Posted by: joshjasper | March 29, 2012

I am George Zimmerman

I am not Trayvon Martin.  And more than likely, neither are you.  

I assume by now you are fully aware of the story that has captured the attention of the media for the past month about a 17-year-old black teenager that was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer.  More recently, a nationwide movement called the “Million Hoodie March” was organized for the purpose of putting a spotlight on Treyvon Martin’s fate and the justice system’s treatment of victims of different races.   The Million Hoodie March refers to the victim’s hooded sweatshirt, which Geraldo Rivera suggested could be the source of trouble for any American teenager.

Really Geraldo?  “Any troubled American teenager?”  Get real.  It would be absolutely ridiculous for me to march around in a hoodie, suggesting that I know what it’s like to be Trayvon Martin; that I know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin.  As a white man in the United States, I don’t have a clue as to what it’s like to be black in America.  Sure, I hear stories from black community members,  and from the black students in the courses I teach on race relations, but during every story about being harassed by police, discriminated against in the workplace, and having racial slurs hurled at them, I continually am surprised that this happens in my community.  For me to be surprised by this though only speaks to the privilege that I have as a white person.

To be quite honest, if we are like anyone, we are more like George Zimmerman than Trayvon Martin.  It would appear that Zimmerman had his own perceptions of black men well before he shot Martin.  Where do you suppose that came from?  I remember growing up in Farley and having a strong feeling of fear toward black men.  Where did that come from?  With a population of just over 1,100, Farley had ZERO black men in the community at the time.  The first time I befriended a black man was when I was 21 years old and in the Marine Corps.

Looking back, the fear I felt came from what I was learning.  For example, rap music was gaining popularity and Ice-T was rapping about killing cops and NWA were talking about their hate for all white men.  Additionally, we live in a society in which black men are disproportionately arrested, and as Tim Wise pointed out recently, “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.”

We’ve got a hell of a lot more work to do than wearing a hoodie if we are ever going to eradicate hate and discrimination in our country.  We can start that important work now though by looking inward and examining the biases that we all have.  Zimmerman’s father recently shared that his son is “color blind” that he “doesn’t see race.”   That’s ridiculous.

They don’t know….who we be…..they don’t know…..


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