that are great kids. I only wish them the best and support their academic endeavours when I can. I would love to see one of them grow to be President, but mainly to have the country flourish, not to chalk one up for a minority race to gain office. I believe though, this conversation would still be going on in 30 years. White guilt, racism, black liberation theology, and whatever else is out there that plays on skin color and not character will undermine policy issues.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

If her OP-ed were only to state that there is a “very pernicious racial bias that runs in our society” then just state that. Why drag President Obama into it? It seems to only suit Obama supporters to bring that topic up when it suits them. Everyone with any awareness know people have racial preference or bias. We have different races living here. There is a sense of security with familiarity. That goes for most everyone I would think. Doesn’t mean they are racist in the sense they hate the other.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

[...] Trayvon Martin, Obama, and the persistence of bias (blogs.reuters.com) [...]

Thank you Sally, because I too share your insight, it is painfully clear, that some White Americans believe all people of color of some how the same.

Posted by wesbay | Report as abusive

1. “Facts are well- known”. Really? I guess you have personally read the police reports and been a part of the investigation?
2. “….a neighborhood watchman of white and Latino heritage”. So, he is a watchman of white and Latino heritage, while President Obama is an African American. Why not address him as President of white and African heritage? I know why, because you have to throw in the word, white for your argument! His correct title should be Latin American.
3. “Trayvon was presumed to be guilty of something nefarious simply because of the color of his skin”. This is called, SPECULATION. Not the basis of an article, but of personal opinion. Again, did you read the reports or read the investigation?
4. “Some who’ve listened to the tape of Zimmerman’s 911 call believe they heard him use an obscenity and a racial slur”. This would be referred to as HEARSAY in court. Did you read this in a report or heard it over coffee? Why not use the word allegedly as you did about the confrontation?
5. “…..very much shaped how the world saw Trayvon Martin and how the world sees President Obama still”. How does President Obama fit into this shooting? If one was well -traveled you would know that the world sees President Obama very positively. Obviously, you meant to say, America and not the world.
6. “Watching conservative attacks on Obama, it’s hard not to conclude that they are tainted by implicit bias”. Conservative attacks? There are several leading African American conservatives who attack President Obama frequently. I am sure they would take issue that they are biased. Perhaps you meant to say white conservatives?
7. “And implicit bias has been tested with respect to President Obama. Researchers have shown that those with high rates of implicit racial bias were not only less likely to vote for President Obama but less likely to support his healthcare reform proposal.” You failed to mention another report mentioned in this link that suggested the opposite was true. Perhaps you meant to say, “Implicit bias has been tested and in one study a research group found…..”
I am astounded by the lack of judgment journalist and individuals continue to use on a daily basis. The media has created a judge, jury, and executioner approach in order to propagate responses, or promote their personal agendas. Someone was killed, and the investigation should be as such. No more and no less.

Posted by 55usaidwhat | Report as abusive

jmo1: What trap? There is no trap being laid by Ms Kohn. As I clearly stated, and you clearly ignored, is that the GOP definitely does use fear mongering based on Obama’s race. You didn’t even address this and it was my central point!

Again, you don’t seem sensitive about the GOP using the race card to instill fear in American voters for political gain, but your sensitivity is stoked when someone criticizes the GOP for doing so. That’s kind of like tolerating bullies but jumping on someone when they dare to criticize a bully for hurting others. Can’t you see the illogic in that? There’s no denying that race plays a significant role in the vituperation that has been directed at this President from the right. Some of it has nothing to do with race, but much of it does, and much of it is intentionally stoking the fears that many white conservatives have about blacks for political gain. You may resent being confronted with that, but the evidence is undeniable. Remember, Mitch McConnell stated from the start of Obama’s Presidency that his #1 goal was to make Obama a one term President. So of course the GOP will use race to achieve their top priority.

Don’t pretend that there aren’t people in the GOP who are pushing the idea that Obama wasn’t born in America, that Obama is a Muslim, that Obama has plans to turn our country into a socialist state, that Obama runs around the world apologizing for America, that Obama is intentionally making the price of gas go up, etc. Repeat the lie often enough and people come to believe it.

