Trayvon Martin, White Denial and the Unacceptable Burden of Blackness in America
By Tim Wise
On the evening of February 26, George Zimmerman, a self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” in an Orlando suburb, shot and killed 17-year old Trayvon Martin.
Because Martin was black.
Had he been white, Martin’s humanity would have been clearly discernible to Zimmerman. But he was black, and male, and that alone inspired Zimmerman to conclude that there was “something wrong with this guy,” and that he appeared to be “on drugs,” a judgment Zimmerman felt qualified to render based on his extensive background in behavioral psychology, bested only by his prodigious law enforcement training, and by extensive and prodigious, in this case, I mean none whatsoever.
Indeed, if you do not know that Martin’s race (and more to the point, Zimmerman’s racism) is central to the former’s death at the hands of the latter, it may well be that you are incapable of ever comprehending even the most obvious manifestations of this nation’s longstanding racial drama.
If you are one, like those firmly ensconced in the pathetic Sanford, Florida police department, trying against all logic and human feeling to square this pernicious circle, just stop it. That there had been a half-dozen or so break-ins in Zimmerman’s community, ostensibly orchestrated by black males matters not a whit. Likewise, that there was a string of robberies in my New Orleans neighborhood during my senior year of college, which were the handiwork of white men, would not have justified my being stopped by police every time I returned home from a late afternoon class, to say nothing of being accosted by some community asshole with a Charles Bronson complex.
If I chase you and jump you, and you resist my assault, and in response to your resistance I kill you, I am the bad guy. Period. End of story. No exceptions, no prevarications, no ifs ands or buts. It’s me. Trayvon Martin is the innocent one here. He is the one who was acting in self-defense, when he resisted the assault of a total stranger, whose purposes for chasing him and accosting him made him rightfully afraid.
Oh, and when you abuse that ill-gotten authority and take the life of a young black man in the process, you don’t get to be taken seriously when you swear that your actions couldn’t have been racist because, after all, you’re Latino (this being the latest fanciful insistence of Zimmerman’s family). Dear merciful Lord, what is that supposed to prove? Racism is not about the identity of the person acting it out so much as those upon whom it is acted, and for what purpose.
Black males are, for far too many in America, a racial Rorschach test, onto which we instantaneously graft our own perceptions and assumptions, virtually none of them good. Look, a black man on your street! Quick, what do you see? A criminal. Look, a black man on the corner! Quick, what do you see? A drug dealer.
After all, we are a society in which research has shown quite conclusively that local newscasts overrepresent blacks as criminals, relative to their actual share of total crime, and overrepresent whites as victims, relative to our share of victimization.
A society in which other studies have shown that these racially-skewed newscasts have a direct relationship to widespread negative perceptions of black people. Indeed, a substantial percentage of anti-black racial hostility can be directly traced to media imagery, even after all other factors are considered.
For more on America's racism, see White Privilege Will End Soon and Conservatives Seek Return to 1957.
Below: The Bush Doctrine for blacks, Indians, Muslims, and other uppity minorities. "The dark-skinned savages threatened us, so we had to kill them in self-defense."