TRICIA ROSE: All right, good morning, everyone. How are we? Yes, this is bright and early, isn't it? I was worried when they said, well, we have the 9 o'clock slot left. And I thought, oh my goodness. And then I thought, who's going to get up at 9 o'clock after a campus dance. So I see who that is, and I'm grateful.
Thank you, really, for coming out so early in the morning. My name is Tricia Rose, and I'm the Chancellor's Professor of Africana Studies here at Brown. I've been at Brown as a professor for 11 years. And I actually-- I didn't put this here. It should say class of 1993, which was not my undergraduate years, which I wish it was my undergrad. It was my graduate degree.
I did my PhD here at Brown. And I'm really, really excited to see you all here so I can share some of my research and what I've been up to for the last couple of years but also because this research and a lot of the thinking behind it dovetails with my role at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, which I have both a banner and a description of because our job and my interest in directing that center is to help bring to the public ideas about race and inequality and research about these issues-- immigration policy, racial discrimination, indigenous issues-- to bring that kind of knowledge to the everyday public and create more informed conversations because frankly it appears that we're moving in the opposite direction in terms of complexity and deep knowledge about these issues. And it's extremely important for us to have a relatively peaceful and just society. In order to do so, we need to know these things. So this project is really exciting to me. It's a tough project intellectually and materially.
But it's also tough emotionally. So it's tough on a lot of fronts. I hope you all brought your coffee.
Did everyone bring-- or are you-- or are you fully caffeinated? You sort of mainlined before you got here, OK? So this is going to be a two part presentation. Normally, I do all of the presenting when I do these things. But I have a key researcher Sam Rosen, class of 2014, who also did a thesis with me on colorblindness and its relationship to structural racism pretty much. And he's also-- I'll give you his bio when I introduce him more fully. But he's really done a tremendous job over the last couple of years with me, thinking through the project.
So we're going to do two parts today. I'm going to lay out for the first, say, almost 2/3 but a little bit less-- maybe half-- of our time the big bones of the project-- what are we doing, why have we structured it the way we've structured it, what are my main concerns, what are the issues at stake, sort of big picture. And then we're going to drill down to a very specific case study, which Sam is going to present. So the goal here is to say, here's this big picture.
Well, how does it play out on the ground? How does it play out in a way that helps us understand actually how it's impacting everyday lives in our own perception? OK? You with me? OK, if I go too fast, which I am known to do because I am from New York and we do everything fast because you have to please holler. I tell students just like frantically wave, and it works fine for families and parents and friends as well. So feel free to do that. OK, I'm going to start with the definition because of course you can't really talk about structural racism if you're not sure what you're talking about. So what is structural racism? Before we can figure out how it works. So this is my operative definition.
They share many of these traits. And the basic definition is that structural racism in the United States is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics-- historical, cultural institutional and interpersonal-- that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Now, these words are long and the definition may seem long. But it's important because they're key. If you look at just a couple of key words before we move along-- normalization.
Normalization means that structural racism is built into the everyday practice. We're not talking about exceptional behavior, individual bad attitudes. We're not talking about the occasional negatively intentional policy.
We're really talking about a process that happens in a normal, everyday way, that goes on as part of our air that we breathe, but that is often quite invisible to us-- not all of us, but to some of us. But it's important that it can go on while we're sleeping, while we're fighting for justice, while we're doing whatever we're doing. Legitimisation is important because we legitimize institutions-- and I'm going to talk later about how this happens-- that are actually functioning in structurally racist ways. The outcomes are clearly producing dramatic cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes. And they nonetheless have quite legitimacy.
They have a lot of legitimacy. This is not something that is marginal again and on the side. The second piece of the definition that's really important is that structural racism is not just the past that has a legacy that's waning in the present. It has a present formulation. So it's historical, yes. But it's also present tense. There are cultural elements to it. That means it has to do with the way we talk about race that help produce it.
It's not just policies. But it is institutions and policies. We see it in government policy. We see it in corporations in their policies. We see it in educational institutions. And of course, it is also interpersonal. And by interpersonal, I don't just mean sort of screaming people at the Wal-mart, which seems to be a new problem we're having in the United States. But it does mean that because that's part of it, but it also means the ways in which we interact and the ways in which we create relationships with one another.
So our project, it started as you know as many things in my life academically have started, which is something that seems like I should be able to do it quickly and then takes forever. So this is one of those, oh, I can just explain structural racism to everyday people doing a multimedia project with a couple of videos, put them online on YouTube, pull up a website, do some research, bam. We'll be all set. Six months. OK, two years later, we're standing here in front of you really still working it out for a lot of different reasons. But we feel more and more convinced about the importance of the project and the importance of these areas. So what's happened for us is that all we're trying to focus on these five critical areas where structural racism is highly dynamic and consequential.
There are others. So don't even worry about asking me that. There are definitely others than these five.
But these five really apply to all of us in here. Hopefully, not criminal justice, but if not, then that may itself be part of the puzzle if you've never had a brush with the law. But there are others for sure. Housing, education, mass media, wealth, and jobs are just critical fundamental anchors. The outcomes in these areas determine fundamentally the quality of life, the sense of safety and security, and the opportunity that our citizens in this country have. So I want to lay it out this way for a moment because this is usually how we talk about it. We talk about wealth.