There was a poll recently taken in Mississippi, the heart of the conservative South, where 52% of conservatives think Obama is a Muslim, 36% aren’t sure and only 12% believe he’s a Christian. Needless to say, this hurts the President and his chances of being reelected. But it’s an idea that been promoted by many on the right BECAUSE it hurts him, and this is just an example. (Incidentally, that same poll showed that only 54% of conservatives think interracial marriage should be legal. And you’re going to maintain that race doesn’t play a role in these people’s thinking?)

Much of the GOP’s strategy to defeat Obama is to use his race against him, play on the ignorance and fears of many on the right, and paint Obama as “not one of us” and, therefore, can’t be trusted. It would be a losing strategy if Obama was white, and particularly if Obama was a white Republican. After all, a white Republican is automatically considered “one of us”. But a black Democrat? Questionable, or so the GOP would have you think.

Look at the disrespect shown our President by Republicans, like shouting “you lie” during the State of the Union speech. And instead of censuring Joe Wilson as he so deserved, GOP were completely mum on the issue and supporters actually rewarded him with campaign donations. The Minority Leader in the Senate declares on the first day of Obama’s Presidency that making him a one term President would be his #1 priority. The relentless opposition to everything this President has tried to do, and in many cases they were originally Republican ideas. I could go on and on and on and on and still just be scratching the surface regarding how our President has be disrespected like no white President has ever had to experience, but you want to believe that it’s just a coincidence and has nothing to do with Obama’s race. I have a Republican friend who lives in Louisiana who sends me the most vile, racist emails about Obama on a daily basis, emails that get passed around to thousands, if not millions, of Republican supporters. At least those people don’t try to deny that at least some of their hatred toward Obama has to do with race.

This has never happened on this level before. And why? It’s certainly not because Obama is a radical. His policy positions are very moderate. His tax policy is to the right of Reagan. He’s increased military spending, cut taxes on small businesses, extended the payroll tax cut, even his healthcare plan was based on what were once Republican ideas. So it’s not because he’s some kind of leftist socialist radical, as the GOP would like you to believe.

It’s certainly not because he’s an immoral man or someone who doesn’t have any family values. Compared to most Presidents we’ve had, Obama is pretty squeaky clean. He’s an intelligent, decent, church going man. And, yes, he is a Christian man, at least as much as George Bush is, and I don’t recall anyone on the right questioning Bush’s religion.

So what is it that is causing an unprecedented growth in white militia groups; this nasty, unethical invective behavior on the part of Republicans and their supporters toward this President; this willingness to sacrifice the best interests of the country in order to hand Obama political defeats; an unwillingness to give credit where credit is due as with the improving economy or the killing of Osama bin Laden. Why so much vitriolic hatred over a decent man like Barack Obama?

You see, you want to be able to say none of this has anything to do with race and the moment someone like me or Sally Kohn points out the obvious, you cry foul and accuse us of playing the race card. You want a political and social environment where people can not only freely denigrate our President, much of which plays on his race, but are encouraged to do so, much of it stemming from, as Ms Kohn accurately described as, “very pernicious, very persistent reality of implicit racial bias that runs throughout our society,” but you get upset when this truth is revealed. Do not pretend this has nothing to do with race. The evidence, a little of which I just presented to you, is overwhelming. Denying it only reveals that you are either very naive or that you simply keep you head safely planted in the sand.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

It sounds to me like you are doing the very thing you are accusing others of, Ms Kohn. The vibe of your article is that whites are racists and conservatives are evil racists.

You have taken one man (Zimmerman) and a single incident and painted a broad stroke. Zimmerman is of white and Latino heritage, according to your article. But because a black kid was killed the focus is on Zimmerman’s white heritage. President Obama is of white and African heritage but no one ever says he is white. Why is that? This incident is a human being killing another human being. By pointing out race, you, in fact, perpetuate racial divide.

I was not there the night that Trayvon Martin was killed so I don’t know what happened. You, Ms Kohn, were not there either. You, and many others, assume racism by the shooter and the authorities because Zimmerman was not immediately arrested. If Zimmerman murdered Trayvon then I hope justice is fully served. But you, and I were not there and don’t have all the facts, so please don’t assume to have all the facts.

