I’ve just been reading so many things about Saturday’s verdict — about white supremacy, institutionalized racism, “Justifiable Homicide,” racial profiling, what to tell the children, and what privileged white people like me must ask ourselves to best support and advocate for the rights of people of color. There are more things to say and talk about. This is just the beginning of the conversation.
In White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman on The Nation, Aura Bogado indicts the white supremacist culture that motivated the crime regardless of Zimmerman’s own race:
When Zimmerman was acquitted today, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.
Lisa Wade at Sociological Images looks into the data on racial bias in “Justifiable Homicide” Trials:
The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.
At The New Yorker in What The Zimmerman Trial Was About, Jelani Cobb gets into what was “really on trial” — the logic of racial profiling in general:
There’s bad mathematics at the heart of this—a conflation of correlations and causations, gut instincts codified as public policy. To the extent that race factors into this equation, it’s in the way we selectively absolve, the way that no sum of actions by certain people quite reaches the bar of suspicion, the way that it becomes deceptively easy to surrender the civil liberties of others.
None of this could come up in closing arguments, yet it also seems certain that without understanding this idea we’ll reënact this drama at some future date under slightly different circumstances, but with a common pool of suspicions still present beneath the surface.
Before the verdict had been revealed, Miller Francis wrote a piece for CNN about Trayvon’s right to stand his ground, notable for this perfect point:
Think about it: We’re told over and over that if Zimmerman was afraid of Martin, according to Florida law, he had the right to put a bullet in the chamber of his concealed handgun, get out of his car after being told not to by the 911 dispatcher and follow and confront Martin and shoot him to death.
At the same time, we are told that Martin, who had far greater reason to fear Zimmerman, practically and for reasons of American history, did not have the right to confront his stalker, stand his ground and defend himself, including by using his fists. We are told that this was entirely unjustified and by doing so, Martin justified his own execution.
At Gawker, Cord Jefferson recounts a personal experience with being racially profiled in The Zimmerman Jury Told Young Black Men What We Already Know:
For conservatives, it’s a triumph of permissive gun laws and a victory over the liberal media, which had been unfairly rooting for the dead kid all along. For liberals, it’s a tragic and glaring example of the gaps that plague our criminal justice system. For people of color, it’s a vivid reminder that we must always be deferential to white people, or face the very real chance of getting killed.
Also before the verdict had been released, Jamila Aisha Brown wrote in The Guardian in response to a conversation on Piers Morgan with Marc Lamont-Hill about what would have happened if Trayvon had been a black woman:
“…the victimization of young women is subsumed into a general well of black pain that is largely defined by the struggles of African-American men. As a result, any insight about this important intersection of race and gender is lost under the umbrella of a collective sense of persecution.
Despite Piers Morgan‘s assertion that if Trayvon Martin were female, then her case would assure a guilty verdict, all the evidence suggests otherwise. The same social and cultural protections afforded white women are not readily granted to African-American women and girls.
If Trayvon Martin had been a young black woman, no police chief would have resigned over a bungled investigation. No CNN host would be discussing the case of her accused killer. And we wouldn’t be livestreaming her murder trial and hanging on every word of each witness.
As Transgriot, Monica Roberts wishes that her prediction of the “not guilty” verdict had been wrong:
I wanted to be proven wrong on this Zimmerman case. I wanted to tell myself that my cynical reaction based on a lifetime of not too pleasant interactions with whiteness and white supremacy in America wasn’t warranted. I wanted to believe that it’s the justice system and not the ‘Just-us’ system. I wanted to believe that a Black life is just as valuable in the United States as a white one.
The courtroom in Sanford, FL and that verdict just pretty much verified and summed up what I’ve been saying for seven years on this blog in various ways when I talk about race, race relations, whiteness and white supremacy.
At Black America Web, Erica L. Taylor recalls Sanford’s racist past, where two founders of the first local NAACP chapter were killed in their homes after being firebombed by the KKK and Jackie Robinson “encountered one of the worst bouts of racism in baseball history.”