We talk about housing. We talk about media, whether it's representation and images of people of color or African-Americans-- which is the group we're going to mainly focus on-- whether it's educational outcomes or the criminal justice system, we tend to look at these things in isolation from one another. And this is not a bad idea when we want to drill down because, if you want to look at the significance of, say, racialized wealth inequality, which is dramatic and I'll point that out in a moment, you want to figure out why and how. So you have to go down and into it. You have to keep moving in more deeply. But at the same time, it's extremely important to think about how these gears, as we're thinking of them, work together. And they are actually not operating in a single sphere way, that there are interlocking effects. And this is key to our argument.
This is key to our approach-- that we think about how various aspects of society produce structural inequalities in ways that are interdependent, interactive, and compounding. And this is extremely important because, again, if we find a disparity in, say, job discrimination or unemployment, there's a tendency to say, well, if we just fix that, we're good, right? But if you look at the interlocking effects and you come to the realization that, in any one sphere, you have discrimination and inequality past, present and in policy and in thinking and it's really driving inequality in other areas, you can't possibly think in a single sphere way to solve any given problem that we're dealing with. So we're making an argument that it's not just structural in the big picture sense in isolated ways, but it's interlocking and interdependent. So this whole talk could be statistics of data, and we're not going to do that. I'm going to give you just a thimbleful of it.
But I'm going to assume that many of you have been paying attention to these issues, otherwise you wouldn't have roused yourself probably at 7:30 in the morning to come here to listen to me talk about it if it was completely unfamiliar to you. So just very quickly-- black unemployment today is worse than it was in 1964, but more importantly it hovers at twice the white unemployment rate pretty much all the time. And I want to draw your attention very quickly to the Great Recession when unemployment rates for whites was around 9% or 10% sometimes 11%, and it was a national catastrophe crisis. How can we survive 10% or 11%? Well, black unemployment hovers at 12% to 15% all the time. It was 19% during that recession.
So if you want to figure out how to survive that crisis, we have people to talk to. Schools segregation, school segregation has gotten worse since the early 1990s. And that segregation is driven really by housing segregation, partially which I'm going to talk about in a moment. But what's important, too, is that due to a variety of structural conditions largely in housing and elsewhere the more homogeneous a black school gets and the less white it gets, the poorer it gets. So race is an indicator also of economic disadvantage as it plays out in schools and elsewhere. Now, criminal justice is a huge sphere, and we can talk about many things.
But there are a couple of key things. One is that for the past 30 years we have quadrupled the number of people in prison mostly from drug arrests. Number one, blacks are jailed at six times the rates of whites despite the fact that whites use and sell drugs at a higher rate. I know you may find that hard to believe. If you follow mass media and news reports in the sense, you'd think that all African-Americans do is sell, buy, and consume drugs in the United States. So if you actually think about the consequences of this, this would mean that we couldn't have-- if we followed who's actually doing the drugs, we couldn't possibly have the disparity that we have. But we have a policing process that confirms and looks for and seeks out and finds the drugs that we're looking for in segregated neighborhoods. And then another key point is that we do not sentence blacks and whites for the same crimes equally.
Blacks receive longer sentences for the same crimes, and this is on top of the fact that whites are not likely to be charged with crimes in the first place. So that longer sentence plays out even more significantly. Wealth is a massively significant component of the process of structural racism, but just since the 1980s the black white wealth gap has quadrupled. And the gap at this point is roughly $11,000 in wealth for African-Americans to $142,000 on average the median wealth for white families. That is a staggering gap that no amount of hard work will breach. It just simply will not be closed with hard work. Key points to keep in mind about structural racism overall-- one is that we do not have to be aware of it or any of these factors in order for the system to work. Two, it's fueled by and relies on racial ideas and stereotypes to perpetuate outcomes.
And this is important because I'm going to show how the way we think about race and those stereotypes we activate and the unconscious bias we activate actually produces the outcomes in the material world. And this is important because changing policy by itself won't change necessarily what's going on unless we tackle ideas. And they matter because they really hide structural racism right in front of us. And I'm going to give you an example.
And the most important thing, though, is that we can know ourselves to be unracist in every bone in our body and still be functionally, deeply advantaged by this system and participate in it all the time. This is a difficult thing to really confront because we've talked about ourselves as Americans as having transcended this kind of racial outcome and investment since the 1960s. That's been our main story, that we're now a meritocracy, that we've ended structural barriers, that were post-race. I know right now this seems like a weird old school fantasy that we thought-- ah, I know.
I know, I didn't believe it when it was said. I saw this kind of thing coming. It was like, oh, no, this isn't going to be pretty. But what did most people think? Oh my gosh, we've got one African-American sort of. We have half an African-American in the White House. How exciting. And this month, everything's gone structural racism.
Poof. Magic. So discriminatory outcomes do not have to rely on racist or discriminatory intentions. So how is structural racism made invisible? The first is this obsession with the illusion of meritocracy. Now, let me first say that the fact that we do not have a meritocracy, in my opinion, does not mean that people don't deserve good jobs, that they haven't worked hard, that they're not smart. It means that the system is structured for some people's work to matter a lot more than other people's hard work, and therefore it's not a functional meritocracy. If a meritocracy is that rewards in society go naturally to those who are the best performers and that positions or achievements of individuals depend on their abilities and effort and does not depend on class race or other group advantages, then obviously we're not a functional meritocracy.