On a personal note: I am white and have had racial slurs made against me many times but I don’t go around saying all non whites are racists. I know better, I have a brain and I use it.

Posted by Duphii | Report as abusive

Bravo not. Trayvon Martin is black. President Obama is black…To compare a powerful president with this young man is absurd. Your whole attitude is racist. We have all shades and hues of color in this country–and elsewhere! Another feeble attempt to play a race card. President Obama is no victim! Look at his record–and if you don’t know it you can go to St. Pete for Peace website and see a 15 page fact sheet.

Posted by keroline | Report as abusive

Whites and Hispanics are afraid of blacks. That will not change easily until the majofie skin color is mocha.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

[...] Trayvon Martin, Obama, and the persistence of bias (blogs.reuters.com) Rate this: Share this:LinkedInFacebookTwitterMoreEmailPri ntStumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post.  03/22/2012  PASTOR DAVIS/MASTER TEACHER Categories: PREJUDICE, RACE Tags: Barack Obama, Black people, Gated community, Human skin color, Murder, Race-Ethnic-Religious Relations, Trayvon Martin, United States [...]

Flashrooter: It’s you that has your head in the sand. I can respect an OP-ed. I can respect the free speech, just as I can respect your racially? biased opinion. I could care less what religion Pres Obama practices. If he were Muslim, then so be it, be the best Muslim he can. I think he is Christian as he says though. I don’t listen to the personal attacks, especially the racial kind. I believe that his opposition is based MOSTLY on his policies and the agenda he has that does have socialistic tones. I am not going to argue the politics here but I should, because then the conversation would lead to the issues that are important, not the racial hatred you tend to think matters most. I have more Democratic friends than I do Repulican and the hate speech is 2-1 coming from the left and ultimately when it comes to arguing the issues, they fall to the emotional argument of race. Over 90% of Af-Am voted for Obama based on race. The white vote was split. You have the nerve to say this country is racist? Are you going to say those who did not want Obama in office are racist? I think it is because they are Republican not racist. Your whole argument is speculative. What seems obvious to you is just another op-ed. I voted for the President. We have a black man in office. Both sides of the aisle have valid issues, but race is not and should not be one of them.

Hopefully they will get a charge on Zimmerman if he provoked the situation.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

I think a very important thing to think about, especially in light of a young man being murdered by some wannabe cop, is that people do things of this kind because of either rage or fear. Fear itself can turn into rage, unless an individual makes a serious effort to question their motives and why they presently think the way they do. I have encountered many people in law enforcement (whom the shooter obviously aspires to be, psych101) who are police simply because they felt powerless and weak as children. Once they attain the illusion of power offered by a badge, they abuse it. I wonder what fears led the shooter to do such a thing. Did an old lover leave him for a black man? Was he raised by ignorant, fearful parents? No one will ever really know why he did what he did, but here is something one cannot deny: RACISM IS PERPETUATED IN SOCIETY, JUST AS IT IS IN PRISON. FROM THE TOP DOWN.

If the masses fear each other, they cannot organize against those who hold the keys to their cells. This is as old a strategy as any, and very transparent once one abandons fear and hatred.

I must clarify that I do allow all people, (including police, some of whom have illegally detained and searched me) the chance to earn my respect. I consciously work EVERY DAY to do this.

The hardest thing for me to do, in all honesty, is feel comfortable around self-segregated white people. This is quite humorous to me, considering the fact that I myself am a 30 year-old white male. Growing up in Los Angeles has revealed to me many important lessons in social systems and development, especially the fact that society (in general) spreads hurtful and shameful lies about those who are not white.

Those who think it is wrong to differentiate physical appearances are foolish in my eyes, and far too politically correct, but to think that those differences in appearance dictate a person’s soul or motives is to believe a lie that has lived in fearful hearts for far too long.

At the bottom of all this white/black/brown/whatever bullsh*t lies one simple fact: A person has robbed another of his right to live. That itself is reason enough to be outcast from the true family of humanity. One life has already been stolen by a killer in this case. I hope he has the strength to realize his terrible crime and let it be reason to bring forth good to the world he has contributed to the desecration of.

