Sunday, July 21, 2013

Scapegoats, Race, and Freedom in America

By Richard Ebeling

According to the dictionary, a scapegoat is an individual or a group that is made to bear the guilt or punishment for an act committed by another.

That seems to be the fate of George Zimmerman. Found not guilty of murdering young Mr. Martin, and seemingly cleared of racist sentiments in an FBI background investigation surrounding the shooting, various groups that organized demonstrations this past weekend have decided that he must be made to bear the guilt and punishment of others in both earlier and present times who have expressed or acted upon racist views in American society.

In earlier times it did not matter if a particular black man had committed some crime; if it was believed that some black man was behind the act, then it was all right if any black man was to be punished by lynching him.

The implicit premise was: collective guilt, collective responsibility. Hang some black man and that sends the message to all black men from doing whatever criminal or socially unacceptable act was committed.

Make George Zimmerman "pay" for what other "whites" may have done in the past, and that will send the right message to all "whites" in society.

And by linking this to a demand that "stand your ground" laws should be repealed, the additional message is sent that "whites" better be careful in defending themselves when under assault by a person who may be "black," since any act of self-defense in such a situation (other than running away) will be taken to be a race-based violent act.

Let me suggest that this could easily make some in society even more "race conscious" than they already might be, since an individual would now have to be alert not only to being under "attack" but to the attacker's skin color in deciding how to defend and protect himself when under aggression. Since an act of defense may later be the basis of criminal charges based on race.

Racism has been a cancer in American society, and in the various forms it has taken on a different times.

Nothing is more against the political and philosophical individualism upon which the United States was founded. Nothing is more inconsistent with the principles of individual rights and individual liberty than such a primitive collectivism as racism.

All friends of freedom should oppose and speak out against any argument or attitude or action that presumes to judge a person by such an accident of birth as skin color.

It is precisely because of this that friends of freedom, in my opinion, should oppose this latest expression in our society of scapegoating and collective punishment.

Richard Ebeling is professor of economics at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.


  1. Not that it matters but Zimmerman is hispanic

    1. That fact is politically inconvenient, and therefor ignored. The fact that this was a tragedy is not in dispute. Charlie Daniels speaks as eloquently and with plain common sense as anyone I have found. See:

      Perhaps we should all simply say to Al Sharpton and those of his ilk, "Let my people go..."