Richard Cohen: Being Afraid of Black People Isn't Racist

Internet not happy about racial columns

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 16, 2013 2:44 PM CDT

(Newser) Washington Post op-ed writer Richard Cohen sent some people searching for pitchforks today, with a column declaring that he "can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize." And apparently that opinion was going around among op-ed writers at major newspapers, because Jason Riley at the Wall Street Journal wrote a similar column running through black crime statistics. "Did the perception of black criminality play a role in Martin's death?" he asks. "We may never know for certain, but we do know that those negative perceptions of black men are rooted in hard data on who commits crimes."

Cohen in particular is taking a bunch of heat—the Atlantic Wire called the piece "racist and wrong"—so he talked with Politico to clear the air, explaining that hoodies are "worn by a whole lot of thugs," and that it's not racist to suspect black men wearing them. "I'm trying to remove this fear from racism," he says. "I don't think it's racism to say, 'this person looks like a menace.'" The Post is standing by the piece, saying it's "open to a range of views." Cohen's been here before; back in 1986 he wrote a piece supporting jewelry store owners' right to ban young black men.

An image of Trayvon Martin is seen during a demonstration in reaction to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, July 15, 2013, in Los Angeles.
An image of Trayvon Martin is seen during a demonstration in reaction to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, July 15, 2013, in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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I don't think it's racism to say, 'this person looks like a menace.' Now, a menace in another part of the country could be a white guy wearing a wife-beater under-shirt. - Richard Cohen

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