Posted by lolcoolj | Report as abusive

[...] har fått afroamerikaner att reagera i hela USA över mordet framställs ha rasistiska förtecken. Reuters går ut med uppgiften att George Zimmerman är vit och NY Daily News ställer sig frågan hur [...]

They say all the facts are in. I haven’t heard why the guy was in a gated community. If he was going home in the gated community he had to go through the gate unless this community has stores inside the gate. DUH. Why was he wearing a hoodie with the warm temperature in Fl? Don’t sound to me like he was little Lord Faltleroy. Why don’t everyone just wait until all the facts are in? Its kinda funny that when the media jumps on the side of a 17 yr old he is just a child but when he kills someone he is an adult.GO FIGGER

Posted by jambat | Report as abusive

[...] Trayvon Martin, Obama, and the persistence of bias (blogs.reuters.com) [...]

This is about the saddest and most disassociated group of postings, ever. People here are totally disconnected to real life, good and bad. They are sheltered with their routines of being safe and disassociated from the average person and the poor. In reality, no one is safe anymore, no matter what nationality you are. But here in America, we are a melting pot of every nationality, yes, a melting pot. There will always be conflicts and death, as long as there are humans. But what burns me up is how a terrible death becomes the blame of a whole nationality. Its life, unless you are privileged as many of you who responded in this post are, totally cut off from reality. Its always society to blame…bla bla bla. Well, what about the killer here? That SOB went out of his way to chase this kid down and ended up killing him. This is not in anyway acceptable behavior. So, dont go blaming skin color of a whole group of people for this sick individuals actions. This SOB killed this boy and he is to be punished to the full extent of the law. If theres a trend where this happened, then leaders there better nip it it the butt now, or their kids can be next, not because of color. Serial killers always blame society for their behaviors, as if they cant think for themselves. Today, our Govt. wants you to think that you (everyone in America) cant think for yourself and dont know what is good for you. Thus, incurs more political correctness which becomes restraints, more restrictions on freedoms, and more blame on a race for an individuals horrible actions. By the way, everyone who used the term “WHITE” for a race of people in this posting, you are terribly politically incorrect and a racist. The correct term is “European American” not white. So, get out of your work cubicles and enclosed offices of protection and make friends with poor, disabled, and average people. In other words, get off your A** and do something positive and stop the blaming game our govt created.

Posted by icu2 | Report as abusive

This story was right on target and I for one as a mixed race male appreciate that the author had the courage to put the truth and the reality of being a black male out there. I read the comments and for the most part they are correct and supportive but it also reflects the thinking of Americans and a lot of the comments refuse to acknowledge the truth. Any excuse to continue practicing bigotry. One com-mentor had the nerve to ask why was Trayvon in the community and he had every right to be in the community. He was not trespassing but 60 feet away from the home he was a guest. Until these people quit denying the truth and face it head on, this country will stay on a slippery slope. If the supporters of Zimmerman would look at the facts and not the sensation they would have to acknowledge truth and the facts of bigotry. This particular story should be required reading for every American and should be on the front page of every newspaper in this country. It is that serious and we either fix the problem or allow it to deteriorate further. We can continue to be part of the problem or we can participate in the solution. I like to think that I will stand with right and be part of the solution. Kudos to the author. Keep the dialogue on the table. We have overcome many obstacles. When you are right you are right and the truth is welcome in the universe.

Posted by AugustEve | Report as abusive

It is absolutely unacceptable, and unconscionable that you would use this column space to exploit a tragic young murder victims fate to plug your favorite political candidate(s). I don’t care what political party your shilling – this is just sick.

Posted by Swerked | Report as abusive

I think what has alot of people up in arms about this case is that Zimmerman might be able to get away with murder. There will always be “hate crimes.” The 2 black boys that lit the white boy on fire. The white guys who beat then ran over and killed the black man just because they wanted to. I don’t know about the 2 black boys but the guy who murdered the black man just got sentenced and hopefully the 2 that lit the poor kid on fire will be brought to justice. As long as there is ignorance, there will be prejudice.

Posted by mslexie | Report as abusive

Kohn is only working on the divide between White and Black, to keep it that way.
Some people are worried that with President Obama’s election, the divide is becoming less.