We have lots of merit. We try, but we do functionally fail. And this is very important to confront because it is the myth of this meritocracy that actually helps drive our misguided thinking about race in the first place. So inside of the meritocracy myth is the belief that we ended racism with the civil rights movement. Lawrence Bobo, a political scientist at Harvard, has done lots of attitude studies. And one of them shows that over 60% of whites think that we've reached racial equality now. That would be like right now.
Tick-tock still right now. And 20% say it's coming soon. So that's 80%-- well, actually a little higher. I actually brought it down to an even number. It's more like 83%.
16% of blacks think that we've reached racial equality, but a 32% think we're going to get there, which just speaks to the hopefulness of people of African descent because there's not a ton of evidence of us getting there soon. I told you you needed to have caffeine for this situation. I did warn you. I gave you a heads up. It's not pretty data. But this perception really matters because if we believe that racism ended with the civil rights movement and we're mostly just cleaning up a few of leftover vestiges of these problems, then when we find deep disparity, it contributes to alternative explanations. We don't say, oh, structural racism because it's not in our parlance.
It's not our understanding. We come up with various types of mechanisms to compensate. One of my favorites is the anomalies.
Well, yes over here. But I know a guy who hired five African-Americans. I'm like, oh, that's fantastic. Are we going to solve this one man's job hiring program at a time? I don't think so. Or one bad apple thesis.
This comes up a lot with police, that one bad cop, some evil bad cop, as if he could function without a whole culture around him to enable it. So what remains? If it's the case-- this is not the case, but this is a false proof I'm setting up-- if no or few structural impediments exist, then why do we have such disparate outcomes? The answer becomes behavior, and this idea that individual behavior or collective black cultural practices produce disparate outcomes like this across all major aspects of society. This activates and relies on a deep well of stereotypes and bias. You guys following me? Am I going too fast? Excellent. You guys are perfect Brown students. All right, so let me give you a quick example-- unemployment rates, labor force, Census Bureau, 2010. I told you before it's often twice.
Here's your evidence-- 8.7% for non-Hispanic whites unemployment, 12.5% for Hispanics, 16% percent for blacks. It was 2010. That was a little bit higher than your average because it was 2010. If you recall, that was not a pretty time. But it's pretty much double as I said it always is.
How do we explain it? If you're giving us structural analysis, you're going to explain this by looking at housing discrimination, which is there are many, many studies. And if we were approaching this as my own 50 minute talk, I would go into some of these. But there's tremendous evidence for significant hiring discrimination even at entry level jobs. There is a profoundly limited accessible opportunities based on distance, transportation, and housing, segregation and isolation, and social networks. Almost all jobs are social networks. I know a guy, which is a Rhode Island thing. But everybody uses it. I know a guy who can do that.
Oh, yeah? Well, you trust me. So you trust the guy I say. So what percentage of white social networks constitute black people? If you're white, what percentage of your social networks is black? Shout it out like the kids. AUDIENCE: 5%.
TRICIA ROSE: 5%. Give me one more number? 30%. That's very optimistic. AUDIENCE: 1%. TRICIA ROSE: Amen. That's the number.
Do you do math because that came out as perf-- well, you have what I call intuitive math, which is what I have. I don't have real math either. 1%. 1%. OK, that's rather significant.
But what do we hear all the time in the news? Now, a lot of these stereotypes apply not just to African-Americans. We're way-- we're just going to have to-- OK. All right, not just to African-Americans, but they specifically get reinforced around black people in black culture. They're lazy. They don't want to work hard-- lacks discipline, lacks proper values, prefer handouts.
Paul Ryan's report on poverty made this argument consistently and all over the place. It didn't say that there was any kind of discrimination, only behavior. So I want to move to the question of crime because it's important to understand how pivotal and what a linchpin that idea of African-Americans as fundamentally criminal drives a variety of spaces and circumstances.
A report by the Sentencing Project was specifically looking at perceptions of crime and the ways in which it produces not only criminal justice outcomes, but other kinds of outcomes. And I want to just draw your attention to the fact that I'm talking here about conscious stereotypes and unconscious bias. These are two different spaces, but they're both important. So there's things people say that they think to be true, and then there are things that we don't even know about. 80% of our brain is completely inaccessible to us. Well, I don't know what's going on down there in that basement. But it's pretty heavy.
One of the things going on is a deep belief that black people are more criminal. And this starts really with the moment of emancipation. As soon as slavery ends-- during slavery, black people are not criminal. But magically, as soon as they're free, they're pretty dangerous and problematic. Well, recent studies, though, show that whites overestimate the actual share of burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crime committed by African-Americans by 20% to 30%. If this pattern is confirmed in widespread implicit bias research, media crime coverage reinforces this bias.
There's many, many reports that show that the way black criminals are portrayed, the emphasis on crimes that are more likely to be done by blacks but not by others produce a reinforced relationship between black people and crime in the psyche. It's reinforced by higher sales and status for movies, music, and art that revolves around African-Americans' criminal behavior and character. My own work on hip hop-- I talk a lot about this-- that artists that don't talk about being a gangster do not sell as well. And it's not just because those stories are more exciting. It's because they fulfill a conscious and unconscious sense of authenticity about what black people are really supposed to be. And it justifies draconian policing policies, and most important for what I want to do next, it drives housing and schooling decisions.
