America is witnessing a second murder as the George Zimmerman trial comes to a distressing and despicable conclusion. What is left is the verdict, the possibilities of which terrify and anger many before it is even stated. We hope for justice but we expect the worst. That is because, first, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was pursued and shot by Zimmerman on the night of February 26, 2012, apparently because this Black boy posed such a grave threat to this man, and in spite of a police dispatcher telling Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon. Now, for days, I’ve watched a joke of a trial, in which Zimmerman has been magically transformed into the innocent victim while Trayvon Martin has been morphed into a monster, his character assassinated by the defense and certain media outlets.
The more we go forward in America the more we seem to go backwards, too. That is because the real issue here is racism, something a lot of us like to pretend no longer exists. But I say later for the talk about a post-racial America because Barack Obama is the president. Later for the pomp and circumstance around 2013 being the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation or the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. America has a long and deep-rooted race problem, and if ever a scenario puts that on blast, it is what happened to Trayvon Martin, and what has happened since.
For me the most jarring episode of this trial was how Rachel Jeantel (pictured above), Trayvon’s friend, and the last person to speak with him on his cellphone before he was killed, got mugged by the defense, and by the media, and by many of us from her own community, because of the way she looks and speaks. Ignorance is a mighty thing when it does not know its own history. For Rachel Jeantel is a former slave named Sojourner Truth asking in 1851, “Ain’t I A Woman?” to this day a classic expression of women’s rights; Rachel Jeantel is Moses Wright, Emmett Till’s great uncle, saying in his Mississippi dialect in the 1950s “Thar he” in a courtroom in reference to the murderer of his nephew; Rachel Jeantel is Fannie Lou Hamer, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, summing up American racism: “sick and tired of bein’ sick and tired”; and Rachel Jeantel is Kanye West saying, bluntly, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” as the then president took his time responding to Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans.
But when racism has become a series of blurred lines, when a Rachel Jeantel, because of a combination of racial bigotry, a strong dislike for poor people, and, yes, Black self-hatred, can be twisted in the wind, it says anything goes and anything is possible with the soon-to-be verdict in this trial. Only in a nation that has never dealt directly with its history of racism could we venture from a Black boy being murdered by a man with a racist mindset to that Black boy being a monster and his friend Rachel a disposable shero lost in a barrage of personal attacks.
Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin’s father and his mother, and any who’ve stepped forth to tell the truth represent great courage. And courage is not always pretty, shiny, or perfect. Sometimes it is just mad raw and mad real. As raw and real as the blood that gushed like from Trayvon’s body as his life was blasted away.
The great irony of all this, to me, is that it is our America that has for a long time pushed, like a drug dealer, some of the worst and most stereotypical images of Black folks. You see this on the local news, in reality TV shows, hear it on the radio, and on YouTube videos with millions of views. American racism is a sport where we discriminate and marginalize people into a corner then wonder why, isolated and fighting for survival every single day of their lives, they behave, react, and speak the way they do. And then we turn around and seek to verbally destroy what we’ve created when it fits our racial agenda. This is the sickness that is American racism. Far too many honestly believe Black males of any age are dangerous. Far too many honestly believe a Rachel Jeantel has nothing to offer to our society except a bad attitude and her version of the English language. And perhaps some unfathered children along the way.
Even more ironic is that George Zimmerman’s father is White and his mother Latina and he appears to be physically Latino but he clearly thinks like a White racist male. But you have to wonder if it ever crossed Zimmerman’s mind that just how he pursued aggressively Trayvon is how Latinos who look like him are pursued so aggressively by anti-immigration racists in our America? Racism is not merely about skin color, then, but it is also a belief system, a system of oppression that any of us can and do participate in, if the shoe fits.
That is how George Zimmerman rolls, and how countless others roll in America. And why Zimmerman refused to testify in this trial, for he would have been further exposed for the racist he is, and those who support him for the racists they are.
Finally, I do not want to see violence in any form if “not guilty” comes back for George Zimmerman. We’ve got to figure out how to live and work and be together as a human race, even in our ugliest moments like this. But how nearsighted is it that local law enforcement there in Florida have produced a video asking people not to become violent, seemingly in anticipation of “not guilty” for Zimmerman?
And I wonder why no one ever encourages the George Zimmermans of the world to be nonviolent and peaceful as well, until it is far too late?
Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books, including "Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” He is a former senior writer for Vibe. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter (@kevin_powell).
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