Racism Didn’t Kill Trayvon Martin; George Zimmerman Did

It’s a tragedy of American culture. An unarmed teenager is killed while walking home with a bag of candy and an iced tea and the gunman isn’t even arrested.  Although this tragedy was not driven by racism, Trayvon Martin is a victim of stereotyping, prejudice and one man’s power trip.

What would you do if a dude in a hoodie was walking down your street? Would you call 911? Would you pursue him? Would you confront him? Would you initiate a physical altercation with him? What if he attacked you? Would you shoot him?

America is trapped in a whirlpool of xenophobia. At one time touted as a melting pot, American culture is now fractured. Commonalities that used to bind us together are now overshadowed by nugatory dissimilarities. George Zimmerman is not a racist. But his actions are evidence of the perpetual racial divide in America – Trayvon Martin’s mere genetic makeup made him a subject of suspicion and doubt.

This isn’t racism. It is prejudice. This is a deep-seeded prejudice toward minorities. When you pass a black, male stranger on the street, what do you do? Do you give a friendly nod? Do you look him in the eye? Do you smile? If you see a black man or a group of black men on the street, do you cross to the other side to “avoid confrontation”? Study yourself. Pay attention to your reactions next time you are walking down a street. There are some racial prejudices that are so deeply engrained in our cultural makeup that most people are not even aware of a change in behavior when they are expressing them.

This differs greatly from outright racism. For example, a recent pole by the Public Policy Polling organization revealed that 29 percent of Mississippi Republican voters support reestablishing the anti-micegenation laws that forbade black and white couples from marrying. In other words, in 2012, nearly 1 in 3 Republicans in Mississippi believe that interracial marriage should be outlawed. So, while the rest of America approves of the dismantlement of sociological barriers to racial equality and personal liberty, a large portion of Mississippi citizens desire to reinforce those barriers.

Sacrificing everyone’s civil rights for the sake of preventing another person from living freely because of the color of his or her skin is racism. Calling 911 because you think a guy is scoping houses in your neighborhood is not racism. Pursuing, confronting, and then physically engaging a person that you suspect of unlawful behavior is just plain stupid – and possibly crazy. But however misguided George Zimmerman’s actions were, they weren’t motivated by his personal racial prejudices – they were motivated by society’s.

Trayvon Martin wasn’t just some black kid. He was a boy, a son, a brother, a friend. Trayvon could have been any boy. He could have been my boy. The fact is George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman may have genuinely been afraid for his life. He suffered injuries I myself consider quite severe and indicative of his receiving a proper thrashing.

The night Trayvon martin was killed, it was pouring rain and ~60 degrees in Sanford, Florida. When Zimmerman left his car to pursue Martin, he uttered a curse under his breath. Contrary to popular belief, he did not say “These fucking coons.” He said, “It’s fucking cold.” To a Floridian, 60 and rainy is pretty fucking cold. (Hence Martin’s hoodie.)

Brrrrrrrr...

It is Zimmerman’s actions leading up to the confrontation with Martin that society should be taking issue with. Zimmerman did not observe the protocol befitting a neighborhood watchman. Zimmerman carried a firearm. Zimmerman pursued Martin. Zimmerman elevated a possibly deleterious situation into a probable violent situation. Whether Zimmerman attacked Martin or Martin attacked Zimmerman is immaterial to the fact that had Zimmerman observed the protocol befitting a neighborhood watch captain, Trayvon Martin might be alive today. Zimmerman’s internal delusions of authority obliterated the bright future into which Trayvon Martin was walking.

 

Update: Post edited to revise estimated temperature on evening of February 26th.

5 responses to “Racism Didn’t Kill Trayvon Martin; George Zimmerman Did

  1. librarygoose

    I disagree. The problem is society is racist, wanting anti-miscegenation laws is racist. I also see no more proof Zimmerman was saying it’s cold than proof of him making racial slurs. He pursued the kid because he was black and in a hoodie, the police were ready to sweep the whole godddamn thing under the rug because the boy was black. I agree that prejudice was a huge player, but it was prejudice based on race and that IS racist.

    • There is a big difference between being a racist and having pre-learned behavioral habits based on race. The key there is that many people make decisions based on race without knowing they are doing it. The term racist is typically reserved for those who exhibit purposefully discriminatory behavior based on a person’s race.
      George Zimmerman suspected Trayvon Martin of suspicious behavior based on of his attire and race because such stereotypical assumptions have become the sociological norm. But Zimmerman did not shoot Martin because he was black. He shot Martin because he was afraid.
      Zimmerman made a series of bad decisions when he armed himself and when he decided to find Martin rather than wait for the police. These are not decisions made out of racism; but out of a misplaced sense of authority. We can debate whether Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin was motivated by racial bias; but the shooting is an entirely separate situation altogether that must be examined with context.

  2. I hope you don’t mind me commenting, but I found your post from Feministe and I respectfully disagree. I feel–very strongly–that this kind of distinction between “personal” racism and societal “something else” is damaging.

    You said, “This isn’t racism. It is prejudice. This is a deep-seeded prejudice toward minorities.”
    The OED definition of racism? “prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races”
    Not much difference there. Yes, racism is prejudice; it is prejudice toward people based on their race.

    You’re right that “[t]he term racist is typically reserved for those who exhibit purposefully discriminatory behavior based on a person’s race,” but that’s because we don’t want to have to deal with the reality that a lot of those institutional biases are–in fact–racist. Just because the term is “typically reserved” for those overt signs of racism that we are comfortable combating (shouting the n-word at someone, hanging up a “Whites Only” sign), doesn’t mean that those more subtle, more pervasive forms of institutional discrimination are not also racism, and failing to call them what they are allows us to continue avoiding our societal problem with racism.

    • You are correct. Institutionalized racism is still racism. But we don’t go around labeling people racists because their logic or behavior reflects these societal attitudes. Otherwise we could all be labeled racists by someone.

  3. Hi Nucleargrrl, I think yours is the first and only post I’ve come across who got it right about the shooting.