Posted by Devasa | Report as abusive

jmo1: I’m sorry, but anyone who thinks that race is no longer an issue in this country is truly living a delusion of convenience. I gave you several verifiable examples of how racism still exists and how it’s being exposed in attitudes toward Obama, and all you can do is say, nuh-uh.

Also, you’re trying to claim that I’m saying it’s only about race, which I am not. It’s just more convenient for you to reconstruct my position in an extreme and misleading way and then attack me for a position that isn’t even mine. Like you, I don’t believe the opposition toward Obama is only about race. My argument is that race is part of it and I gave specific examples for evidence. An American President has never been treated so disrespectfully (and I gave you specific examples of that) and there’s nothing extreme about this President that should fuel such disrespect (I detailed that as well.) My point? It’s not just a coincidence that there is such an uncivil attitude among people on the right toward this President and that this President happens to be the first African American President. Denial doesn’t vanquish the truth.

And furthermore, you DO make the claim that, using your words, “Over 90% of Af-Am voted for Obama based on race.” I say, prove it. Don’t make a claim like that without offering some kind of evidence. Do you think just posting it makes it true? In fact, you shouldn’t allow yourself to believe something unless you can give yourself proof. Did you allow yourself to believe that 90% of African Americans voted for Obama because he’s black without any evidence? Is this how you form all of your beliefs? It’s a valid question because about the same percentage of blacks voted for Clinton and last time I checked, he’s white. You make all of these extreme claims with nothing but your opinion as your “evidence”. You’d be laughed out of a debate class.

Why do black Americans vote mostly for Democrats? Most of the South started voting for Democrats after a Republican President, Lincoln, freed the slaves. Of course these were all white voters because African Americans couldn’t vote. The white South remained a consistent voting block for the Democrats until Kennedy and Johnson, Democratic Presidents, passed a series of civil rights bills guaranteeing black Americans rights equal to those of whites. After that, the white South changed their voting habits once again and have now become a reliable voting block for the Republicans. But I’m sure it has nothing to do with race, right jmo1? And the Republicans have worked hard to maintain that southern white voting block, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that blacks overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

Sometimes reality isn’t what we want to think it is, but that doesn’t mean we should go around pretending that that reality doesn’t exist.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

[...] the incident itself, I would like to examine what this tragedy says about this country.  Thus, I turn to this insightful commentary from Sally Kohn of Reuters.  Kohn delves into how bias plays a role as to why events like this seem to occur more often than [...]

My thinking is that I consider our President Obama to be a Liberal President who’s skin color happens to be Black. He is both of White and Black heritage. I am of Irish, German and Hispanic heritage who happens to be of a conservative mind set. We are both Americans regardless of our heritage. The fact that our President does not trust Americans to govern ourselves at the lowest possible governmental level, in other words States Rights, and I do not, does not make either He or I a racist. We have the right to differ in our beliefs going all the way back to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. I totally disagree with President Obama’s political beliefs, which I believe will effect my children’s and their children’s lives in the future. That is my right and it does not make me, as I stated before, a racist as this article and most posts here seem to be saying.

As far as the rhetoric about a “White Hispanic” killing a “Black Youth”, we may have one individual, which the law must decide, acting on his own taking the life of another. In jumping to a premature conclusion of why this young person died, are we not just creating more racial tensions and prejudice? What would happen if we as a society had protests everytime a person of one race damaged a person of another race? Are we going to keep score, like a sporting event, to see who is the most prejudiced race with the thought process? We must somehow get the facts straight before we ASSUME potential crimes are racially based and are the result of a conspiracy.

In summary I belive that the parents of this youth have a right to question what really happened to their son. There should be a due process by law enforcement at whatever level it takes to find the truth. Let us not, or our government, jump to conclusions of a conspiracy of racial bias until it is proven to be so. And let’s not let the media’s opinion.s bias us one way or another. Let the truth come out and let us make up our own minds, which God gave us, and then act accordingly.

This is just my view and I hope it does not offend anyone.

Posted by Lawson | Report as abusive

And the new internet era lynching mob forming have renew the vociferous Al Sharpton crowds or wannabees whose expertise in torturing and lynching people in response to the lack of civilized and honest police work is legendary.

