Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why the Trayvon Martin Murder Has NOTHING to do with Racism

How activists and advocators have spun the slaying into self-beneficial furor

The Trayvon Martin story is an utterly fascinating one to me, not so much because of what happened as it is how people are choosing to react to it.

From my perspective, this story would seem to be about anything but race. The most apparent issue, I imagine, would be the absurdly over-broad “stand your ground” law, which gives people the right to put about thirty rounds of ammunition through anybody that steps foot on their property. But no, instead of talking about that, we’re talking about what has seemingly become the most standard of standardized topics in American discourse…racism.

Call me crazy, but I’m just not seeing how “institutionalized racism” is a component of the story. I suppose the first thing I’d note - and this is something that, inexplicably, no one has seemingly brought up yet - is the fact that George Zimmerman is, well, kind of Hispanic.

OK, so he isn’t 100 percent Hispanic, but according to his dad, he was indeed a “Spanish speaker," which I suppose is worth at least half credit. All in all, I think you’d have to consider Zimmerman at least as Hispanic as Barack Obama is black.

Sure, Zimmerman is an unusual character, to be sure. According to this story, he had a habit of calling the local police multiple times a week to report suspicious activity in his neighborhood. At one point, he even tried to join a Florida police force, but got kicked out of basic training for being too damn creepy. According to this source, after that, he took it upon himself to “defend” the city streets with live ammunition, making him something of a cross between Batman and Chucky Bronson in “Death Wish.” Oddly enough, none of his neighbors, family or employers took it upon themselves to consider that Crazy Asshole Going Crazy may need a little bit of psychiatric help - not that undiagnosed mental health disorders are a major corollary of violent activity or anything.

As peculiar as this Zimmerman fellow is, what’s truly astounding to me is how people are reacting to the Trayvon Martin slaying. Not since the days of Rodney King have people been so fiery about the state of racial affairs in the US of A - and where there’s fervent, unchecked passion, there’s almost always a glaring lack of rationality to accompany it. 

Recently, the New Black Panthers (considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, by the way) announced that they were placing a bounty upon Zimmerman’s head, promising $10,000 to anybody who brings him “to justice.”At a recent rally in Sanford, party leader Mikhail Muhammad demanded an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" - days later, Hashim Nzinga, one of the party's highest ranking members (and convicted felon), was arrested in Georgia, when he attempted to pick up a FN Herstal 5.7 x 28 handgun at a DeKalb County pawn shop.

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s probably some sick, sick irony to be found there. First of all, isn’t it kind of hypocritical for an armed, ideologically-driven group of vigilantes to criticize anybody for being armed, ideologically-driven and wanting to taking the law into their own hands? And let’s cut the bologna and just say what these guys really mean - prepare for your brain to explode, because the Black freaking Panthers have just let out an all-call to publicly lynch another human being.

Last week, thousands of churches across America held special services, in which patrons eschewed their Sunday best for a pair of hoodies, which have become emblematic of the Trayvon Martin ordeal. Generally, I’m not a fan anytime religious folks get all up-in-arms about sociopolitical issues, but this one has a particularly uneasy air about it. Maybe it’s the fact that placing a religious undercurrent to social matters is almost always a recipe for light-to-moderate carnage, or perhaps it’s the fact that people are ALREADY finding ways to commercialize Martin’s death - methinks when this thing is all said and done, the only thing people will really remember about the ordeal, on an individual level, is that it was “that one week where we all wore hooded sweatshirts, for some reason.”

Does it make me just a bit insensitive if I mock the sickening commercialization of Martin’s death while I’m at it? I was checking out World News Tonight awhile back, and I saw a throng of protestors fighting the injustice of Martin’s death the best way possible - by adorning Old Navy sweatshirts and shaking iced tea and Skittles in the air like contestants on “Supermarket Sweep" (not to be an asshole or anything, but I guess that is a pretty good segue into mentioning that Martin had recently been suspended from classes, for bringing some ganja to class.) Are we really that culturally and intellectually bankrupt as to think that hoisting Mars Bars and Lipton products in front of a camera ACTUALLY equates civil and social upheaval? If we’re using the incredibly high standard set by the Occupy folks, I’d think that’s right in line with their hypocritical “consumption = commentary” stratagem. Shit, even the slain teen's mom is hopping aboard the tragedy into profit bandwagon, recently filing a trademark for the phrase "I am Trayvon."

