Trayvon, White Racial Apathy, Subconscious Racism, and the Myth of “Fact”
“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it and I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” – James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew
Though I pride myself on being an optimist, I too am in the camp that believed that the verdict on the Trayvon case was decided before it even began. Precisely because what was on trial in the case was not Zimmerman, but what was really being called into question was the racial ideology of this country. At its core, this trial dove into the idea of the Black male criminal, the idea of Black innocence, and the subconscious racism that often colors one’s understanding of these ideas. Accordingly, the issue of racial profiling–like affirmative action–is plagued by the reality that facts often have little to do with how people regard these issues. Simply put, being Black and poor in this country gives you a perspective that many White people cannot tap into. (Even White anti-racist allies must continually be put to task). So when I discovered that the selected jury consisted of five White women and one Hispanic woman—needless to say I was a bit worried. In essence, the real question at stake was whether or not a jury of predominately white women would believe that a Black boy was innocent and was killed for no other reason than the racist assumptions of ‘suspicion.’? The answer would reveal quite a lot about racial perception and ideology in this country.
The verdict of ‘not guilty’ offered a resounding “no.” And quite frankly, we should not be surprised. Not only because the justice system continually discriminates and harms communities of color, but because ideologically the false reality of post-racialism and white victimhood has gone viral in this country. I do not believe that this country is full of evil White people with malicious intentions against people of color. No ironically, the problem is that this is a country full of White people that have so earnestly been deluded by their false notions of equality and history that they really do believe systemic racism no longer exists. Bless their hearts. If people paid attention to facts, they would realize and question the multitude of social, economic, and political disparities that persist among communities of color, they would think about why juror B37 seemed to scarcely take a breath before signing onto a now defunct book deal, they would wonder why White people were half as likely to follow the trial as Black people. Or hell, they might walk outside and look around in their most likely predominately White communities and wonder if that just happens to be a coincidence. No instead, there are many who still believe in that Paula Deen racism, where unless someone is being called the N-word, no harm is being done.
As Baldwin said, it’s the willed ignorance, the “innocence” of White people that constitutes the crime. No, “white people” did not kill Trayvon, but they are largely in charge of a system that creates and sustains the conditions that make sure people like Trayvon are continually killed. Those of us who are “awake” are fighting a racial battle that many (though not all) White people are refusing to even acknowledge. Zimmerman’s defense attorney even speculated that Zimmerman wouldn’t have even been charged if he were Black—which makes no sense considering that Blacks make up a disproportionate 40% of the U.S. prison population. How can we even begin to talk about racism in this country if the primary perpetrators of it refuse to think critically about its existence? And of course, why would they need to, right?
I send my regards to Trayvon’s family, the marginalized people in this country of all colors and creeds, and I remain ready to fight for a just country. But to quote Rick Ross, racism is still running rampant in this country, and “[they] don’t even know it.”