In the year of our lord 2012 police is unable to consistently follow a unified police procedure, release 911 unedited tapes, not to mention the lack of audio/video tapes from the police dashboard or the cops hat or uniform camera if any.

No Sir, since racism and discrimination have officially “disappeared” (blinking eye) as the law of the land people can live without worrying about being harassed or profiled because of stereotypes.

People have decided to build and live in “gated communities” that are not really gated in the sense on controlling who comes in and out of the community since no one supervises or runs a background check nor audio/video surveillance is carried on. These gated communities have a sad history of harboring all kind of white and blue collar criminals who can afford the cost of large living due to their unlawful activities.
The landlords, many times desperate to sale or rent, have no interest on keeping peaceful, silent, smoke, drugs and drunken free zones inside the apartments or gated communities.

The result is that people trying to escape from unruly, unhealthy, fanatic or just plain criminal tribal behaviors of white, black, brown, yellow or any other color that comes to your mind communities have an increasingly hard time just to find a place where they can live single or in couples with or without children, pets, etc and come and go to work, rest, educate or raise their children in a peaceful and civilized way.

Add to this cocktail the disastrous state of the schools that keep the same problem as the police work has, the lack of record keeping recorded audio/video surveillance of classrooms and halls to keep kids safe as well to observe and improve teacher and administrators behavior.

This Trayvon Martin incident is just an unfortunately chain of events that just depicts how lawlessness and stupidity surface once and then. So far, because there is no official website information of this matter, a black kid and his father or guardian from Miami went to a mostly white gated community out of their neighborhood to watch a TV basketball game at the father’s female acquaintance house.
The neighborhood has some kind of neighborhood watch individuals due to repeated break-ins inside the gated community.

The black kid decided to go walking to the store to buy some treats. Usually if you plan a visit you bring all the snacks from a big store so you can focus on the game and expend less on food and drinks, then, mostly, white neighborhoods transport by car, not by foot or bike.

While many teens dressing with baggy and saggy pants and hoodies in certain neighborhoods is not a big deal, in other neighborhoods and school districts, these are prohibited or suspicious because many times it depicts gang or criminal activity, particularly the use of hood on the head and having your hands inside the pockets, behavior that, for anyone that has watched videos of convenience store robberies, is a very common criminal behavior.

Behavior as well played a big part in this event, the pursuing spirit of a wannabee law enforcer despite a no go recommendation, justified or not by the break ins or burglaries inside the community he wants to strive in. The usual cockiness and I do as I please behavior of a high school football player who has never being taught neither make aware of ways to talk out of an incident other than confront and physically threaten the other guy nor of the existing racial biases within or outside their neighborhoods.

How could he be aware of those things when even teaching Lincoln in the south is heresy but making toddlers aware of Ana Frank is not?

The behavior of approaching a car with your hands where nobody can see them, covering the face did not make any good to the deceased, nor asking council from a female friend instead of calling police or his father.

The incapacity of just say “hi, how may I help you?” and just talk your way in or out is very common in today’s teenagers. The violent or angered reaction of someone being watched may mean harassment by the watched one but for the watcher it means that guy is up to no good so he doesn’t likes to be spotted.

In all, stupidity at it highest, this gives a lot of ink, megabytes and TV time for the media, the eternal racists, complainers of all sort including the unemployed, eternal food stamp bearers, left wing, right wing, white supremacists, political parties, etc.

At the end is every one is on its own and gun sales will skyrocket as the lack of trust in police, detectives, lawyers, judges, justice and judicial system in general spreads over the land

Posted by opinionreuters | Report as abusive

Sally, I am deeply grateful to you for this excellent article. As catastrophic as Trayvon’s death is, for those who seek to have an open an honest dialogue, it can become the catalyst toward healing Blacks and educating whites to a social inequity that has never darkened their doorstep, but is forever present for Blacks.

