I was told a story the other night. Apparently on the evening of the Zimmerman acquittal, in a bar in South Carolina, a group of White patrons were talking. Some of them, upon hearing the news, shouted “Free at last!” in celebration of the decision. One person, however, a White labor union activist, decided that this was not his gathering, and left in disgust.
The responses to the acquittal have told us a great deal about the U.S.A. The bottom line is that many people who knew or know nothing about who Trayvon Martin was have concluded that he was a demon and deserved death. I realize that this is a very blunt comment but I believe that it is important to cut to the chase. These individuals have decided that aggression against a Black youth who looks “suspicious” (whatever that means) can be raised to the level of death and actually justified.
But here is the other piece. There have been Whites and some Blacks who have argued that we should not be so upset about the Zimmerman verdict when there are so many examples of Blacks killing Blacks that go without comment. In other words, we are hypocritical for protesting the Zimmerman acquittal. This notion actually misses a larger point.
The acquittal of Zimmerman is linked to a steady shift in the racial relations that we have experienced since the late 1970s. The erosion of affirmative action, voting rights, and unstoppable police profiling and brutality, are all reflections of this change. The Zimmerman acquittal is a reminder that we have rights that are not worthy of respect, even though those same rights are on the books.
None of this means that Black-on-Black crime is of no or little importance. Black-on-Black crime destabilizes our communities and is a reflection of the continued economic and social ravaging we have experienced over the years. The fact that this crime is frequently ignored or treated as inevitable leads to despair. As a result our ability or capacity to respond to larger issues is undermined.
Thus, we should not be posing the Trayvon Martin case against Black-on-Black crime. They both need to be addressed, but the Zimmerman acquittal speaks to a very dangerous trend in the larger U.S. society that we can ignore only at our peril.
This trend suggests, once again, that we have remained the ‘other,’ that is, a segment of the population that is considered by too many Whites to be unknowable and dangerous; a segment whose lives and experiences are not worthy of any particular investigation and concern. A segment that must be marginalized or, if we appear out of the dark, swatted away, as one would do with an annoying pest.
This is a time for reflection, as President Obama suggested, but a different sort of reflection. One that really takes us into an in depth understanding of the continued operation of race in all features of U.S. society. Yes, that discussion, again…
(Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, a columnist with The Progressive, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of They’re Bankrupting Us–And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and <www.billfletcherjr.com>.)