So I don't have time to go into this at the depth that I wanted to. But this is-- if you take the housing gear, you will see that there are lots of policies, past and present, that have had a deep impact on what we have always seen in the housing arena, which is significant segregation and significant economic disempowerment. And I would love to give you an hour long lecture on all of these, but I want to just very quickly focus on, for the moment, the pivotal nature of a process called redlining. How many of you know what redlining is? Excellent. I don't need to spent a lot of time on it. So just for the sake of just a couple of key factors here-- one, it was a government policy New Deal. So democratic, so don't get all grumpy if you're a Democrat trying to blame somebody else.
Democratic policy meant to help communities be funded for housing was racially specific and was a corporate collaboration because this was a homeowner loan corporation founded by the government. Color coded-- created a system. Why we call it redlining is that neighborhoods that were considered red and a red perimeter around them were neighborhoods where any black people lived even only one were marked in red given the lowest rating on the system and ruled completely ineligible for home or business loans. This goes on-- I'm born not too long before '77 but long enough to say that this is actually going on consistently across the country uninterrupted, and this is just one piece of the puzzle creating a number of factors that are extremely important. Not only is it starving black communities of economic resources.
It's elevating the wider the community is. It's creating a financial incentive for white homogeneity. You following me? This is very important because it itself produces thinking about race because you're like, well, whiteness has value. Oh, that's right here's my white house.
Basically, in my white neighborhood and my white school, it's more valuable. Of course, it's more valuable. It's more important. It's more valuable. And you've got a reciprocal process. So let me just very-- this is the most important thing I want to have us think about today is this relationship. So redlining and other strategies that maintain segregation.
They choked off the value of any investing in black communities and suppressed the value of property. And in fact, gentrification as we know it today is impossible without the history of redlining and the destruction of value in poor communities that they themselves should have been able to access but can't, and now others find the prices to be so cheap because this process been going on. So it created black ghettos by redlining and constraining and segregating neighborhoods and creating asset reduction in those communities. It reinforced associations of blackness with poverty and struggling community, artificially raised the value of white neighborhoods in a higher market value, which in turn fuels educational inequality and segregation.
As we all know, we fund-- for those of us who still send our kids to public schools, that's another racial and class effort to create segregation. But taxes fund our educational units, and therefore if you have higher property values for your house, you have more money for your schools. So there's an incentive to pass this on intergenerational wealth through education alone, not to mention passing on these homes to our children.
Which does what? Funds their college. Weather financial crisis, weather health crises. If you don't have excellent health coverage for some reason and your child is doing some entrepreneurship, you can cover their health.
You can pay for it with second mortgages with that wealth gap that we talked about-- remember, $11,000 in assets to $142,000 on average. So it rationalizes-- I'm moving down to this one. It rationalizers white protectionism, protecting white neighborhoods as safer and profitable. It makes fear of black people financially reasonable. It stigmatizes neighborhoods that are diverse no matter how safe, friendly, or stable. It fuels white self-segregation and white flight. So I want to talk for a moment about white flight because-- I'm going to skip that slide-- because it plays out over and over again.
It's not just the past and fixed creation. It's a pattern that we find reproducing itself. So this is going to come up in Sam's presentation. So I want to just very quickly show you that this whole logic-- the perception, the bias, the history, the structures, the investments in whiteness-- have created a context in which 20% functions as a tipping point that initiates the process of white flight. If you're living in a neighborhood that's less than 20% black, whites will move into that neighborhood, fewer than 20%. So that's a good thing. But any more than 20%, and the first thing that happens is whites stop moving in.
So it could be 22% to 25%. They did a tremendous study. This comes from a book called American Apartheid by Massey and Denton-- two very distinguished sociologists, won many awards.
If it's more than 30%, whites sell their homes and move out. As you can see, if you think about this, this process creates segregation in and of itself. So it doesn't take long that, when whites stop moving in, other people have to. Somebody moves in. It ends up being nonwhites. The neighborhood eventually becomes all people of color.
So this process can happen individually. People make their individual choice. But what happens? They actually produce it.
And that means there's a deep investment in not being caught in this bigger than 30% neighborhood because we know what the economic consequences that the market produces will be. So as you can see here, just in this brief schematic sense that this is a normalized, legitimized project that happens historically and interpersonally and institutionally, that routinely advantages whites by providing a cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes. Now, what Sam is going to do today is share a specific case that we worked on together to explain how this plays out on the ground more specifically. And because we're running out of time, I won't tell you his fantastic pedigree.
But I'll tell you in the Q&A. Please join me in welcoming Sam Rosen. [APPLAUSE] SAM ROSEN: OK. Hi, everyone.
Good morning. And thank you, Professor Rose. Oh, thank you. So Professor Rose just gave an overview of the theoretical framework for this project. What I'm going to do now is show how structural racism works in the context of a life and a community. And for this, we've chosen a well-known case-- the story of Trayvon Martin. Let's briefly review what happened.
Trayvon Martin was a black 17-year-old who was killed by a man named George Zimmerman on a Sunday night in February of 2012 while walking back to his father's house in Florida. Trayvon's death and Zimmerman's murder trial both received extensive media attention, most of which centered around Zimmerman's possible motivations and Trayvon's character. Most media focused on the micro details to explain what happened instead of focusing on the larger structural forces that set the stage for this tragedy.