Trayvon Martin was killed by long-standing doctrines that prescribe discrimination against Americans based on sociodemographic characteristics and other traits.  Trayvon Martin was killed by politicians who fail to set  policies based on a boundless respect for human life and our leaders who have  an obligation to lead society away from the disrespect of so many lives.  Trayvon Martin was killed by all who stand silent in the face of intolerance.

http://www.thepragmaticpundit.com/2012/0 3/trayvon-martin-why-killing-blacks-is.h tml

Posted by FayPax | Report as abusive

The article is speculation. It’s speculation about the situation, the facts, and racism. You can choose honesty or you can choose bias. The fact that the article defines bias is ironic, don’t you think, Sally?

Posted by alim1 | Report as abusive

Your rebuttal to jmo1 is greatly flawed. The Democratic Party IS the racist party – today. It is hiding behind a mask of benevolence. What to do, what to do, when you can no longer enslave blacks? The Dems determined they would find another way to control them. Load them up on freebies. Make welfare the staple of their lives. How exactly HAS the Democratic Party helped blacks prosper and reduced racism? How? It hasn’t. It doesn’t. It won’t. Not until the federal government stops pandering to groups and starts following Constitutional law that deals only with the rights of the ‘individual’. When the government says they are here to help ‘a group’ it is because they have found a way to ‘use them’ to their advantage. The Civil Rights Act was a mandate by the federal government to force people to get along. Force creates force, not cooperation. How is cooperation through force working for America regarding racism? How is it that England, who effectively and efficiently ended slavery, avoided a civil war and put the damper down on racism, was able to do so in the 1800′s, while America still flounders today? Does England have a welfare state? Does England and the other Scandanavian and European countries in the slave trade have issues with racism against blacks even remotely comparable with America today? Why not? Need help with that one, let me know.

Posted by alim1 | Report as abusive

[...] The death of Treyvon Martin rests on the minds and hearts of many Americans. The controversy over the investigation and delay of charges toward his killer George Zimmerman resound throughout the media. Local news outlets estimate that tens of thousands will attend a rally today in Sanford, Florida demanding justice for Martin’s death. His parents collected over 1.5 million signatures on Change.org to petition law enforcement in Sanford to take action. Obama responded sympathetically to the event stating, “If I had a son, he’d look like Treyvon.” Commentary on the event and the racial and legal implications resound throughout the blogosphere. [...]

Flashrooter: Have you ever heard of exit polls? 90% black vote was a conservative number. According to Politico, it was 96%. Regardless, I understand black voter turnout for the first African-American President. As details rollout on this case, it seems more and more apparent that Zimmerman (why suddenly a half-white and hispanic person is suddenly considered “White?” I know several mixed race kids to be considered the minority race rather than White-whatever) anyway, it seems Zimmerman was more of a power hungry person (cop wannabe) who was looking for either glory or a fight. I don’t think it would have mattered what race the other person would have been. He was going to confront someone that night, unfortunately, it just so happened to be TM that crossed his path. I’m hispanic and I think he would have chased me with a gun and probably shot me. Would there be an outcry then?

This author politicized this event into a politics-race matter. Racial bias will be around in the U.S because we have so many races living here. It does not mean everyone acts on their preferences out of malice. If we were all the same skin color, then eye-color bias would be an issue. Presently, the black panthers put a bounty on Zimmerman. Where is Ms. Kohn’s lecture to that organization? This country has the potential to be better despite racial bias as long as we vote for the character of the person in office, not the skin color. For those who can’t do that, I sincerely doubt they will matter in the end.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

[...] Reutersblog.com claims that the facts are out there and racial bias continues in the [...]

I don’t even want to get started with the Presidential problems.I would however like to give my 2 cents about the Trayvon incident.
When I first heard the story on the news I was under the impression that Trayvon was a 14 year old that looked more like an 11 year old because of his build and size.That he walked down to the store bought some candy and a drink,was chased and shoot down by a wanna-be cop who was racist.
Honestly my first thoughts where there has to be more to the story. Now I’ve heard Trayvon was 17 they fought before the shooting,there’s a witness seeing Trayvon atop Zimmerman and then later seeing Trayvon laying in grass dead after calling 911 then looking back out his window.Also Trayvon has been in trouble at school for having a sack of weed.
My thoughts are there’s still alot we don’t know about this situation.The mainstream media should be ashamed.Trying to push the people in a certain direction with trickery and not having all the facts.Maybe Zimmerman was acting in selfdefense,and was doing his duty to the best of his ability as a member of their neighberhood watch.Why won’t the media show a picture of Trayvon at 17 and a recent picture of Zimmerman?It will be interesting to find out more of the facts about this situation.

