OPINION | Sidestepping race in Zimmerman’s trial only puts a bandaid on America’s racial wound


Over the past several days, I have been watching the trial of George Zimmerman in horror, anger, and disgust. My heart has been heavy.

I watched at the attempts to discredit Trayvon’s parents – Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. I watched as they cried throughout the trial, my heart aching as Trayvon’s mother looked away when her son’s dead body was shown on the screen. I could see the immense pain in her eyes.

And then there was Trayvon’s friend, Rachel Jeantel. I watched how Zimmerman’s defense attorney grilled Jeantel with unnecessary details. I noticed the mocking tone, and the condescending requests for her to repeat her words “loudly and clearly.” The disrespectful attempts to paint her as dishonest, ignorant, and uneducated were obvious.

And then I watched the closing arguments — how the prosecution provided point after point demonstrating where truth and justice in this case lie; while the defense attorney relentlessly tried to tear apart a kid’s character, painting him a criminal, aggressor, and thug.

What is striking to me about the Zimmerman trial and overall media commentary is the intentional erasure of race, as if Trayvon was murdered in a vacuum. It’s as if race and racism in this country do not exist, as if race had nothing to do with Trayvon’s death, when in reality, race is at the heart of it all.

For those of us who understand how race relations in this country work, race is the elephant in the room. To us, it is clear what happened: Trayvon, a young, black male, was walking down a street in white, upper-middle class suburbia. He was consequently racially profiled, followed, and then killed – by a man who made assumptions about his identity and values merely by looking at him.

We all know Zimmerman did not have to act; he was told not to by authorities. He didn’t have to follow, shoot, or kill. But he did, because what he made himself believe was that Trayvon was a criminal. Just another “f***ing punk, one of “those assholes” who always gets away.

This trial and Trayvon’s death hurt. It hurts because this is not new. It’s part of a long history of violence against black and brown bodies, a history of violence that is intimately connected to our own present-day lives.

On a daily basis, people of color are profiled and policed. From the way we are perceived when walking down the street, in the airport, and malls; to the way colleagues and peers make assumptions about our competence in schools and workplaces; to the subtle microaggressions we deal with from passersby; to the disproportionate state violence and brutality of our communities by police and authorities.

Racial profiling is our daily lived reality.

That’s why it is a slap in the face for people to say race had nothing to do with the way Zimmerman profiled Trayvon. This statement in itself completely denies us our truths and our lived realities. It essentially says, “We don’t believe you. We don’t see race, racism, or racial profiling, so it can’t be there. Stop making this up.” To that I say: “We know it when we see it. Just because you don’t see it does not mean it is not there. It means you are privileged enough to not have experienced it or understand it.”

And that is the gut-wrenching irony in all of this: that the victims of racial profiling, racial violence, harassment, and microaggressions are told to keep quiet. We are told race doesn’t matter. That racial bias did not play a role in Zimmerman’s decisions. And, in fact, the judge herself ruled the term “racial profiling” would not be allowed during the trial.

Well, this begs the question: How can you even begin to fairly administer justice if you have already sanitized the crime? How can you get to the bottom of it, if you have already eliminated the very real possibility of racial bias? It seems to me that justice for Trayvon was – from the beginning – set up to be a futile effort.

The double irony in this is, it was, in fact Zimmerman who first made this a race issue. Had Trayvon been a white, blond-haired teenager, I doubt Zimmerman would have acted in the way he did. But, Trayvon wasn’t privileged enough to be white. He was black. He was wearing a hoodie. And that was enough for Zimmerman to assume he was a threat.

Sadly, something in my gut tells me justice will not be served. That, even in the best case scenario, Zimmerman will not face the full charge. For those of us who are on the side of justice, obviously this is not enough. All we can do is anxiously wait for the verdict.

However, what is clear to those who understand America’s race problem is that the Zimmerman trial merely spotlights how black life in America is worthless and disposable. The refusal to acknowledge racial bias and stereotyping as a cause for Trayvon’s death represents a myth: the myth of “post-racial” and “colorblind” America.

This America simultaneously devalues black life, while e-racing racism and tangible manifestations thereof. This America attempts to “move forward” from the race conversation, while completely sidestepping it. This America tries to apply a band-aid to the wound, without stopping the bleeding first.

I submit that our country’s race problem will never go away until we first heal the wound. Until then, it will keep coming back to haunt us.

Related stories:

Talking about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman (Mary Turck, 2013)

BEHIND THE STORY | Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman: When will the cycle of racism stop? (Sheila Regan, 2013)

COMMUNITY VOICES | In the aftermath of Zimmerman’s acquittal, racial justice remains elusive (Nekima Levy-Pounds)