Friday, July 19, 2013
RACISM & MALE PRIVILEGE: Breaking the Silence after George Zimmerman’s Acquittal
Like many, I’ve been experiencing a host of feelings and reactions to Saturday’s verdict. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Disgust. Rage. Hopelessness. Exhaustion. In the wake of the Voting Rights Act, Abortion Rights, Affirmative Action, Indian Child Welfare Act, and Immigration Reform, I was not surprised when I heard the toll of that “not-guilty” verdict. But something broke for me when I saw those words on the screen. Somehow, I had been holding on to some desperate kind of hope that if Zimmerman was convicted, I could still have faith that these broken systems can change. Like many, I found grief and solace with my communities. Sleepless on Sunday night, I pondered Langston Hughes’s poem “Kids Who Die” and despaired.
Like Hughes, I do believe that we carry Trayvon Martin and the countless others who die unjustly as a monument in our hearts. We feel them in the marching feet, hoarse throats, and typing fingers of the masses. Many brave people across the States have come together to respond to the unjust verdict in this case through rallies, marches, and riots. The blogosphere is teeming with posts on racism, privilege, and injustice in America. I would like to highlight some of those voices and the themes they covered for you this week.
Racism still exists.
This seems only to be news to select white peoples and the people in that Florida courtroom. Trayvon Martin’s death was a product of racial profiling and the deeply-rooted American belief that being black and male is to be a threat to society. George Zimmerman’s acquittal on Saturday is a product of that belief as well.
• Actress Laverne Cox discusses her experiences of gendered oppression as a black trans* woman: “When I was perceived as a black man I became a threat to public safety. When I was dressed as myself, it was my safety that was threatened.”
• The Roots’ Questlove shares the emotional tolls of being black and male in America—including a moving story on the impact of always being seen as a potential sexual predator.
• Alice Walker discusses the grief and ache of losing so many black men.
• Black Girl Dangerous founder Mia McKenzie invokes Emmett Till and poignantly asks us: when will we be mad enough to take America to task on racial in/justice?
• A researcher demonstrated that “killings of black people by whites were more likely to be considered justified”. When the same researcher looked at homicide cases in states with Stand Your Ground laws, he found that the percentage of justified killings of black people by whites was significantly higher.
White people have racial privilege.
Many people, myself included, would not have been seen as “suspicious” in a hoodie, armed only with an iced tea and skittles. Since the start of this case, many people have been discussing privilege, especially white privilege. In response to the universalizing approach of the “I Am Trayvon Martin” campaign, the “We Are Not Trayvon Martin” tumblr is one of the forums in which people from many kinds of backgrounds share their stories of privilege.
While we have seen the power of people coming together and recognizing their unearned privilege, not all of the conversations around privilege have been revolutionary. People have pushed back about the impact of racism and declared that the only reason this case received such big media coverage was because of the fact that Trayvon was black. They questioned where the media was when white male youth were killed. They claimed that since Zimmerman was also a man of color that racism could not be a factor, despite the evidence that racism is also prevalent within communities of color. Despite all these ill-informed reactions, at least we won’t be seeing a book deal by Juror B37!
Male privilege is also a thing.
Racism was not the only issue ignored during the Zimmerman trial. George Zimmerman’s documented history of violence against women (including domestic violence and child sexual abuse) was allowed in court. This evidence demonstrated Zimmerman’s history of violent behavior and lack of personal accountability. However, it was deemed irrelevant by media and society and the defense attorneys worked to discredit the witnesses that came forward with these stories. This sends the message that sexual violence and violence against women is not as important as other types of violence. The same legal and social systems that allowed Zimmerman to walk away after battering his fiancé and abusing a child also allowed Zimmerman to get away with killing Trayvon Martin.
In contrast, in 2010 Marissa Alexander, a 31-year old black woman, was sentenced to 20 years for firing two warning shots into the air to defend herself against an abusive husband. During the previous year, she had multiple documented cases of physical abuse and an active restraining order. Acting in self defense, Alexander also attempted to use the Florida’s “stand your ground” law. She was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after a 12 minute deliberation by the jury. Where is the justice in this case?
I know reading about Zimmerman’s acquittal is hard. It pushes us to realize that too many wrongs are going on in this country. Yet reading the works of these amazing people has been healing for me. I hope it is for you too. If you need a refresher on self-care, I suggest revisiting our awesome blog post about self-care here.
Please add some of the amazing articles you have come across in the comments below.
Lee Doyle, Coordinator of Community Mobilization