There was recently a tragic news story out of Wison, North Carolina that shows quite well the conservative intellectual breakdown in regards to race relations in America. On August 9, 5-year old Cannon Hinnant was enjoying his youthful innocence in front of his family home as he joyfully rode his bike while his two sisters played close by. Cannon was just days away from starting kindergarten when his neighbor, 25-year old Darrius Sessoms, allegedly shot Cannon in the head, killing him. It is unclear what motivated Sessoms to commit this horrific crime.
Sessoms drove away from the scene before police arrived. A statewide manhunt quickly ensued, and he was located within 24 hours. He was arrested, charged with 1st-degree murder, and denied bail. It appears justice for Cannon will be swift, and that Sessoms will spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the days since this tragedy occurred, many conservatives have been ridiculing the Black Lives Matter movement and non-conservative media for supposedly not giving this story the extensive coverage they feel it deserves. They reason that since Cannon was white and Sessoms is black, that there should be media covered outrage on par with the police killings of black people. George Floyd is their favorite target since his death sparked the national protests that rocked our nation for weeks.
Why, they ask, do BLM and the mainstream media only care when a black person is killed by a white person, and not also when a white person is killed by a black person? If George Floyd deserved protests, why doesn’t Cannon — why the double standard?
I’m honestly gobsmacked that the differences between the two killings aren’t plainly obvious to everybody. Apparently we must spell it out question and answer style to make the train of logic easy to digest:
Q: Was Cannon killed by a police officer sworn to protect and serve the public?
Q: So then there is no reason to protest police misconduct, right?
Q: Was Cannon’s killer quickly arrested and charged with the appropriate crimes?
Q: Will Cannon’s killer likely spend the rest of his life in prison?
Q: Then what would protests for Cannon be protesting?
It took four long days for officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for his life, to be charged with a crime. And it took another five days before the charge was appropriately upgraded to a more severe charge. It took nine days before the other three officers were likewise charged with crimes. This all felt like an eternity to anybody who watched the horrifying video footage of the incident and knew they had watched police torture a man to death. Floyd begged for his life. He stated he couldn’t breathe over and over again. The officers ignored him. Chauvin even continued to kneel onto Floyd’s neck after he became unresponsive and one officer failed to locate a pulse.
Considering America’s long and troubled history of police brutality against black people in particular, and that police are seemingly rarely held accountable for such brutality even when death results, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is a social advocacy group whose mission is to ensure black people receive equal treatment from law enforcement and equal justice under the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that this movement took to the streets across America when the footage of George Floyd’s murder hit the collective conscience of the nation. People wanted justice, and they wanted it without delay!
Conversely, in the case of Cannon’s murder, justice was only in doubt for the mere hours it took to hunt down his killer. Once Sessoms was apprehended, any fear that justice might not be served immediately vanished.
The only conceivable argument that inadequate justice has anything to do with Cannon’s death would be to argue that Sessoms shouldn’t have been a free man to begin with considering his extensive criminal history. But even so, such reform would have zero bearing on race because there is not a legitimate argument to be made that black men are the common beneficiaries of lenient criminal sentences compared to their white counterparts. The data indicates that the truth is clearly the opposite.
Some conservatives are also assuming that Cannon’s murder was racially motivated, which would fit into their ridiculous narrative that there are just as many racist black people as there are racist white people. They will no doubt be frustrated to learn that not even Cannon’s father, who says he shared dinner and drinks with Sessoms the night before the murder, thinks it had anything to do with race. He says they had always had a good neighborly relationship.
There is clearly an intellectual breakdown when someone compares two murders that have nothing in common except tragedy. What are the origins of this intellectual breakdown? I think the answer lies in the way in which many on the right more generally aim to frame the black American experience: In their view, since everybody has had equal rights under the law since the late ’60s, any economic or criminal injustice that blacks perceive they suffer from today is mostly of their own making — they believe that too many blacks have long embraced a broken culture that glorifies crime, and fails to value intact nuclear families and hard work.
This is, of course, an ignorant and conveniently simplistic view of race relations in America. Its sin is that it fails to account for the lasting impact of 349 years of legal economic oppression of black people by whites. From the time the first black slaves reached America’s shores in 1619 up until the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, black people were either enslaved or second class citizens under the law. But because white people had this 349-year economic headstart, blacks are still largely second class citizens economically.
In his recent book The Meritocracy Trap, author and Yale Law School professor Daniel Markovits covers in detail how our modern merit-based economy is very efficient at allowing for the dynastic transfer of wealth through the generations. He explains that the primary means by which elite families pass along their wealth is through elite education, which is financially out of reach for most Americans. From pre-K until graduate or professional degree obtainment, today’s merit-crowned elites invest incredible amounts of money to ensure their kids out-train most other kids so that they can secure the highest paying jobs. Since yesterday’s wealth helps secure today’s highest-paying jobs, our meritocracy has effectively kept black America from leveling the economic playing field with white America.
And so it is that in 2016 it was estimated that the average black household had one-tenth that of the typical white household. Whites will use this enormous wealth advantage to maintain their meritocratic advantage for many years to come unless new policy shifts the balance of power. If one purposefully ignores the roots of the enormous wealth advantage white America has over black America today, then it becomes easier to ignorantly proclaim white cultural superiority over black culture.
Those who espouse that black culture is largely to blame for black hardship often eagerly point to disproportionately high black crime rates. But this can largely be explained as the result of gross economic inequality. Any criminologist will tell you that poverty and a lack of economic opportunity invariably lead to higher crime rates and that this is not a social phenomenon in which some races are immune. And considering that economic inequality between blacks and whites has always existed, and that it has deep roots in hundreds of years of legal economic oppression that only ended recently, why does anybody feel black culture is the primary reason why blacks are today still largely disadvantaged to whites?
If we were to metaphorically encapsulate this whole scenario into a 400-meter race around a track between a black man and a white man, the black man would run the first 245 meters while carrying the white man, then the next 103 meters hopping on one leg, and then be told he is now free to catch up to the white man without any limitations placed upon him. Except by that point the white man has already used his fresh legs to comfortably cruise to victory. And then, to add insult to injury, the black man must endure the white man telling him he deserves to be the loser because he didn’t try hard enough during that last 52 meters. This white man is the metaphorical representation of a good chunk of conservatives in America today, and it’s fucking crazy!
The belief that black culture is primarily to blame for the gross inequities black Americans endure is really white supremacy in disguise, or White Supremacy Light*. It is simply a trading in of proclamations of white genetic superiority to be encapsulated in widespread legal privilege for proclamations of white cultural superiority to be encapsulated in enduring white economic privilege. One way or another the white supremacist insists that the privilege must continue.
If we are all to be equals in the truest sense of the meaning, white America must pay for its sins through some robust method of providing black America with a sizable financial boost. Whether its direct reparations payments or some other method like baby bonds, the most important thing at this moment is that we have the discussion and not pretend this is not a valid issue, because it absolutely is.
So when George Floyd — who was a felon who had drugs in his system at the time of his death, and who didn’t have an intact nuclear family — was the inspiration for weeks of protest to demand that blacks receive equal justice under the law, White Supremacy Light was incensed because they want to believe blacks only appear to suffer more injustice because they are more likely than whites to engage in criminal activity. And when Floyd was further honored with TV broadcasted memorial and funeral services, White Supremacy Light was further incensed because they don’t see him as a shining example of racial injustice in America, but rather a shining example of broken black culture in America.
And when an innocent and adorable five-year-old white boy was murdered by a black felon, White Supremacy Light, having felt pushed against the ropes in recent months by the response to the murder of George Floyd, couldn’t contain their emotions. They reflexively sought to show that BLM and non-conservative media only cares about black people, not equality for all people (hence their rebuttal to Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter”). They intuit that if they can successfully paint that picture then the BLM movement will be shown to be illegitimate. Then they don’t have to acknowledge and atone for the centuries-long sins of white people that are more responsible for the black-in-America condition than black people themselves are. Because if they had to acknowledge as much then they feel they would be giving away their last vestiges of white privilege. The sad truth is some whites need black people to be down so they can feel up.
America’s racial tensions will never be solved by whites pointing the finger at blacks and proclaiming cultural superiority. Most all blacks, I should hope, will rightfully stare them in the eye and say back, “Oh how quickly you forget the sins of your ancestors, and how conveniently, too.”
*I do not know if I coined the term White Supremacy Light or not. I am unaware of having ever encountered it before.