George Zimmerman, ironically, is not ‘white’. His mother’s bloodline, Hispanic mestizo and Afro-Peruvian, expresses itself much more in his phenotype than his father’s Caucasian ancestry. Yet early on, the furore surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin cast the now 29-year-old as an overzealous, intrusive white racist. Found not guilty over the weekend, Zimmerman faces a lifetime of fear and a strong likelihood of reprisal. Meanwhile, sections of America seem poised to riot.
Even if most media outlets, though many reluctantly, now acknowledge Zimmerman as a non-white Hispanic, his trial has been exploited as a surrogate for a white-man-is-always-the-racist agenda. And to this I pose the refrain: When will we call out black racism the same way we call out the white variety? To think it does not exist, or to cloak it as an understandable reaction to America’s heavily racialised past, is inexcusable. White, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, Subcontinental, Amerindian, Pacific Islander and Aboriginal racists all exist in our world. And the ones violently acting on these impulses in America are not confined to the descendants of white colonial masters.
Pre-trial, my problem was not with the possibility that Zimmerman was a racist killer, however repulsive, but the fact that society by and large had already convicted him of it a year ago. Details which softened Zimmerman’s profile, such as his past mentoring role with black youth, were happily discarded, forgotten or ignored. One witness, too scared to identify himself, even said that a male matching Martin’s description was on top of Zimmerman as the pair struggled on the ground. Because such interpretations challenged the ‘Gospel of Martin the Victim’, they never circulated widely. Is the point of a trial not to posit at least two theories as to what happened before, during and after an alleged crime? If Zimmerman was overzealous, why did we assume race was automatically a factor?
Many, particularly those on the left, highlighted Zimmerman’s use of the word ‘black’ to argue racial profiling had occurred. But when it came time to criticise NBC News’ deliberate doctoring of the call to make Zimmerman sound racist, few pondered whether more facts or doubts supporting Zimmerman’s innocence might exist. NBC had released an audio clip of Zimmerman saying “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” when, in fact, the ‘black’ part came after the 911 dispatcher asked for the hooded figure’s race. And so continued a campaign of hysteria intersecting media lies, white guilt, African-American exceptionalism and a it’s-only-racist-if-a-black-guy-dies attitude.
Trayvon Martin’s friend, with whom he was talking on the telephone before he died, testified that Martin used the pejorative ‘cracker’, a racial epithet towards white people, when referring to Zimmerman. Imagine the verbal or literal bloodletting which would have flown if Zimmerman had ever referred to Martin as a ‘nigger’ during his call to the 911 dispatcher and then been found not guilty. These are, once again, details conveniently buried in the sand.
When Zimmerman had yet to be charged after the shooting, perennial race-baiters Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson arrived like Fireman Sam. For all their status as civil rights leaders and the good work they often do, Sharpton and Jackson et al still engage in ‘the white man is always the racist’ style of politics. One never sees them calling for hate crime or other prosecutions when a white person is attacked in a suspiciously race-oriented attack. Only days after Trayvon’s death, for example, a group of black youths allegedly beat a 78-year-old Ohio man savagely. The police report stated the assailants said, ‘[Get] that white [man]. This is for Trayvon … Trayvon lives, white [man]. Kill that white [man].’ Were Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton on the scene after that? No, of course not. It is understandable that they represent the African-American community more than any other, but for them to treat potential hate crimes in a solely white-on-black vacuum is unconscionable. And this is exactly what most ‘civil rights leaders’ do. They admirably fight for justice in some arenas but ignore others.
This tunnel vision is not just the viewport of the NAACP. Eric Holder, America’s first African-American Attorney-General, stated under congressional questioning that federal hate crimes laws are designed to protect historically marginalised minorities. What happened to the entire populace, including the nearly three-quarters of Americans who are non-Hispanic whites? It therefore still comes as little wonder that everyone still remembers LAPD beating victim Rodney King but not Reginald Denny, the white truck driver who had his skull fractured in nearly a hundred places during the subsequent LA Riots. Or the many Asian Americans whose stores were decimated by gangs of angry young African-Americans in that same period.
Slavery and other oppressions of African-Americans were cancers that should never be repeated and the need for proper racial healing and fairness in America remains. Nonetheless, it does not excuse an unwritten cultural assumption that only whites (or their surrogates in the case of Zimmerman’s misrepresentation in the media) are capable of and engage in hate crimes. The death of an African-American at the hands of someone of a different race does not always contain racial overtones.