Posted by bryans | Report as abusive

Ugh, as details rollout about the case, it seems this case was bungled from the start. May have been a case of following procedure rather than a racial thing. Politics is one thing, but commenting opinion on an ongoing investigation and not knowing really any details is a mistake. It’s a travesty for both parties.

Posted by jmo1 | Report as abusive

I am so sick and tired of everything that is towards a black person is a hate crime. Anything measures taken towards anyone, no matter of color race gender etc should be labeled a hate crime if that word needs to be used. Like the white boy walking home from school,2 black boys pour gasoline on him, set him on fire and say “You get what you deserve whitey” Now is that a hate crime?? Or is that just 2 boys that didn’t know any better because of their raising??

Posted by IntegrityFirst | Report as abusive

flashrooter, your proof of the racial bias towards Obama is laughable. Not being born in America makes him what race, seeing that America is the birthplace of every possible mixture of skin colors? Saying he is a Muslim makes him what race, since Muslim is a religion practiced by many, not a race? A socialist you say, and that in turn makes him what? Russian, Cuban, Chinese, Korean, what? You are just another individual that wants to put race into the fight when it doesn’t need to be there. The whole issue of 96% of blacks voting for Obama makes them racist doesn’t it? I mean many have openly stated voting for him because he is black which means they discriminated against the non-black candidate for his skin color. The left controls the black vote by controlling them through their emotions. They have successfully diverted attention away from any real issues and have divided this country more than it has been in the last 20 years.

Posted by blahblah87 | Report as abusive

[...] a rebuke to the notion that an article of clothing should be a life and death matter. The role of implicit racial bias is taking center stage in the national debate. Investigations have been launched at all levels of [...]

I would like to know why Zimmerman makes racial comments and becomes a white hispanic while Obama is never refered to as white black? The most important thing is the fact that a young man lost his life. Not the color of his killer.

Posted by BellVolkswagon | Report as abusive

[...] Reuters [...]

Seriously? At the bottom of your little column, it says “PHOTO: An undated handout photo released by the Martin family’s public relations representative shows 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.”

Come on, I’m on a laptop, wearing out-of-date glasses, and I can tell it’s a damn Photoshop edited picture. There’s no way in hell anyone, regardless of age, would have legs that size, with skinny little arms like that, and, oh yeah, the grass and helmet look like clip art additions. Please start using recent photos of Mr. Martin, instead of these pictures that are obviously aimed at making the victim look like a small, defenseless child. We know he was a kid, no reason to fake his youthfulness to us, show us the real Trayvon Martin photos!

Posted by whatsittoyou | Report as abusive

[...]  This strategy is a win-win for Republicans seeking victory in November, especially in a national climate of heightened sensitivity with respect to racial biases.  One possible outcome is a reduction in the “gender gap,” [...]

You really shouldnt open an article with an outright lie. The facts where not already known. There had been complaints that facts where withheld by the prosecution. Ben Kruidbos form the State has confirmed that was in fact true , and has been wrongfully fired for it. Martin had been trying to buy an illegal firearm at age 17, his cell phone indicates he was definitely involved in the drug trade, and possibly other criminal activity. Martin had as his friend testified an anti-white (cracker) bigotry. This was no innocent boy, and yes the hoodie wearing is relevant indication he was hiding his face as habit, in central Florida there are less than 20 days a year cool enough for such attire. This is the last thug any Reverend should rally around. Kind of shows how manipulative Sharpton is, its protests have nothing to with justice, they involve a sentiment that blacks should be free from answering to justice, and that whether you can deal with or not is what is wrong with race relations in the United States. I wonder if it is not the same in Britain. It should never be crime to defend yourselves against a thug, there should have never been a trial. Now that facts are coming out of what a thug Treyvon Martin really was his family will suffer worse than during the charade of law that brought Zimmerman to trial.

Posted by DegreedWhiteGuy | Report as abusive