Behind me is a cover that People Magazine ran after Trayvon's death, and I want to direct your attention to the subtitle in the bottom left, which I've reprinted next to the cover. It reads, quote "an unarmed 17-year-old is killed in a Florida neighborhood. How a chance encounter turned deadly, leaving a family devastated and a country outraged." Now, that caption may seem totally innocuous to you, but we actually think that it's hugely significant because it captures the core framing, the nearly universal common sense thinking about this case and recent others like it. People Magazine called the confrontation between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman a chance encounter. And in some ways, this is true. But on another level, this encounter wasn't random at all. What I want to illuminate for you today is that, despite widespread media framing that suggested otherwise, the deadly encounter between Trayvon and Zimmerman was significantly shaped by structural racism.
I want to talk in particular about how structural racism and the ideas about black people that justify it shape their encounter in three key areas-- in housing, in criminal justice, and in schools. In each of these areas, evidence of structural racism was largely ignored or misinterpreted through the lens of racial stereotypes and individual behavior. And I also want to show that the factors that shaped Trayvon Martin's life and death are by no means specific only to him or to his community. They're, instead, key components of how structural racism works in the United States. Trayvon was shot while walking back to his father's girlfriend's home at the retreat at Twin Lakes, a lower middle class gated community in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman lived at Twin Lakes, and he was the captain of the community's neighborhood watch program.
So what kind of neighborhood was Zimmerman watching? And why was he watching it? Sanford is a city of about 50,000 in northern Florida, about 30 minutes from Orlando. Both the city of Sanford and the retreat at Twin Lakes are fairly diverse places. Sanford is about 60% white and 30% black, and Twin Lakes is about 50% white, 20% latinx, and 20% black.
And Sanford has a median household income of about $38,000. So we're talking about a lower middle class area, which is significant in part because Twin Lakes was built as an aspirational luxury oasis. These are still frames from a promotional video for Twin Lakes.
This secluded gated community, the video says, is like living in a resort, the perfect choice for those looking for space and comfort. In 2004, when Twin Lakes was built, a 4,500 square foot townhouse went for $250,000. But in retrospect, 2004 was part of what we would now call the housing bubble and was a very bad time to build a gated community of aspirational luxury townhouses. A few years later, the Great Recession hit.
The housing market collapsed, and many residents as well as new investors in Twin Lakes started renting their properties to cover their mortgages. By 2012, in a pattern that repeated itself around the country, the same townhouse that was worth $250,000 eight years earlier was now worth under $100,000. So in 2012, the retreat at Twin Lakes is a community on an emotional edge. But it was also on another kind of edge. In her presentation, Professor Rose explained that, due to whites' negative racial perceptions of black people, whites stop moving into a neighborhood once it's above 20% black and move out of neighborhoods that are over 30% black. So the retreat at Twin Lakes, which is 20% black and located in Sanford, which is 30% black sat right on the threshold where whites have decided a neighborhood is becoming too black or not white enough.
And this racial tipping point, as you recall, has economic consequences. Because of the higher market value attached to white neighborhoods, white flight accelerates declines in property values, which in turn leads to more white flight. White flight stems in part from whites unfounded, yet widespread, hyper-association with black people as criminals.
And Twin Lakes demonstrated this ideology in textbook fashion. In the 14 months before Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, there were an estimated 45 burglaries or attempted burglaries at Twin Lakes. Reuters reported that, of those 45, only three were known to be carried out or attempted by black men. In the summer of 2011, the summer before Zimmerman killed Trayvon, there was a small wave of burglaries at Twin Lakes, including a particularly well publicized one where a mother and her child had to lock themselves in a room while two burglars ransacked their home. Without any statistical evidence to back up their claims, residents talking to reporters in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin described a community besieged by black criminals. One neighbor said quote, "there were black boys robbing houses in the neighborhood." That's why George was suspicious of Trayvon Martin.
Another resident told a different reporter that neighborhood burglaries were being committed primarily by quote "young black males." in the fall of 2011, just after this small wave of robberies, Twin Lakes decided to form a neighborhood watch. And George Zimmerman volunteered to be the captain. In many ways, though, George Zimmerman had already been the unofficial watchdog of this gated community.
He moved into Twin Lakes in 2009. And in the two plus years between when he moved in and when he killed Trayvon, Zimmerman called the police incessantly to report all sorts of things. But during the summer of 2011, the focus of Zimmerman's calls to police narrowed significantly, specifically, the Tampa Bay Times reported, "He started to fixate on black men he thought looked suspicious." Often this was reported as an individual fixation of Zimmerman's. And it may really have been one, but Zimmerman's behavior embodied an irrational racial paranoia that appeared to be widespread at Twin Lakes and is certainly widespread around the country. So you have a neighborhood which has been made fragile by the financial housing sector, and one that is made additionally fragile because of the market penalties attached to a diverse neighborhood, sitting right on what, for whites, is that crucial 20% racial tipping point, a point that activates white racial anxiety. And in Zimmerman, you have a resident who has been operationalizing this racial anxiety, who also has an intimate knowledge of the racial dimensions of housing values thanks to a career spent in real estate and working for a mortgage company, who then volunteers to be the captain of the neighborhood watch and sees a black teenager walking through the gated community alone on a Sunday night.
