I think it’s an important lesson from the now-famous, Tony award winning show Avenue Q. We’re all a little bit racist.
But let’s talk a little bit about racism.
There is the conflation of racism with the word prejudice. Prejudice means to pre-judge. It’s something that we all do. We all look at situations, and pre-judge them. We look at people and we pre-judge them. What’s wrong with that? To be honest, that’s not such a bad thing. We’ve decided as a society that when you do pre-judge people based on the color of their skin that it’s racist. Fine. We can take the power out of verbiage by applying it to something as innocuous as pre-judgment. I’ll agree to call that racism. And we can have all the academic discussion you want about what racism really is: whether it has to do with power dynamics, whether black people can actually be racist, or whether racism actually has more to do with the condition and disposition of a person’s heart.
But I would, for the purposes of this article, like to see if I can get you on board with the idea of there being two kinds of racism, and only two that we really care about as a society. The first is the racism of prejudice. This racism is innocuous. It is why black kids sit at the same table at lunch and why white kids cross the street to avoid being mugged. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality and it’s not that bad. The second kind of racism is what happens after that. It’s the kind of hate that persists in spite of your prejudice being proven incorrect. This is the harmful kind of racism. This is hate; it’s racism that causes cops to beat or kill black kids like in the Bart shooting. It’s this kind of racism that causes blacks to huddle in corners and tell whites that they are the devil. It is the kind of racism that transcends individuality. It says that even now, after I have gotten to know you, and even after you have disprove every prejudice I have, I still hate who you are because of what you represent.
So that brings me to the some lessons we are learning from the Zimmerman trial.
Here’s the thing, if you listened to the trial, what you would have seen was testimony after testimony about what kind of person George Zimmerman is. Apparently, he’s a soft-spoken civic minded, loving husband, who is regarded as completely honest and hard working by every person who has ever come into contact with him. He seems like the kind of person who would never hurt a fly.
Trayvon Martin, on the other hand, was a 17 year old who, the evidence indicates, jumped onto Mr. Zimmerman and began pummeling him “ground and pound” style for more than 40 seconds.
It’s awful that this 17 year old boy was killed. That’s never good and I’m sure everyone wishes that it had been avoided. But now that we know a little bit about the character of these two individuals let’s take a step back and think about this.
So here we go:
Within the model I articulated above, it might be reasonable to assume out of the gate that this was indeed about a white man who hated and was biased against black people. Now that the evidence is out, however, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t. Mr. Zimmerman seems to be the farthest thing from a racist. So fine, prejudge. Accuse Mr. Zimmerman of racism. Accuse him of a heartless murder. But once you learn the facts, you must be honest. If you are not honest, you are discredible. Those screaming for Mr. Zimmerman’s head despite the evidence of his innocence are no different than the lynchers of the pre-civil rights era. They desire the destruction of another man’s life because they can’t give up their prejudice even in the face of evidence. And that’s why the second kind of racism is the kind that is so evil.
All day long I’ve been hearing interviews on NPR with black parents claiming that they are afraid for the lives of their children. The assertion is that there are thousands of Zimmerman-like vigilantes roaming gated communities everywhere in America. This is a reasonably ludicrous idea. Whether you like Zimmerman or not, you have to agree that he is never going to make that mistake again. As a decent human being, he seems incredibly affected by his taking of Trayvon Martin’s life. There isn’t an army of white vigilantes walking around with pistols trying to kill your kid. That’s an unreasonable fear. Moreover, what if I were to say that about black people. Let me say, “I don’t let my kid ride through black neighborhoods because black people are violent and will probably beat my kid up.” How offended are you right now? Good, you should be. At least this part is just prejudice. Again, the racism comes when you get to know the people in those neighborhoods and you still hate them because they’re black in spite of their character.
Let’s be honest here, Trayvon Martin wasn’t exactly your paragon of morality. If the account that is supported very strongly by the evidence is what happened, then the kid was a bit of a thug. He was practically an adult, and he attacked a guy. Say what you will, maybe you’re right… Zimmerman didn’t need to follow him. My guess is that even Zimmerman regrets his decision to follow Martin. If his character is of the sort that those who testified in court indicated, there is no way in the world that he wanted to kill black children. It’s a completely irrelevant point.
What this whole thing comes down to is being honest enough to admit you’re wrong. If you want to lose credibility with anyone who is reasonable, continue to pretend like Trayvon Martin was a great, upstanding kid, and George Zimmerman was a Arian Nation, gun-wielding black hater. The instant you fail to admit you’re wrong, you become ridiculous.
And finally, stop being so selfish, this trial wasn’t about you and your people. This trial, this event, was about one guy’s decisions that lead to the death of another person. Interjecting race, interjecting hate, interjecting your personal biases into this situation is heinous. Petitioning the FBI or the Department of Justice to go after ONE man because he killed a kid of a race you care about particularly is evil. You want justice for Trayvon? Then accept the “Not Guilty” verdict. In America Justice is dolled out by a jury of our peers. When they spoke the words “not guilty” those words were justice for Trayvon and justice for Zimmerman. If you disagree, then wait for your God to dole out the justice you think Mr. Zimmerman deserves.
When you look at the history of blacks in America, you see a history of evil disgusting treatment by whites. Modern-day African Americans are oppressed by all sorts of laws having to do with the drug war, bad social welfare programs, bad and oppressive laws, overly zealous cops that are enforcing laws that they probably don’t believe in themselves and other nonesuch. These are the ways in which the system actually oppresses blacks today. When you look at how the NAACP promoted its issues in the past, you see people like Rosa Parks. Look at her history, she was a kind woman, very involved in the civil rights matters. Martin was no Rosa Parks. He was no Martin Luther King. This was absolutely not a Matthew Shepherd type situation or anything comparable to the lynchings in 1960s Mississippi. Do not use this as some sort of troupe of oppression and racial inequality, it is not an example of that, and saying that it is diminishes the evil of racism, it makes light of what blacks have been through in this country, and it utterly ignores the the reality of modernday oppression within poor, inner-city African American communities.