On Crunk Feminist Collective, a conversation on how to process anger for Trayvon in the Black Feminist way:
I know it may seem selfish for sisters to even suggest that our struggles matter in this moment. But if the treatment of Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s friend, has taught us anything, it is that we are in this shit together. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, has been an exemplar of Strong Black Womanhood throughout this ordeal. What other choice did she have? But while many folks may admire her strength and resolve, We Black feminists know that those regal robes of superwomanhood are much too heavy a load.
There has been the question of what to say to our children. At Feminist Wire, Christen Smith writes an open letter to her son in An Open Love Note To My Son: On Mourning, Love and Black Motherhood:
“… I still could not shake the feeling of helplessness and sadness I had associated with bringing you into this world. In my traumatized and irrational mind, mothering black boys was imminent mourning, and the empathy I felt for mothers like Sabrina Fulton, Mamie Till, and Laura Nelson brought that into stark relief. But my feelings were not only born out of the hegemonic silence that shrouds the real lethality of white heterosexist patriarchal supremacy on Black women and Black transgendered people. It was also born out of the raw and painful emotions of love that I have for you.”
On Womanist Musings, Renee describes watching the trial with shock and horror “from a distance” as a Canadian, slightly more secure about her son’s safety only because of Canada’s more stringent gun laws:
The glorification and absolutely masturbatory fascination Americans have with guns, combined with a White supremacist culture, which purposefully criminalizes and cheapens the lives of Black children before they can even take their first breath, are directly responsible for the violent unnecessary murder of Trayvon Martin.
At The Root, Elsa Nefertari Ulen grapples with the question:
Our son is 4. He waves at firemen as they zoom past in their big red trucks, and they always wave back. He is deeply interested in the pantheon of American superheroes. Spiderman is his favorite, but he can name almost all the “good guys and bad guys.” He knows their mythological origins, knows why they were created for good — or for evil. For him, the line between good guy and bad guy is clear, impossible to cross. So, how do I explain Trayvon to him? What do I say to prepare my son for this world, where a neighborhood watchman who is supposed to be the good guy kills an innocent child who looks so much like my son does?
White anti-racist author and activist Tim Wise wrote about explaining America to his daughter, recounting the Bernhard Goetz case and admonishing those who claim this case had nothing to do with race:
Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.
Melissa Harris-Perry addressed the issue on her show Saturday, sharing the surprising relief she felt when her ultrasound revealed she was having a girl and not a boy, and what it’s like to “live in a country that makes me wish my sons away.”
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There have also been some really really poignant pieces written about the importance of never forgetting, not for one minute, how racist America is. This is especially important for white people like me.
In On #Trayvon and Us, Faiqa Khan on Native Born challenges those who insist race is not an issue:
“I want to tell you all, for your own good, stop saying that. If you think race isn’t an issue, then race is most definitely an issue for you. When you pretend something does not exist, you give it power. That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows.”
At The Root, Lawrence D.Bobbo describes how “the racism that resides at America’s core has led to the continual dehumanization of blacks”:
America is racist at its core. I used to doubt this simplistic claim. Today I cannot. The murder of Trayvon Martin demands total, simple, honesty. A jury in Florida failed us. We have not seen a moral failure this grave since a similarly all-white jury in Simi Valley, Calif., in 1992 acquitted the four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King.
Roxanne Gay (whose incredible writing you may be familiar with from The Rumpus) echoed those sentiments in Racism is Every American’s Problem:
“We must forget the convenient narrative that racism only thrives in the South. Racism is an American problem. We all need to stop trying to absolve ourselves of responsibility.”
