Leonard Pitts: I know it’s futile, but …

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2011

ěThen the lie passed into history and became truth.î
ó ě1984î by George Orwell
This will be a futile column. Experience dictates that it will change no minds, inspire no reconsideration among those who disagree. It will sit on the computer screen or the newspaper page taking up space, affecting nothing, until another column replaces it. It will be a useless essay, written for one reason only: to protect the writerís mental health. If the writer did not write it, you see, there is a great danger his head would explode.
Last week, these things happened:
(1) A reader named Drew wrote to dispute a contention, made in this space, that black kids are ěfunneledî into the criminal injustice system. I told Drew the claim is verified by simple math. For instance, in her book, ěThe New Jim Crow,î Michelle Alexander reports that white kids are a third more likely to have sold drugs than black kids. But in some states, blacks account for up to 90 percent of all drug offenders in prison.
To which Drew responded, ěMaybe you can find stats about drugs, but…î
(2) A reader named Jean wrote, ěDid it ever occur to you that black men often choose the criminal path as their vocation because they see it as a get-rich-scheme that requires less work ethic…?î Whereupon, I made the argument again, this time citing a study co-sponsored by the Justice Department. And Jean replied, ěNow how many government studies do you really believe?î
(3) The Miami Herald published an editorial attacking Florida Gov. Rick Scottís Cabinet for approving a measure that will make it more difficult for nonviolent felons who have served their time to regain their right to vote. Because Florida jails African-Americans in disproportionate numbers, argued the editorial, the proposal has unavoidable ěracial and partisan implications.î
ěThis,î said the editorial, ěwill return Florida to the Jim Crow era, when such hurdles were created to prevent blacks from voting.î
To which ěOnLine,î writing on the paperís message board, shot back, ěDonít become a felon and you need not worry.î
And perhaps you can understand why the column feels futile. OnLine, Jean and Drew would doubtless protest that they are not racist. Perish the thought. They would doubtless tell you they are simply being objective.
Which is funny, given the ease with which they bat aside objective fact. But then, thatís the state of critical thinking these days: ignore any inconvenient truth, any unsettling information that might force you to think or even look with new eyes upon, say, the edifice of justice. Accept only those ěfactsî that support what you already believe.
And on this subject, what many people already believe could not be clearer: black equals crime. Weíre talking about at the mitochondrial level. Weíre talking a crime strand on the DNA.
Black equals crime is a formulation as old as slave manacles and as modern as e-mail, the engine driving lynch mobs and lawmen who sold black men into slavery as late as 1945, and cops who pull black drivers over because … And the tragedy is not simply that many white men and women embrace this damnable lie in the face of all refutation, but that black children hear it and breathe it in like poison till it becomes part of them, till it informs how they see themselves in the world.
Some years ago, I posed a question to an audience of school kids. If a white person is murdered, what are the odds the assailant is black? Seventy-five percent? Hands ó every hand in the room, it seemed ó bolted into the air. Most of them belonged to black kids.
For the record, the actual number is 13 percent.
Not that it matters. This is a futile column, remember? And when people are determined to believe a lie, there is nothing more futile than the truth.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. E-mail: lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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