Then, you have President Obama’s official statement on the issue, in which he said, with the poise and sure handedness of his immediate predecessor, that if he had a son, he would probably look a lot like Trayvon - an absolutely bizarre, contextually confounding anti-statement that, for a few hours, made me wonder whether or not Barack was actually George Dubya going all “Soul Man” on us or something.

But the turd in the punchbowl, of course, is the discussion of contemporary American racism that is all but unavoidable when discussing the matter. Now, to those of us still porting about some horse sense, it would seem a pretty damn big stretch to turn a story about a Hispanic guy shooting a black kid into an indictment of a hegemonic white culture, but as it turns out, there are PLENTY of people in the media that believes the Trayvon Martin killing is about precisely that.

That's some pretty damning commentary from Mrs. Davis - although I'm not quite sure how her "white media hegemony theory" explains why almost HALF of all murder victims in the United States are African American - and more importantly, why in 93 percent of those murders, the perpetrators were...well, also kind of black

Even the world of sports has been inundated with hard-nosed political jockeying, when several members of the Miami Heat posed in hoodies to "protest" the recent shooting. And of course, what racially-tinged happening would be complete without some perplexing commentary from the good Reverend hisself?

I suppose the big question here is WHY we, as a culture, feel a need to turn everything into a discussion, debate and potential donnybrook about race and ethnicity in the United States. My assumption as it pertains to the Martin case is pretty much the same as I figure it to be in every other instance we can think of - because “racism” gives us this all-encompassing, super-holistic, practically universal “answer” to all of our society’s woes.

Why, “racism” is at the root of ALL our cultural plights, isn’t it? Racism - technically, an archaic 18th century pseudo-scientific holdover that’s had its definition trans-mutated to encompass an absurdly broad terrain of personal behavior and belief - has become our skeleton key when it comes to seemingly all national matters, that default thing we can revert back to in order to avoid long, complicated discussions about nuanced, complex subjects. As long as we obsess over “racism,” we never really HAVE to explore the mechanisms and complexities of our real social problems, like poverty, income disparity and especially classism - of which “racism” is but a meager component to a much, much larger element of ascribed identity within the workings of U.S. culture.

“Racism,” ultimately, is the hand grenade we roll into a discussion every time we don’t feel like addressing and exploring the issue in-depth and comprehensively. Additionally, it’s that carcinogen we inject into generally healthy debates, and a cancer we - for reasons that I still can’t understand - want to cram into matters that, empirically, have nothing at all to do with race whatsoever.

Remember the Troy Davis hoopla last year? The same way the Martin case is really about the larger issue of gun control laws (and in many ways, our failure to adequately screen and address mental health problems), that little tiff was ostensibly about the larger issue of capital punishment - a matter that seems to have been lost somewhere amidst all the cries and accusations of racial biasing. Granted, it was an impassioned discussion for a few weeks, but after that? All we really have to show for it is a bunch of “I am Troy Davis" shirts stuffed in the back of our closet, which will most likely never see the light of day again.

That, and call me a little old-fashioned, but I kind of, sort of don’t make it a habit of making assumptions about things that I really know anything about. Although you probably wouldn’t know it from the incessant media coverage, the complete police report on what happened has been kept under lock and key - meaning, essentially, that none of us have any goddamn clue what happened. True, Zimmerman could have opened fire on Martin while screaming racial epithets, but by that same token, Martin could have just as easily been trying to break into someone’s home (not that Martin had a track record of petty vandalism or anything), or maybe Zimmerman’s lawyer IS telling the truth and Martin attacked his client first (which seems to be what the initial police report and several eyewitness reports point to). I don’t know what happened, and neither do you - an indication, perhaps, that some people maybe - JUST MAYBE - want to use the incident as nothing more than an excuse to rabble and rave about their own agendas.