In Racism Is To White People As Wind Is To The Sky, Sunny Drake asks white people to acknowledge our own racism because if we don’t, nothing will ever change:
“It’s not enough to simply know that racism exists, that we live in a racist world. In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions. And before you defensively cite the number of friends of colour you have, please remember that sometimes these beliefs and actions are incredibly sneaky – they are designed by white supremacy to look normal and natural. As white people, sometimes we can find them difficult to spot – yet they are glaringly obvious to those who are hurt EVERY SINGLE DAY by our racism.”
And finally, via writeswrongs (there’s something weird happening on that tumblr though that makes me unable to link to a specific post, but you can read it in its entirety on Jasika Nicole’s tumblr, sugarbooty):
Instead of saying “I am Trayvon Martin” it would do more good for white people [and non-Black people] in solidarity with the Trayvon Martin case to recognize all the ways they are Zimmerman.
As in, if you live in a “safe” suburban or gated community that is mostly white and that is considered a “good” neighborhood because it excludes people of colour [especially excluding Black people] then you benefit from the same conditions that created Zimmerman.
Thank you Riese.
Another great article from the Crunk Feminist Collective on how to process this in a “black feminist way”
“Even so, political energy is finite. Stakes is high. And everybody needs to be taken care of. Black women included. That is why it is so important that we get it right. The time may not be right. It never is. But the time is now. So even as Black women prepare to do what they do best, move into care mode, and brothers prepare to do what they do best, and accept that care, this post is a gentle reminder, that the Black freedom struggle cannot, yet again, be built on the backs of Black women.”
thank you emily! i was looking on CFC last night when i was making this post to see if they’d put anything up to include here but there wasn’t anything yet — i’m gonna add it now! thanks again
Watching this as an Irish person, my thoughts were much the same as Renee’s, and it really bothered me while watching the press conference with the prosecution afterwards when they were stressing that they weren’t questionning Zimmerman’s right to bear arms and they were completely behind that right.
If Zimmerman hadn’t been legally allowed to carry a gun, its a hell of a lot less likely that Trayvon would be dead. It wouldn’t have solved all the other problems that led to the attack, like racial profiling or any of the other injustices, this kid would probably still have been unfairly threatened, but at least he wouldn’t be dead.
I really, strongly agree with this point.I’m encouraged to see that this case is getting people to stand up and look at the world around them and start calling out racism.
As a Canadian though, I really find myself wondering what on earth a neighbourhood watch guard was doing with a gun. Communities shouldn’t and don’t need armed guards to protect them and the fact that this man used his weapon so recklessly speaks to how dangerous having untrained people walking around with guns is. I’m really hoping some positive change comes out of this case.
This isn’t really about gun rights though, please don’t try to make it about that. Yes, if Zimmerman hadn’t been unarmed, Martin might be alive. If Zimmerman had followed the directions of the police dispatcher on the phone, who allegedly told him to stop following Martin, Martin might still be alive. And if Zimmerman wasn’t a racist vigilante with a hero complex, Martin might also still be alive.
Why shouldn’t gun ownership be brought into it? If guns are readily available for anyone to purchase, and there is even legislative protection in the form of “Stand Your Ground,” is it any wonder that tragedies like this occur?
People will always find reasons to hate and/or fear other people, whether it be skin colour, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender, or just because they are different. You can’t control this. What can be controlled is the availability of lethal weaponry. Guns require no engagement with the target, very little physical effort, and have lethal results. They make killing very easy. Compare them to other weapons your friendly local neighbourhood watchman might have — baseball bat, knife, other sharp or blunt force implements. They all require significant engagement with the target, with the possibility of the target fighting back, and some physical effort. Would Zimmerman have acted the same if he’d had a knife rather than a gun? Who knows. The outcome would certainly have been less clear cut.
Why does a supposedly civilised society make it so easy for us to kill each other? Why would members of a civilised society even need a gun?
Would you be making this argument in the case of a woman defending herself from a would-be rapist if she shot and killed her attacker?
Don’t get me wrong, I think Zimmerman totally crossed the line (based on what I know about the confrontation). So if it wasn’t actually a self-defense thing, if it was actually a racist vigilante looking for a fight, why are you calling into question the self-defense statutes rather than calling out the sociological problems at the heart of this case?