Zimmerman pursues Trayvon in his car, and then eventually gets out and confronts him even though the police dispatch he called specifically instructed him not to approach Trayvon at all. Zimmerman chases Trayvon. And when he catches him, the two of them struggle.
And then Zimmerman shoots and kills Trayvon Martin. He admits this to police immediately when they arrive. Trayvon was unarmed, and it's clear from the 911 transcripts that Zimmerman instigated the encounter.
And yet Zimmerman isn't charged with any crime. Police take a statement, and they let him go home. And it's during the six weeks that Zimmerman goes uncharged that this killing becomes national news. It wasn't just that Zimmerman shot Trayvon. It was that he had done it, admitted to it, and then been allowed to walk free.
Why did Zimmerman go uncharged for a month and a half? Well, there are a lot of ways that the killing of black people has been excused and legitimized. But one reason was that Zimmerman was able to invoke a new Florida law called Stand Your Ground, a law that was created in 2005 with the support of the NRA and gun retailers and is now law in some form in 33 states. Stand Your Ground basically extends what's called the castle doctrine. Since basically the beginning of its existence, the United States has had the castle doctrine, as in a man's home is his castle, which is adapted from English Common Law. It essentially says that, if there is an intruder in your home, you're allowed to kill that person even if it's possible for you to escape. A century ago, Judge Benjamin Cardozo, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, described the castle doctrine like this-- a man quote "if assailed at home, may stand his ground and resist the attack.
He is under no duty to take to the fields and the highways, a fugitive in his own home." What Stand Your Ground did was widely expand the castle doctrine. Under Stand Your Ground, anyone who's attacked, anywhere he or she is lawfully present has quote "no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes that it's necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm." So before, the castle doctrine allowed lethal force to protect people inside their own homes. Now, in states that have passed Stand Your Ground, we allow it wherever someone is legally present. Your castle is now anywhere you happen to be and your reasonable belief in your own danger can justify killing another person. But is this reasonable belief standard race neutral? Let's look at some of the data. This chart shows how likely it is that a killing will be deemed justified based on the race of the shooter and the victim, using white on white killings as the zero baseline. So a black person killing a black person on the left is less likely to be seen as justified.
And a black person killing a white person is far less likely to be seen as justified compared to a white person who kills a white person. But as you can see from the data on the far right, when whites kill black people, they are 2 and 1/2 times more likely to be seen as justified. And in Stand Your Ground states, which is this tall purple bar, that number is even bigger.
Whites are 3 and 1/2 times more likely to be found justified if they kill a black person instead of a white one. Put in the language of the law itself, white on black killings in Stand Your Ground states are significantly more likely to be seen as stemming from a reasonable fear, the kind of fear that George Zimmerman invoked when he chased, confronted, and killed an unarmed Trayvon Martin. Now legally, Stand Your Ground was not supposed to be part of Zimmerman's defense trial because both sides agreed that the details of the physical struggle between him and Trayvon made the law inapplicable.
But it didn't need to be in order to serve its purpose. The media talked so much about Stand Your Ground as a mitigating factor, and the defense used the phrase stand your ground repeatedly during argument. And so it appears that jurors, whose racial bias were no different than anyone else's, were confused and apparently used the racially inflicted logic of Stand Your Ground anyway. After the verdict, one juror told CNN that the jury did acquit Zimmerman in part because of Stand Your Ground which exposed a shocking misunderstanding of the law's role in the case, but a keen sense of its role in our society. And one of the tragic ironies of this killing is that, while Trayvon fell victim in Sanford to one kind of criminalization, he was actually there in part to escape another kind of criminalization. Trayvon didn't live primarily in Sanford. He lived and went to school in Miami four hours south. The night he was killed was a school night, but Trayvon was in Sanford with his father because he had been suspended from school and didn't need to be back in Miami the next morning.
The suspension that led Trayvon to stay in Sanford with his dad was his third of the year. His first was for tardiness. His second was for writing the acronym WTF on a walker, and his third was for possessing a bag that had marijuana residue on it. Now, this might seem to you to be cut and dry. Trayvon broke the rules, and so he was suspended. And his suspension was often cited in the media as proof of troubled behavior. But it's quite a bit more ambiguous than that. Krop High, Trayvon's school, has detailed guidelines for which offenses warrant which types of punishment.
Now, these guidelines themselves are quite draconian, but even if we set that aside for now, it's clear from the details of Trayvon's suspensions that he was treated unfairly even by his school's zone standards. On the table behind me there are three columns. The left is Trayvon's offense. In the center is the punishment that offense warrants according to his school zone guidelines.
And on the right is the punishment that Trayvon actually got. As you can see, Trayvon's first two offenses shouldn't have resulted in suspensions at all. For his third, he got the maximum suspension for an offense that appears to be one of the least serious drug offenses possible.
So by punishing him excessively and against the established rules, his school created a pattern of offenses which then snowballed and justified a stiff penalty for the one actual offense. Now, the tricky thing about looking at structural racism through the lens of one student's suspensions is that there is obviously a lot of ambiguity and subjectivity involved. We can say for sure that Trayvon's first two suspensions weren't warranted, but there may be additional context we simply don't know about.
