We Should Not Believe Our Own Propaganda

by mjtaylor on July 31, 2013

I am reprinting (without permission, but with attribution) this column from the Key West Citizen’s occasional columnist, Hedley Burrell. The Citizen’s pages are not available if you are not a subscriber, so this is the only way I know to share this widely. I know I am perpetuating the debate on the Zimmerman verdict, but the points made here have a much wider reach than Trayvon Martin’s death. Whether I agree or you agree with the verdict, two ideas remain pertinent for me:

  1. Our justice system may not be perfect, but it is functioning. It is better, imo, to allow a guilty man to go free than to jail an innocent citizen.
  2. While I believe race was a factor in Zimmerman’s actions, it is more important to recognize that is IS a factor all too often; that our society is not at all blind to color. Our country is full of examples, none more chilling than the number of young, unarmed black men who are shot by police in this country.

Mr. Burrell’s column from July 27, 2013.

We should not believe our own propaganda

BY HEDLEY BURRELL Occasional Columnist

All countries have an Achilles’ heel in their genetic makeup. Sooner or later, and usually sooner, they start to believe their own propaganda. There is nothing
peculiarly American about this. It exists as a global phenomenon.

It is notably evident in this country when the subject is race.

And it was clear in some of the reactions to the trial of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. After he was acquitted in the shooting death in Sanford of
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-yearold African-American, many felt it was time to debate the role of race in our national life.

To have such a debate is positive.

To pretend that, somehow, we only just discovered it was necessary is ridiculous.

Was race a factor in the Zimmerman case? If it wasn’t, it must have been a
rare occurrence.

For race has been of tremendous consequence since the founding of the republic. We allowed slavery while preaching that all are created equal and later lectured
others even as de jure segregation lived on in the South and de facto separation remained the norm in Northern states.

One wonders: How did we get away with it?

To this day, the nation’s racial divides remain and there is no sign that they are about to be bridged. We have predominantly African-American neighborhoods
and predominantly white neighborhoods. We have predominantly white schools and predominantly African- American schools.

Nationwide, interracial socializing is limited.

True, we elected an African-American to the presidency and this is rightly celebrated as historic. It was of major significance in the story of America.
But it is worthy of such note because it was so out of the ordinary.

This is not to say that Americans are more racist than others. In many ways we do better, and it is not to say that significant advances haven’t been made
and aren’t still being made, but our propaganda relentlessly exaggerates our progress.

To actually question whether white Americans living in gated communities react differently when they see a male African- American teenager walking around than
when they spot a white youngster is ludicrous. I mean, really, is this a serious question?

Racial issues still permeate many aspects of American life. In fact, two Americas continue to exist – one white, one black. It is true that there are other minority
groups, but the largest, and most obvious, divide is between black and white.

As for Sanford, some 67 years ago, the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team, tried to hold its spring training there. But the appearance of Jackie
Robinson and another African- American with the Montreal baseball team infuriated segregationists, who threatened the two players.  Spring training was moved to Daytona Beach.  About a month later, with Robinson playing in an exhibition game in segregated Sanford, the police chief ordered him off the field. The Montreal Gazette told its readers: “Robinson Quits Game in Florida at the Request of Police Chief.”

Now, with Trayvon Martin’s death also a part of its history, Sanford, which is about 20 miles northeast of Orlando and a 50-minute drive from Disney World,
is trying to change. An African- American police chief is working to improve relations with the community. Let us hope a new day dawns.

But a 17-year-old cannot be brought back and, in our preferred belief that we have fully addressed the problem of our racial attitudes, we are simply propagandizing
ourselves.

Propagandizing is certainly not limited to the issue of race, but it is high on the list of subjects we view through a selective lens. As long as this is true, we will find solutions to a problem that has been with us since the country’s formation to be elusive and delayed.

It was New York-born moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer who made this telling observation: “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them
to deceive themselves.”

No question, we have come a long way since 1957. That was the year people around the globe were talking about Little Rock Central High School, scene of
a serious confrontation over compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding segregation in public schools.

But, make no mistake: We still have a long way to go.

 Sarasota-based Hedley Burrell, a frequent Florida Keys visitor, is a former editor and writer for The Washington Post and The Associated Press and media
adviser for U.S. government agencies.

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