If you read my post, I was actually calling into question the right of civilians to carry lethal weapons.
In another country, the first question asked would have been why Zimmerman was carrying a gun.
I’d also add that such prevalence of handgun related violence/death and such high levels of fear that a sense that carrying concealed weapons is appropriate would also count as a sociological problem.
This is in no way an attempt to downplay the severity or importance of racism in this (and many many other) cases. Systemic and entrenched racism IS the key issue in this case. But gun control, violence and fear are also extremely serious components of this situation and shouldn’t be forgotten. Racism breeds violence as much as violence breeds racism. At the same time I agree that they shouldn’t they be used to mask the importance of the race discussion that needs to happen.
“Instead of saying ‘I am Trayvon Martin’ it would do more good for white people [and non-Black people] in solidarity with the Trayvon Martin case to recognize all the ways they are Zimmerman.”
Fuck. I have so many intense feelings about this that I can’t communicate at the moment. For now I’ll just be ‘that guy’ and say “Wow, what she said really resonated with me.”
Until all us white people fess up to our racial privilege and inbred racism (and in particular those in the middle and upper classes) there will never be real change in this country. Yes, I love that quote too, because we’re NOT Trayvon no matter what other challenges we have in our lives.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken…
What I can’t get over is how so many people think it’s ‘OK’ to be racist. Yes all white people (probably POC too but that’s a whole other conversation) will have some prejudice based on skin colour because that’s the society we have been born into. Denying that doesn’t get us anywhere, but what leaves me speechless is that people can say ‘well everyone’s a bit racist’ and assume that means they don’t have to do anything about it. Nothing about this is OK.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with my flatmate about this case and from an educated young woman hearing things like ‘I understand why he could be scared, I’m scared of black people,’ was flabbergasting. If this is the stereotype you have by all means acknowledge it, but there is no point in recognising the issue if you don’t challenge it.
Thank you for this article Riese. My heart goes out to the families of all who have been victimized because of others attacking them for simply being themselves (race, gender, religion, class, etc).
Thank you for this.
Thank you riese
For the record, “Stand Your Ground” was not used as a defense; Zimmerman’s team chose a jury trial over a SYG hearing. The prosecution going for murder was a no-go from the start. Trying to make this a political prosecution screwed it all up.
Also, wearenottrayvonmartin.tumblr.com is EXCELLENT.
Also also, for me there’s a whole lot of dissonance. As a half black person who looks pretty darn white, I get very, very upset over injustice toward other black people. My brother looks Mediterranean in the winter, black in the summer and Middle Eastern when he grows out facial hair. I know all kinds of awful things can happen to him when he’s just being a normal 21-year-old boy. I, though, don’t have to worry about that for myself. My main source of discomfort is that I have to come out as black when people get uncomfortably close to casual racism.
Something I’ve found interesting is that I don’t see a whole lot of these Martin-type stories coming out of the Deep South (I’m from Alabama). Instead they happen all over the country. Yet we still want to Other the South as a hotbed of racial injustice — the Washington Post says a new border fence should be erected south of Virginia.
My arbitrary (admittedly totally anecdotal) theory is that in Alabama and Georgia (and maybe even Mississippi) we are used to white and black people regularly interacting. Sure, there’s functional segregation in some neighborhoods and schools. On a day-to-day basis though, people are extremely courteous to each other.
Most of the anti-black racism I’ve seen has not even come not from whites, but from other minorities (I’ve never seen a black person followed around a store, but I have witnessed that kind of apprehension from Indian gas station owners). Heck, every black person I know agrees that in their experience Southern white cops are friendlier than black ones (to the extent that two black teenage guys I know whom are “suspicious” by Zimmerman’s standards were pulled over for having their lights off in the evening, surrendered their alcohol and pot and were let off with a friendly “boys will be boys” by a white cop).
