Why are so many people so desperate to hold onto the idea that America is as racist as it has ever been?
The phenomenon is apparent in much of the commentary on the George Zimmerman case. Facts were blithely ignored -- the fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic, not white, by current standards; the evidence that he and not his victim, Trayvon Martin, was pummeled and wounded; the failure to find any hint of anti-black bias in Zimmerman's past.
Instead there was a desperate longing to see this unhappy incident as a case of a white racist hunting down and murdering an innocent black -- with a view to establishing that this kind of thing happens all the time.
It isn't. Yes, young black men are homicide victims in large and tragic numbers. But the perpetrators are almost always other young black men, as in President Obama's hometown of Chicago, where almost every weekend there are multiple such murders.
Nevertheless, journalism is full of opinion articles, many written by people who should know better, likening the death of Trayvon Martin to the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.
Till was a 14-year-old black boy raised in Chicago who, on a summer trip to his native Mississippi, "wolf-whistled" at a white woman. Two white men abducted and brutally murdered him.
They were tried, and the all-white jury acquitted them after deliberating 67 minutes. Months later, the defendants told Look magazine's William Bradford Huie that they had indeed killed the young man.
The Emmett Till case attracted national attention, with heavy media coverage. Rep. Charles Diggs, one of three blacks in Congress, attended the trial. National magazines ran pictures of the grinning defendants.
In the process, Northerners were forced to confront the brutality with which white Southerners enforced the subjection of blacks.
This went beyond the laws requiring segregated schools, buses and drinking fountains. Also in place was an unwritten code of behavior, breach of which could result in violent retaliation.
Blacks were called by their first names and could approach whites' houses only by the back door, and black men could never, never ogle white women.
This was unknown to most Northerners. As I explain in my forthcoming book, Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics, there was almost no migration between South and North in the years between the Civil War and World War II.
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