But when we put Trayvon in a larger context, we see some worrisome patterns. Since the 1970s, the percentage of students suspended from school has doubled, and black students have been suspended disproportionately. Today, black students are suspended at three times the rate of white students and twice as often as latinx students. The most heavily suspended students are black, male, and disabled. And black students aren't just over suspended. They're also judged more punitively for the same exact behavior when compared to their peers of other races. In Okaloosa County, where Krop is located, roughly 50% of school arrests involve black students, even though they make up only 12% of the school population. At Krop High, Trayvon's school specifically, the data is similar.
Nearly 50% of Krop suspensions are given to black students who account for only under a quarter of the student population as a whole. Trayvon's suspensions were discussed ad nauseum in the media. but almost always as legitimate and an examination of his character, not an examination of the school, its policies, and his treatment by the adults around him. This is one of the key ways structural racism works. It posits that racial disparities are the product not of systems, but of black individuals' behavior and then primes people to search for evidence of behavior that can account for the disparity. This erasure of the workings of structural racism and the use of behaviorally focused racial stereotyping was present in all of the other issues I've talked about today. Let's take a quick look at some of the headlines from stories about the case to get a sense of the pattern.
NBC says, Trayvon Martin suspended from school three times. New York Magazine says, FBI sources say George Zimmerman isn't racist. USA Today-- Trayvon Martin typical teen or troublemaker? CBS, George Zimmerman used a racial slur in a bar.
And the New York Times says, defense in the Trayvon Martin case raises questions about the victim's character. All of these headlines draw our attention to questions of individual behavior as a way of explaining what happened, and they draw our attention away from important racially discriminatory forces and perceptions. What I hope I've conveyed today is that Trayvon Martin's death was the product of much more than what People Magazine Called a chance encounter. It was the product of structural racism in three key areas-- in housing, it was the product of racialized fears about crime and neighborhood prosperity. In criminal justice, it was the product of a legal logic which legitimize the killing and demonized the victim. And in schools, it was the product of the racially targeted application of draconian school policy.
The microlevel, interpersonal details of these cases of course do matter. But the way we've explained what happened to Trayvon Martin hides how structural racism works and the damage it does. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] TRICIA ROSE: We have just a few minutes. And I took a little bit too much time. Forgive me, but I want to make sure we give a chance for conversation. Yes.
AUDIENCE: This has been [INAUDIBLE] everything that's happening right now today, being put in the context of [INAUDIBLE] of that's been going on for hundreds of years. But it feels almost like there was a reversal. Oh, sorry. TRICIA ROSE: That's OK. I think they're taping it.
So I'm just trying to-- AUDIENCE: It feels like there was a reversal in the 60s or 70s. Am I just imagining that? That things were at least heading in the right direction? It felt like things were heading-- to me, it felt like things were heading in the right direction until a couple of years ago. But now it feels like maybe things were heading in the right direction until the 60s or 70s, and then got reversed. Or is that just my imagination and it's never been heading in the right direction? TRICIA ROSE: Well, it's been a struggle. People have worked very hard to try to make significant changes in this anti-housing discrimination. We have had affirmative action for quite a while there, trying to make head roads. But there's also always been tremendous resistance. And that hasn't been just by rabid right wingers, but by people who can't distinguish between their privilege and the myth of meritocracy.
And because of that, there's a lot of resentment and frustration. That's part of the point of this project, is to really explain that-- to really recalibrate that perception. The 60s were a profound, radical moment in American history and Civil Rights Movement was critical, Women's Rights Movement, etc. But I don't want us to romanticize it because it was one of many radical periods in which change was made-- I mean, Emancipation Proclamation would certainly count among my many highlights. And yet there's always been resistance-- the black codes and the undermining over time. So that's how I would think about that if that helps.
But thank you very much. AUDIENCE: This is [INAUDIBLE]. TRICIA ROSE: Oh thank you. I really appreciate it. Yes, go ahead, keep, and then I'll get you to bring you the mic, sir. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Hi, Professor Rosen. I'm sorry, I'm Sam-- Sam. And thank you so much for a very, very, very enriching presentation. I have a question about the potential for Americans in this moment to acknowledge their prejudices-- not necessarily a time to shift their ideologies, but see how dismantling structural racism can strengthen our nation economically and in terms of infrastructure. What are your thoughts about that? TRICIA ROSE: Well, my husband is a philosopher of religion. He's been working on the idea of hope.
And so I have been forced to think about these things because, I mean, ultimately this is a project with us with a kind of hope at the bottom. I don't think the chances are super high. But I know that if we don't make an effort, it will definitely be worse.
So-- AUDIENCE: Do you think that our minds potentially in terms of the logic that says that perhas if you don't basically-- AUDIENCE: Yeah, that the self-interest will-- it's very hard to undo the short term advantages of whiteness in the consciousness. It's like climate change. It's hard to see the long term consequences. And then frankly, if you have a society in which certain structures keep privileges operative, it's not guaranteed that their outcomes will personally be worse. Societies will be worse. So we really need to help ourselves see our interconnection as human beings in a fundamental way so that we can separate that from what might be private advantages-- the top, top, top 1% doesn't really-- it doesn't have any relationship to any of this. And I think that's important to undo.
But thank you. That's a great question. This gentleman has the mic. He's next, and I'll bring it to you. AUDIENCE: I have a question about white flight and the percentages. If I were thinking of moving into a new neighborhood, how would I know what the percentages were? What do the researchers say? Is it from the real estate community saying that or so on. TRICIA ROSE: That's a great question.