We need to have serious conversations about race in the whole country. About why it’s ingrained as to be subconscious. About why a vigilante can call someone’s skin color probable cause and be defended widely.
Anyway, I’ve had a lot of thoughts/feelings about this whole thing.
“Stand your ground” was not part of the defense, but it was discussed as an explicit part of the jury instructions. They were told Zimmerman had absolutely no requirement to leave the potentially escalating scene with his gun. 20 states have these statutes and they make a huge impact on the outcomes of such trials whether they’re part of the arguments or not.
The prosecution did not seem to take any of that into account when going with second degree murder. Zimmerman did nothing illegal up until (potentially) the moment he decided to use deadly force. No one could prove his intent. Just seems like a bad call to me.
Trayvon was just a kid going home walking in the rain up a sidewalk between two long rows of apartment houses. Zimmerman had no reason to be even near Trayvon. To have approached Zimmerman from behind he would have had to have walked between apartment buildings and Zimmerman would have lost all sight of him for some time. Besides go on Google Earth and look at the the crime scene. Where was the bush? Zimmerman was at least guilty of manslaughter because he created the situation and he brought the gun in to a physical confrontation which resulted in a death.
If the fight would have ended in Zimmerman’s death then Trayvon would have been guilty of manslaughter. When your actions lead to a physical confrontation which results in death your actions are criminal if for no other reason than negligence. Zimmerman was not protecting his home or his family when he followed Trayvon and it was Zimmerman who put his own life and Trayvon’s life in danger by carrying a gun.
You have right to carry a gun, but only in very limited instances do you have the right to use it. Zimmerman had room to retreat, but Trayvon did not have room to retreat if Zimmerman chose to use his gun and shoot Trayvon.
^Michelle: I agree with you on all of that. But technically, apparently, stalking someone with a gun and playing vigilante was not considered illegal. It’s odd, no doubt.
Also, dear lord, this interview with the juror who wants to write a book: http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2013/07/16/2306901/7-mind-blowing-moments-from-zimmerman-juror-b37s-first-interview/?mobile=nc
I agree with your assessment about racism in the North vs South(east). I’ve lived an equal amount of time in the North (Alaska, Maine, and Boston) and the South (Southeastern Tennessee and Central Florida) and people are ignorant in both places. I do agree that it maybe seems that there is more racial tension in the South due to the larger amount of interacting different races do in the South versus the North. Where my parents live in Tennessee, the racism is mostly against the Mexican migrant worker community, and pretty much everyone (white, black, Asian) is severely racist and xenophobic against Latin@s (to the point of riots/assault/blackmail/segregation etc etc etc). But, I’ve been escorted out of places in the South, the North, and the Midwest because police officers were “concerned” about my “safety” being as light-skinned as I am.
I think it also has a lot to do with what Northerners have been taught about the South since Reconstruction, making themselves out to be super into equality since before the Civil War, crediting themselves for saving black people everywhere, etc, when in fact for the most part, their fight against slavery was to fuck over the South.
But, yeah, it’s dumb to think that racism is just a Southern states issue. The Mexican side of my family felt much more safe in Florida than they do where they currently live in Topeka, KS, and my grandmother, who is Cherokee, feels safer in Chattanooga, TN, than she did when she would visit us in Maine. My Vietnamese uncle feels safest in southern California, and my Jamaican aunt feels safest in Toronto. My mom hated France, Germany, and Hawaii because of the pervasive racism in all three places.
And inter-racism, as seen in the Zimmerman/Martin case, is absolutely 100% a thing. No one’s opinions AREN’T affected by media portrayals of different races/ethnicities in some way or another.
But anyway, all that to say, yeah, I agree with you.
“Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions.”
Yes. Currently reposting this all over so many facebook convos.
Though I’m torn, I agree 100% with this. I love AS for trying to continue this conversation and I think it’s so important that we talk about Trayvon but at the same time this whole entire thing hit too close to home both figuratively and literally. I will try but I feel a sense of loss, sadness and helplessness that makes me not want to think about it in passing let alone long enough to form anything constructive to say.
