Who’s following Zimmerman and Martin, and to where?

Some especially virulent racism in the Atlantic comments on my post there about the George Zimmerman trial got me thinking about our “conversation about race.”

Trigger warning: a little hate speech follows. If you’re interested in the hate-Trayvon stuff I’m sure you’ve found it already. Just so you know what I mean, here are a few comments from the Atlantic comment section:

  • …any rational white person should be presumptively afraid of young black men, so long as they “look” and act a certain way. Why? Because they commit a huge, disproportionate number of crimes against white people, and because they act menacingly.

  • The only solution is to make sure we have less blackies in society, sterilization of prisoners is probably the way to start to make sure they don’t leave any off-spring and forced abortions of mothers on welfare.

  • Its not fear to be wary of young black males, its simple common sense. Even Jesse Jackson agrees. What you should fear though is the Federal leviathan and the presstitute Corporate Media which will both come down on your head like an anvil if you are White and dare defend yourself from violent, feral blacks.

  • Trayvon actually got less than what he deserved. PS. not including eternity in Hell where he now resides. [You might be glad to know that the up-vote:down-vote ratio on this one is 2:1. -pnc]

That kind of overt racism seems to simply drive many reasonable people out of the comments section, so there isn’t much resistance. At the same time, about 100 people tweeted out the post, and the ones who had faces visible in their Twitter avatars were mostly Black:

zimmerman jury tweeters

(To fill out the square I enlarged the guy with 90,000 followers.)

I don’t have the data or the know-how to really analyze web traffic on the blogs I write for. But I do see some broad patterns. For example, stories about race get a higher ratio of tweets to Facebook likes, which could represent the greater Black presence on Twitter. The Zimmerman post has a FB/Twitter ratio of 2.5 at this writing, compared with 11.3 for my last post on gay marriage.

OJ acquittal reactions.

The conversation

Once again, the divergences in this conversation are more obvious than the convergences. I wonder if this is getting better or worse. One piece of evidence suggests it might be getting worse.

Believe it or not, attention to this case has been low by the standards of “racially charged news stories,” according to polling from the Pew Research Center for the People and Press.

The final days of the trial of George Zimmerman … attracted relatively modest public interest overall. In a weekend survey, 26% say they were following news about the trial very closely. … However, the story has consistently attracted far more interest among blacks than whites – and that remained the case in the trial’s final days. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to say they tracked news about the Zimmerman trial very closely (56% vs. 20%).

That 26% interest is a big enough slice of the population to make CNN go wall-to-wall, but it’s not discourse-shattering. The most interesting part of that Pew report is the historical trend of Black and White interest for a series of related public moments. Their table is sorted so that the events with the largest Black-White interest gaps are at the top.

pewblackwhiteinterestAll the events show greater Black than White interest, unsurprisingly. But if you squint – or sort the table by date – you can see that the gap has widened since 1992. Here are the Black and White interest levels arranged by date:


This is only 10 events that generated national coverage, and there could be any number of reasons for the trend, so we can’t make too much of it. The Rodney King point is maybe in a different category because it’s not just a trial but a major conflagration afterwards. But that decline in White interest is pronounced even if that point is removed. If White interest in our “conversation on race” is declining, the apparent polarization we see now suggests it might be the middle that has lost interest.

My take on this is whole thing is mostly negative. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

3 thoughts on “Who’s following Zimmerman and Martin, and to where?

  1. The decline you identify seems to be an artifact of the first 3 data points, which track interest in stories that are (at least arguably) unusual for the interest they generated. (In the Rodney King stories, you had the shock of the beating video, and then the riots; in the OJ Simpson case, there was the stunning arrest of a famous, accomplished, and popular sports icon.) If you begin the timeline in 1995 (with the Simpson trial), the slopes of the two lines (for white and black) look like they would be almost identical – not evidence of a decline, therefore, if decline is defined as a widening of an “interest gap”.


  2. If you wish to see truly virulent racism, go read the comments under articles about the Zimmerman case in the Orlando Sentinel.


  3. So how do we have an honest, civil conversation about race? The typical conversation (especially the ones this week) usually devolves into an “us versus them” scenario. This question was asked in a forum focused on black issues and I was told it’s not their job to tell me how to act. Fair enough, but why pose the initial question if you didn’t want to engage others in conversation to make it better for all involved? And why did that person assume to know how I acted? She said: “Because you’re white,” Sigh. How do we get anywhere when someone assumes a stereotype by using another stereotype to prove their premise?


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