“Why does it always have to be about race?”

9267368072_11533350da_zI have been unsettled about the George Zimmerman verdict since it was rendered Saturday night. I’ve bounced back and forth between anger and disappointment. It’s not that a “Not Guilty” verdict was a surprise, it’s that the offense that led to Trayvon Martin’s death is, by nature, hard to prosecute. How do you put a person’s subconscious on trial? How do you prosecute an entire mythology that profiles Black boys as probably dangerous and probably up to no good?

Why does it always have to be about race? Because race is a factor. Race has value attached to it, and ignoring that reality is a privilege. I know some of you will say, what privilege? I’m white and I don’t get anything extra because of it. I disagree. What you get is to belong everywhere. You get to avoid the specter of suspicion brought on by your mere presence in a place. You get to just be.

Why is it always about race?  Because since the beginning, race has informed the structure of our institutions and our policies. But we pretend to be color-blind. This way, we don’t have to wrestle with the disparities that exist between Blacks and whites at almost every level of existence, nor the subliminal messages we receive from media about criminal pathologies to which Black Americans are genetically predisposed, I guess.

Why does it always have to be about race? Because this color-blind society of ours affords some of us a presumption of innocence and paints others with the presumption of guilt. The 1947 doll test and subsequent studies showed that, subconsciously, brown skin is akin to menace. That’s the offense. You could never get the Zimmerman jury to believe that the menace in this situation was George Zimmerman.  He was the creepy one.   Did they ever consider that George Zimmerman was suspicious to Trayvon Martin?  Why was that such a stretch of the imagination that the Prosecution would need to lead them there?  Zimmerman had the arrest record for domestic violence and the loaded gun.  Yet, he gets to be suspicious and the unarmed Black kid gets to be the suspect.  He is wrong, but the law protects his bad inference.  It was lose-lose for Trayvon Martin the moment George Zimmerman encountered him.  There is no justice in that, in life or in death.

So what now?  I’m not here for marches or rallies or riots because, well, I’m over that. I’m also uninterested in wilfully obtuse conversations about reverse racism or the indignity of ‘cracker’ vs. the indignity of ‘nigger’. I am interested in honest discussions about race. Ask me questions, challenge my assumptions, and allow me to do the same. I’m willing to confront race and acknowledge the differences because my Blackness is not incidental for me.  I am not color-blind and I admit that being Black informs my worldview. Similarly, you have to admit that not being Black has informed yours. After watching Juror B37’s interview last night, it is clear that some people have no experience with Black people, save the stereotypes from media or the music they listen to.  We have to change that.  Start by engaging the conversation.  Listen more than you speak.  Understand that you are not representative of the whole.  Understand, too, that you may not be racist, or you just may not know it.

Lastly, two things: First, O.J. Simpson’s acquittal was an anomaly. I’m not sure if Black people thought he was innocent, or if we were just tickled to see the system work in a Black person’s favor, petty as that seems. In contrast, George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a page right out of a Black history book. No Black people on the jury and no acknowledgement of the role of race as an aggravating factor. Only in the absence of context are these two cases similar. Second, miss me with the ‘don’t be mad about Trayvon if you aren’t mad about Black on Black violence’ meme. Jamelle Bouie’s piece, “The Trayvon Martin Killing and the Myth of Black-on-Black Crime,” notes that the large majority of crimes are committed by people who know each other or live near to one another. This means that if Black on Black crime is a thing, then so is white on white crime, as 86% of white victims are killed by white offenders. Still, even if the proliferation of Black on Black crime wasn’t a myth, don’t police my emotions. Black people can decry street violence and the targeting of our young men at the same time. And even then, again, only in the absence of context are these two incidences the same.

I said all of this to say: If you find yourself asking why certain conflicts “always have to be about race,” recognize that privilege is not having to know the answer to that question.

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About moniquealicia

M.A.G. is a doctoral student at Howard University. She resides in the Washington, DC metro area, and is passionate about her love of family and friends, politics and conversation, and the exceptional meal. View all posts by moniquealicia

6 responses to ““Why does it always have to be about race?”

  • james

    I know we don’t always agreed but I can almost always understand your perspective because you are so good at giving it.

  • Ashly Cargle

    So, so, so well said–thank you!

  • Antrellis

    Brilliant piece. I think ethical, truely good-hearted people, which is the majority of the population, I would like to believe, wants the world to be color-blind so badly that they have tricked themselves into believing it. They ignore the stats and ignore their faults in describing their racially different friends as “my black/white friend”. The majority of us will always attatch ourselves to persons who look and act like us because the unknown and insecurity or fear will always go hand in hand. I pray for both parties in the case, maybe even harder for Zimmerman, for he is ither, souless or his soul is in turmoil.

  • WaitWaitWhut

    Ma’am this piece is brilliant! I wish more people could understand what your saying here.

  • Stacie Walker

    Beautifully written. I thought when our nation had finally voted in a black president that the majority had shifted in the favor of an anti-racist society. This trial has brought out so many different “character flaws” in myself. Being brought up in the Deep South (as you were) with a very racist dad as well as other family members, I was taught as a kid to not swim in the water with black people because their troubles will fade your skin. (Yes, I’m serious.) I had a crush on a little black boy in Kindergarten and when I pointed him out to my father, I was taken home immediately where I got a “whippin” with a rebel flag belt buckle.
    My point is that these toxic ideas about people aren’t born into a person, they’re learned. At first I was bothered that so many people were in such an uproar. I agree that it’s difficult to find Zimmerman guilty based off of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida. Martin is no longer here to tell what happened and I honestly doubt it would matter. No one is going to change their ideas about race until peaceful conversation is had and we all tear down the walls that separate us because of our skin color. We think we’re all so different, until we get to know one another. I agree with everything you said, Monique. Good for you to invite peaceful debate which ensues a possible change in ideas for both sides.
    I’m thankful that I moved away from my environment at 18 to the Pacific Northwest where the lines that divide the races are far less defined. Through spirituality and allowing an open mind and heart, my ideas have completely changed. I cried the other night as the result of a post like this because I went back and looked at the evidence, the photos from the crime scene, and read a post by a classmate about the loss of her son. I hate that this child is dead. However, rioting will not help. The only way to get the whites to pay attention is to keep the peace, rally the government with RIGHTEOUS anger, and again — make another change.
    I’m sorry our government has again let so many down. Stay strong, keep making contributions like this post, and never give up. Sometimes it takes horrible happenings such as this to propel a body of people to make an ever-lasting change. Everything serves a purpose, I believe that without a shadow of a doubt. This child did not lose his life in vain. Because of him, our eyes have been opened to “the kinks in our chain” as a country. It may take a lot to get us where we need to be, but at least we aren’t where we used to be.

  • Don’t Tread On Me | Activate Activism

    […] “Why does it always have to be about race?” (moniquealicia.wordpress.com) […]

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