I can’t help but think about my nephews and niece and wonder what type of country are they going to come of age in? Will anything that comes out of this help them in anyway?
Everyone (in these circles at least) feels like shit because of the verdict and I believe most people eyes are starting to open to the bigger problem. This case was about Trayvon and what it means to be a young black man in America but it can’t end there because it’s not just injustice in our justice system that we need to conquer. Just have look around and see the truth for what it is: Zimmerman’s biggest supporters are white right wing conservatives. These are the same people who will not only vehemently use the constitution to fight for their right to bear arms while completely disregarding POCs right to live and actively deny women’s constitutional right to abortion. They will also gloat about how their great grandparents were poor immigrants but worked hard and started businesses while doing all they can to ensure that immigration reform dies in the House. They will do all that they can to exclude the LGBT population from and all anti-discrimination laws and when that fails they will froth at the mouth until trans* people are excluded from some of our biggest LGBT wins. They will wag their fingers at naughty Egypt for not being properly democratic while doing all they can to ensure as few POC can vote as possible. And this isn’t even the end of it. They won’t stop until those Good Ole Days are back and anything less is a threat and infringes on their rights (because it’s all about their rights and “comfort levels”).
If we want a better America for all of the kids then we need to fight back. And we need to fight back as one because the source of all of our recent losses are coming from the same people with the same view and they are united against all of us. They flourish when we are divided and ignorant of what they’re up to and of each other’s plights. I love this letter we need to always have solidarity, stay informed and keep speaking out and showing up (for each other).
whoops!I meant to post this to other Trayvon article but it’s still kind of applicable here
I’m so exhausted by everything from the last two months. I wish people would start naming white supremacy for what it is – it’s literally the reason for what’s wrong with this country, and everything that is going wrong with it. I also wish that people would realize that everything that has happened recently – from the Texas abortion clinic debates to the Trayvon Martin case to the SCOTUS decisions in regards to the Voter’s Rights Act and DOMA/Prop 8 are all interrelated and connected – that all these issues intersect.
I am so tired of minority groups being splintered and pitied against eachother in attempt to recreate/maintain hierarchies. I am tired of minority groups being told to accept the little scraps that the dominant group gives them – to not bite the hand the feeds them, despite the fact that that very hand belongs to the very person standing on our necks.
I am tired of this system of exchange where one oppressed group learns to be oppressive of another group – because being oppressed doesn’t teach you to be less oppressive, it teaches you to be more so. I want real change. I want the whole fucking system of bullshit to be dismantled. Fuck assimilation. I don’t want to strip myself of my identities in order for my voice to count. This is why I am so disassociated with the larger gay rights movement – it’s not about real change, it’s about assimilating.
Until we all finally examine and unlearn the crap that we’ve been spoon-fed to believe since the day we were born, there’s only going to be more Trayvon Martins. Trayvon Martin wasn’t the first nor will he be the last – he comes from a long list of victims of white supremacy. And the saddest part is – out of the many victims of violent white supremacy we’ll, maybe, hear about a few of those cases – and of the few that manages to catch attention, maybe only a couple will actually galvanize the general public enough to be angry about it for a hot minute before the status quo returns.
This comment is long-winded and will probably piss off a number of people, but I’m tired and a little beyond caring. These thoughts have been boiling for a while in my head, and maybe this is the wrong place to share them. Idk
White supremacy was an undisputed part of our national Constitution for nearly two centuries. It’s only been challenged over the last 50 years, and even then just by some. It’s a system of privileges and mortal terror based on skin color, but also on the proposition that some humans can own others as property – their labor, their freedom of movement, their identities and reproductive organs. Trayvon died for it, and more people of color may still, which is why the stand your ground laws have to be repealed immediately. But its fundamental tenets can be turned on anybody at any time in the climate we’re living in.