“Race Neutral” is Fiction

November 17, 2013


“Race neutral” is fiction at its worst.

There is no race-neutral situation in this country. Race is a part of every encounter when racial differences exist. It may not always be the main part, a bad part, or the determining part, but it is always there. People of color know this; white people generally do not.

White law professor Ron Bretz, a professor at Cooley Law School and former criminal-defense attorney, was asked for his opinion about the recent Michigan porch shooting. Nineteen-year-old Renisha Marie McBride, a black woman, died on November 2nd when a suburban Detroit white homeowner, Theodore Wafer, shot her in the face as she stood on his porch just before dawn. The homeowner was charged with 2nd degree murder last Friday.

Bretz said both sides would be wise to keep to a “race-neutral” strategy

“Don’t go there. Keep it on the facts.  Who wants to bring race into it? Everybody else. … The defense doesn’t want that. And the prosecution doesn’t want to bring it in. I don’t think they need to.”

Bretz doesn’t see that “keeping to the facts” means we acknowledge that racial difference existed in that encounter. Refusing to acknowledge that race was one part of the whole story can skew the search for truth.  If the five white women on the Zimmerman jury had talked about race, justice might have prevailed for Trayvon Martin.

It is true that deciding to charge someone with a crime is based on the facts of law; not facts of race.  It is also true that our unwillingness to name and talk about race has led to charges not being filed when they should have been and verdicts being unjust.

In my experience, nobody runs faster from a discussion on race than white people. We are scared of it, don’t know how to do it, and are deeply hoping that our colorblind ideology – “I don’t see color when I look at people” – will somehow turn out to be true.

It is way past time to do away with that fiction.

One comment

  1. Critical theory would urge us to ask who benefits from using ‘race neutral’ to modify some event. It is rarely ever to the advantage of people of color. For the dominant group (White Europeans) it is almost always to their advantage. The category of ‘hate crime’ is based on racial bias and leads to much more severe punishment. ‘Race was not a factor’ diminishes the punishment.

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