Black men and women, black boys and girls, will continue to live in a world where they are guilty until proven innocent, and where their lives matter less in a justice system that is anything but blind to race. None of us, in fact, are blind to race. When people say, “I don’t see race,” they are actually saying, “I don’t want to see race and thereby face the world as it really is.” It is the most sincere expression of privilege there is.
I want to tell you all, for your own good, stop saying that. If you think race isn’t an issue, then race is most definitely an issue for you. When you pretend something does not exist, you give it power. That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows.
In fact, all races share similar ratios. Yet there’s no outrage or racialized debate about “white on white” violence. Instead, the myth and associated fear of “black on black” crime is sold as a legitimate, mainstream descriptive and becomes American status quo. The truth? As the largest racial group, whites commit the majority of crimes in America. In particular, whites are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes. With respect to aggravated assault, whites led blacks 2-1 in arrests; in forcible-rape cases, whites led all racial and ethnic groups by more than 2-1. And in larceny theft, whites led blacks, again, more than 2-1.
In some ways, the calls for order recapitulate what this case is all about—the assumption of violence on the part of the black community, and of black men. No one seems to be concerned about the possible violence of Zimmerman supporters if Zimmerman is convicted. To try to preemptively deter the black community from taking matters into their own hands should they feel justice has not been done is ironic considering that Zimmerman’s actions themselves were a kind of vigilanteeism—a violence above and beyond what many, including the prosecution and Martin’s family, feel was necessary.
Racism is not the bogeyman term that some people work very hard to make it into; it doesn’t mean you actively hate black people or have never had a black friend.* Instead, it refers to the systems of racial power and hierarchy within society and the structures through which they are maintained. If you can’t see how a view that it’s cool/understandable to be afraid of (and ultimately kill) someone because of his race is part of all that, then I’m not sure what to tell you.
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but it’s simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
The public’s reaction: In the week leading to the verdict, speculation that people—specifically black people—would riot if Zimmerman were acquitted spread through the mainstream media, after taking off in the conservative press and cable news. What’s more likely, based on how Martin supporters have reacted initially—after the verdict was read, the crowd outside of the courthouse dispersed peacefully—is that protests (of the non-violent variety) against racial profiling will continue.
Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.
There is a kind of sincere black person who really would like to see even more outrage about violence in black communities. I don’t think outrage will do it at this point, but I respect the sincere feeling. And then there are pundits who write more than they read, and talk more than they listen, and prefer an easy creationism to a Google search.
1. It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are people who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong.