Brent Staples’s aria about evil racial stereotypes—so evil that many well-meaning people are unconscious of how their attitudes and behavior are influenced by them—is all a prelude to some spectacularly irresponsible animadversions about George Zimmerman. “By the time he went on neighborhood watch patrol with his 9-millimeter pistol and spied Trayvon Martin,” says Staples,
Mr. Zimmerman saw not a teenager with candy [“candy” is a nice touch], but a collection of preconceptions: the black as burglar, the black as drug addict, the black “up to no good.” And he was determined not to let this one get away.
Question: how does Brent Staples know what George Zimmerman saw or thought? He doesn’t. He is just making it up. And the more we know about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the murkier the episode seems. The man whom the Times branded a “white Hispanic” turns out to have been a conscientious good citizen who donated much time to public good works, including tutoring young black kids for free. In his hysterical campaign against the sin of un- or semi-conscious racism, Brent Staples liberally deploys insidious racialism to make a scapegoat of a man he knows nothing about. “Young, Black, Male, and Stalked by Bias” is all of a piece with the Times’s other reporting on race: whites are guilty until proven innocent, at which point they are still guilty of being white, but blacks get every benefit of every doubt, up to and including being employed by the paper’s editorial page not for merit but for skin color. It’s a case of the not-so-soft bigotry of racialist expectations. Brent Staples is indeed “stalked by bias,” but it turns out that it’s his own bias, underwritten partly by reflexive racialism, partly by stupidity.