AUDIENCE: Second thing, I have an alternative, perhaps, explanation. You mentioned that people feel less safe the blacker community is. But when we did this little survey here and found the social networks of predominantly white people here with blacks, 1% was the number. So if I were a young parent moving into a new community and I knew that the percentage of blacks was a lot higher than what I'm used to, and if I myself have very few blacks in my network, wouldn't I say, well, there are going to be fewer friends for my kids to be around with or for me to make friends because my friends are mostly white and I want a wider community to move into? TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, so what you're saying is that-- nice, thank you. What you're saying is that the existence of a kind of expectation of homogeneity that's reinforced in social networks also builds discomfort with those numbers.
It's not all by itself because other groups don't produce that same level of response. So for example Asian-Americans don't elicit that response. And they don't say, oh, I have no friends for my kids. It's about the way a particular response to blackness generates that.
But part of it is just the texture and the feeling. It's really about how many black people do you run into. I mean, if you're of color, you know when you're in an all white world. You wander around most of the time thinking, huh, I'm the only black person for like miles. Or, huh, let me look around the room before I say the black thing-- is there another black person in here? I mean, I guarantee you. There's nobody of color here who has not done the head swivel, like, OK, got it. I'm just going to lay low about this. So the point I'm saying here is that you get a feeling, you get a sense, and that that has been justified by the numbers.
And the data would take too long to explain. But it's an accessible book called American Apartheid. So it's an easy title to remember. I'd recommend you check it out. Yeah, thank you. Yes. AUDIENCE: If we only seem to be making progress through radical movements or proclamations for example, what do you see is the next opportunity? Do you think that the current president might be able to precipitate something so awful that-- [laughter] TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, I know. I like-- I like-- AUDIENCE: And we can make some progress.
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, you're hopeful. It's a hopeful spirit there. Thank you, Jamal. He's another one of my great students who's doing great things now.
That's fantastic. Anyway, I think you're the most hopeful guy in the room. You're like, destruction could lead to success, which I kind of like because we don't have a choice. We might as well try to look for opportunities while we have them. It's not that I think success is impossible. I think the downside of this project is that, because it illuminates just how profound the system is, it can be hard to see opportunities.
So one of the things that, if we had another hour and what the book and maybe this website these videos and-- I don't know-- a dance performance. I mean, I'm adding too many things as we go here. But one of the advantages-- one of the things the project will look at is what are the linchpins, what are the places between these gears that we might be able to really have leverage, and what are the successful responses. But we also think that why Sam did this terrific research on how Trayvon happened is that we have a lot of power to change the public stories we tell. Every time you see that story, because you've seen it 100 times since Trayvon was murdered, don't let it happen. Social media is very powerful. So our other media response that we can have to basically refuse this individualistic narrative. And if we can transform people's comfort with that-- what was this anomaly, this one bad apple, one crazy crackpot guy named George Zimmerman, which he might well also be, but he's channeling a set of ideas and values that are widely held and that are acted out institutionally.
So that's where my hope lies, is in conveying this enough to people who are smart and well-meaning and invested and to help them see how their own position is related to this process. And we have power that isn't just governmental, that we can actually change our collective attitudes. Does that help? Yes. Any other last-- yes, go ahead, hun. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.
And this was really important to me and educational. I learned a lot. I thought I knew something, but I guess I didn't. [laughs] I am from Georgia originally, but I've lived here in Rhode Island a lot of my life. And I've seen neighborhoods in Georgia go from all white to all black a lot. And this is a tough question to deal with, but there is that thing out there that says blacks destroy the neighborhood. And so I'm trying to come to some understanding in my own heart and my head about, is that true, and if it is, is it because black are uneducated in terms of taking care of properties-- this is a difficult one, but I'd like to hear some thoughts on it. TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, I can-- first, let me say, I do not have adequate time to address this question properly.
So if you hear of major gaps, guaranteed I agree with you. So let me just try to do a one minute version. Both things can be held true at the same time-- that the turnover of neighborhood can reduce the property values for structural reasons that have nothing to do with the behaviors of individuals, but it can also have to do with the fact that histories of economic strangling can really reduce the ability of black communities to keep up their property. So for example, higher-- I didn't even get into the question of penalties around mortgages. Subprime lending to people who are qualified for proper loans means they don't have adequate equity to improve their property. So even if they knew how to do it and wanted to do it, they don't have the resources.
Then when the market crashes, which it continually does and the people at the bottom who are fragile have to take in tenants. That produces transients. And so structured into these processes are fragilities, but it is also true that some black people, like poor white people, like people of all backgrounds, are not perfect.
This is not some noble African-American story. Of course there are people who do crime. There are people who don't take care of their property.
But I guarantee you, when you really look at that from a much more critical mind, you will see that, first of all, whites do it about just as much and they don't get a group penalty for it. They're understood as in need of our assistance to give them opportunities. So I'm not here in the business of saying that this is the noble group and they're just so perfect. Of course there are flaws. And I guarantee you, if any group of people who faced what black Americans have faced since the transatlantic slave trade, would have as many crises as black people have, some of which are eventually partially of their own making. That may very well be true.
But you can't tell me that 350 years of this kind of process is not something we're collectively responsible for. And it will make us all better if we own that up and fix it. We better go. I know you've got other fora to go to. Thank you so much. And thanks, Sam, for doing a great job. [APPLAUSE].
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