What’s really weird is that, last year, we had an incident almost IDENTICAL to the Trayvon Martin case go down right here in Atlanta - only RACIALLY reversed. For that matter, there was another similar event that happened in Atlanta just days after the Martin slaying (and ANOTHER one in Kansas City, this time involving a young white boy being killed by two black teenagers.) The thing is, neither of these cases - as well as the hundreds of comparable incidents involving interracial violence - were blown up into national, racially-charged headlines.

And hey, how about those two pictures - of a smiling, cherubic Martin and a super frowny Zimmerman - that have been shoved down our throats for the last two weeks? Clearly, this CANNOT be an example of selective media framing. Nope, not in the slightest

And hey, speaking of things that will give you an aneurysm, how about taking a look at this report by the NAACP from just ONE YEAR ago DEFENDING the "Stand Your Ground" law?  (SHH! Nobody's supposed to acknowledge that it exists, though.)

And that, of course, leads us to the elephant in the room that all American citizens, by law, are obliged  to ignore at all times - the unfortunate statistical reality that in the U.S., more black men are shot by OTHER black men than any other racial/gender permutation by a CONSIDERABLE margin. The heterosexual, Caucasian male hegemony, no doubt, is likewise responsible there, I am most certain.

The problem, ultimately, with these sorts of stories/cultural shitstorms is that they just don’t have staying power. In the modern era, we can only pretend to be outrageously infuriated for so long before we get tired of protesting, and our memories, no doubt, are severely short-sighted. Sure, everybody is pissed off and ready to stage some sort of mini social-uprising now, but let’s see just how fiery the debate is a good two or three weeks down the line. My guess is that by July, we’ll be too bitchy about gas prices to even remember what this clamor was all about - that is, until some other racially-tinged incident pops up, so that we can repeat the cycle all over again.

You know, we’ve had active, nonstop dialoguing about the issue of “racism” in America for a half century now, and oddly, we seem to keep having the SAME debate pop up over and over again. The culturally permissible answer as to why is that “racism” is so entrenched in our cultural DNA that we have to have such clamors repeatedly brought to our attention, in some feeble attempt to chip away “infrastructural” racism bit by bit.

The way less popular - and therefore, most likely the real - answer is something that I think speaks directly to the Martin incident: you know, maybe “racism” isn’t the actual problem here.

In the mood for more sociopolitical ranting and raving? Check out my play-by-play of the 2012 State of the Union Address RIGHT HERE!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thank you! This article expresses exactly how I feel
    about the Trayvon Martin case. It has
    become something for people who
    usually don't give a damn something to
    protest about, and while I'm all for civil
    activism, it has gotten a bit ridiculous.
    Trayvon Martin has gone from being a
    victim of murder to a household name, a
    cultural symbol and, let's face it, a bit of
    a fad.
    When Christina Taylor-Green, a nine year
    old, was shot in Arizona last year, nobody
    batted an eyelash in remembrance for
    her, and eventually, the case faded away
    into our memories silently. Now because
    this case is considered an example of
    racism (which is all anyone seems to be
    focusing on instead of the plain injustice
    of a teen's murder), it's completely
    exploded. But like you said, how long
    until the next trend?

  3. 1) It does have to do with race, but I understand where you are coming from. This is an example of the moral/theme of the story "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". The boy constantly gives false alarms, so when the wolf actually shows up, nobody believes him.

    2) This isn't the first publicized case of a non-white shooting an African-American. Remember Soon Da Ju (at least that's how I think you spell it), the person who shot Latasha Harlins?

    3) Though though there is institutionalized racism in America (ex: not being hired for having an Ebonic sounding name), there is no reason to defend (or rather not mention) situations in which it is reversed. I am a proud African-American (emphasis on the African part), but I will use my skin color as motivation, not an excuse. I think that the reason why African Americans aren't as respected as they should be is because too many of us make excuses and look for pity. The worst part is, some think there is nothing wrong with that. And you see this spirit of mediocrity being reflected in our music (like R&B and Rap, for example).


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