Man Without Qualities

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Kobe Chatter: Playing The Race Card

Media coverage of the Kobe Bryant rape accusation is a wonder on many counts, not the least of which is that while a major element in the whole mess is bound to be race, the media are loath to talk about race in this case, citing to some ridiculous notions of victim privacy which are completely irrelevant because the name and RACE of the accuser and even dubious pictures of her, are trivially obtainable on the internet. [The Washington Post reports: The woman's name has been on the radio in at least 60 cities and posted on various Internet sites, complete with address, phone number and, in several cases, photographs of the wrong women.]

RACE, RACE, RACE. Yes, the accuser and possible victim is an attractive WHITE woman - although the media coverage dances all around this central point without addressing it.

Bizarre articles go on for many column inches discussing "prejudice" the accuser may be experiencing - without even mentioning the racial aspect of the case. But it matters a lot. Some articles are simply incomprehensible because they make no reference to the race of the accuser - like this one comparing the Bryant matter with the O.J. Simpson case.

That the woman's race and identity are freely available to the public doesn't stop ESPN from hiding behind "victim shield" considerations in publishing this drivel: On the other side is a 19-year-old woman, unnamed by media outlets and unknown outside her hometown community of 3,700 in Eagle County, Colo.

O, yes. She's "unknown outside her hometown community of 3,700 in Eagle County, Colo." We get the point. She's from a small town in an all-non-black Colorado county. ESPN buries all discussion of the racial aspect all the way at the end of the very long article, and the mention is again indirect and the discussion airy:

One last unknown variable could be race.

The Eagle County community, according to the Post, is 74 percent white and less than 1 percent black. Colorado lawyer Lisa Wayne, one of two blacks on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said minorities have difficulties getting fair trials, particular in rural Colorado areas.

"There's always the hope that this kind of defendant, because of who he is, would transcend race," Wayne told The Denver Post. "But I have to tell you that when it comes to allegations of sexual assault involving a black man and a white woman, there's often a deep bias that is so ingrained with jurors that they don't even recognize it, and it can interfere with their ability to (recognize) his status."

Yes, racial bias is often thought to be a problem for jurors, and many people also believe racial bias can be a big problem with prosecutors. That's highly relevant in this case because ESPN also notes: A jury likely will decide whether Bryant can resume his previous life on a basketball court. But in the court of public opinion, the damage may have already been done. And, if the damage to Mr. Bryant has already been done, it has been done by a white state prosecutor from an almost-all-non-black county. Isn't that news? And the "74 percent white" reference seems to be tossed in to deflate racial concerns - but is there any evidence that Hispanic or Native Americans are any less inclined to be biased against African American men accused of rape? I'm not aware of any.

TIME magazine's coverage is all but a hallucination in this regard:

Bryant proved last week that he can be a charismatic testifier. But he may have a tougher audience in Eagle County, a Colorado district in which blacks total only 0.3% of the population. Even here, though, Bryant's benign image may trump his color. "Kobe the superstar is in some ways raceless," says Kenneth Shropshire, author of In Black and White: Race and Sports in America. "He could be like Michael Jordan, someone nonurban white folks think of as a superstar, and not primarily a black man." Color is one possible factor; class is another. There's a financial gulf between those who pay $175,000 for a golf-club membership and those who caddy for them. Most who work in Vail can't afford to live there. Trailer parks are home not just to carhops and maids but to social workers and the police. Could a local jury reflect the resentment the near poor have for the very rich?

The accuser's race is not reported in this TIME article at all. It's not that TIME doesn't think race is important - only that it has to be brought in indirectly ("Color is one possible factor..."). Apparently TIME's readers are suppose to dig out of the squidgy language of this article that Mr. Bryant may have a problem because he is an African-American man charged with raping a white woman and may have to stand trial before a no-black jury in a nearly no-black county. In other words, Mr. Bryant may have a To Kill a Mockingbird problem? And what's with the loony "class is another" bit? Is TIME suggesting that rich men are sometimes convicted of rape because the jury resents their money? Such a suggestion is just idiotic. "Kobe the superstar is in some ways raceless?" Does anyone in his right mind think Kobe Bryant feels "raceless" when he walks around a Colorado county that is 99.7% non-black and thinks: "That's my jury?" Does anyone think that African-Americans are not going to be having race in mind as they watch what happens to Mr. Bryant?

RACE! RACE! RACE! The media won't say it, but I will say it:


That doesn't mean the residents of that Eagle County, Colorado, are racist or bad. It doesn't mean the accuser is wrong or right. But it does raise the questions of whether Mr. Bryant has been already wronged on account of his race, and whether the jury may be biased on account of his race, and whether he will "play the race card" to seek an unjust acquital at some point if his trial proceeds poorly. In short, it is not possible to understand this matter without discussing its racial aspects.

For God's sakes, race matters - and should be reported where it matters.


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