Your Voice | An open letter to Professor John DiIulio

A Penn alumna argues that Dilulio contributes to 'knee-jerk racism' in society at large

· March 27, 2012, 12:58 am   ·  Updated March 28, 2012, 11:41 pm

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I heard that you spoke on Radio Times yesterday morning. I noted with a sense of depressing irony that the next hour was devoted to the murder of Trayvon Martin. In the wake of Trayvon’s murder I am writing to ask you to repudiate publicly your book Body Count and accept responsibility for your contribution to the sort of racist climate that enables grown men to think that they are acting in self-defense when they gun down black male youths in cold blood.

In Body Count, you and your co-author William Bennett use now-discredited demographic projections to argue that America will soon be over-run by amoral dangerous “superpredators” (a catchphrase you coined). One barely has to read between the lines of this inflammatory work to recognize that the face of a so-called “superpredator” looks an awful lot like the face of Trayvon Martin and other black male youth.

Your argument and that awful catchphrase helped justify trying — and sentencing — youth as adults. It fanned the flames of hysterical violence against young black men. It enabled people to rationalize their knee-jerk racism with dubious statistics.

Needless to say, racism runs deeply through America’s heart and you do not bear sole responsibility for that. But you have profited professionally from work that has contributed to our collective racism and a culture of violence against black male youth.

As a man of faith, I ask that you write a widely accessible article in the popular media apologizing for Body Count and that awful catchphrase. Do it for Trayvon Martin and all the other children taken from us by people who look at their faces and see monsters instead of human beings.

I will confess that I did not listen to the show. My heart just couldn’t take the notion that you might talk to Philadelphians about religion and charity without apologizing for your contribution to the deeply troubling way we think about young black men in America.

Alexine Fleck is a 1995 Masters of Education graduate and 2007 English doctorate recipient. Her email address is lxfleck@me.com.

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