By Micco Fay – Sundown United // Austin
First, let’s correct something that I feel is being incorrectly assumed: Black people are mad at white people. This is incorrect; they are not. There are no riots, no truckers being pulled from their seat and beaten. There are no mass statements that a body of people or civic agency is racist and calling for the removal of officials.
No, the outrage here is against perceptions; it’s against the perceptions of black culture and the people living in it. Some mistakenly call these perceptions “racist”, but that is not totally accurate; the correct word is “Prejudice”. Racism is taking action (physical, verbal, legal, etc.) on a particular group of people based on race. Prejudice is drawing assumptions from a single or set of characteristics. The heart of the outrage is that there is a perceptional prejudice identifying black culture as threatening.
From what I’ve read, I do not believe George Zimmerman is a racist. I do, however, think he displayed prejudice leading up to, and in his altercation with, Trayvon Martin. He assumed Trayvon Martin was suspicious and he assumed Trayvon Martin was threatening. This was the cornerstone of the Defense’s argument which ultimately led to the Not Guilty verdict.
But how was Trayvon Martin suspicious and threatening? Black culture will argue that it was prejudice towards black culture. The Defense for Zimmerman and many others weighing in on this case argue that black culture had nothing to do with it and that blackness being threatening was never brought up.
By now, you should be noticing, I am consistently using the term “black culture” instead of “black people” or other descriptors to describe a race/ethnicity. This is because I believe that if Trayvon Martin had been walking down the same sidewalk dressed in sandals, cargo shorts, a fitted tee, a seashell necklace and a fedora but still as black as ever, this whole altercation would have never happened. Unfortunately, this hipster description is not the norm for blacks, especially teens, who are typically dressed in attire more identified with black culture.
Still not clear on the difference? Let us drive home this point about culture through a metaphor: Biker Culture. If one shoots and kills a [motorcycle] biker under similar circumstances, here’s how it could go:
Our “Trayvon Martin” in this metaphor is a biker who has a handkerchief tied around his head, tattoos across his body, a leather belt, leather jacket, and leather wristbands all studded. He is your stereotypical biker with a slightly long beard, big frame, and shoulder length hair (think “Dog the Bounty Hunter”). His day job is that of an 18 wheeler truck driver and he bikes in his off time.
He was convicted a week ago for possession of a controlled substance, the pain killer “Oxytocin”, while visiting a friend in another city on the weekend. He stayed at that friend’s house for the subsequent week in order to handle and close out the legalities of this misdemeanor charge (pay a fine and find out how many community service hours he had to do).
The neighborhood of his friend who he was staying with had recently experienced noise complaints and property damage from wild parties thrown by a resident who also happened to be in the biker culture. Our biker didn’t know any of these other bikers and was not even aware of the issues; he was new, visiting and just in the area for a week or two.
One night that week while walking back from a 7/11 to his friend’s house, our biker notices a man following him. With nothing but a beer and a pack of cigs on him that he purchased from the 7/11, and feeling threatened himself, he asks gruffly “why are you following me?” to the stalking stranger.
What happens next is the same as the altercation between Zimmerman and Martin, of which no one knows every detail.
Only this time, when it goes to court for the death of this unarmed biker on his walk back from a convenience store, the Defense uses the culture of a biker to describe how that is inherently threatening and “Zimmerman”, feeling threatened, acted in self-defense. However, the Defense never uses the term “biker”, just describes the biker’s leather studded outfit, handkerchief, and tattoos as evidence of a threatening demeanor. The defense also brings up that other, unrelated bikers (and they actually use the term “bikers” here) in the area had been involved in non-violent crime (property damage and noise complaints). The defense also throws in the controlled substance Oxytocin charge to add to the biker’s threatening aura, even though it is a non-violent misdemeanor.
The “Zimmerman” in this metaphor is found not guilty. The jury agrees that yes, the biker was threatening to our Zimmerman and therefore self-defense laws protecting our Zimmerman exonerate him of the crime.
Now, do other bikers not have a point to feel some outrage that he was only killed because he was a biker? Sure, the defense never brought up the fact that he was a biker; they just described the traits of a biker as being threatening. Bikers across the nation would be worried that someone could use this same precedence in other situations to justify violence against them because they “appeared” suspicious and threatening by having these biker cultural traits.
If you can understand the angst of the biker culture in this metaphor, then you understand that same angst of black culture. Unfortunately, we cannot simply change prejudicial perceptions of black culture (or any culture) by passing laws and making decisions in courtrooms alone. There is work to be done by black culture itself, no doubt, but there is also much to be done for everyone in not assuming the worst of fellow man based on prejudicial assumptions of their culture that probably only apply to a small subset.
The laws/courtrooms do have a place in this conversation when it comes to setting legal precedent, and the legal precedent set in the Zimmerman trial is that black culture is threatening. Combine this with wild wild west styled gun legislation like the “Stand your ground” and “Castle” laws, and you now have a vehicle for these prejudicial assumptions to escalate into extreme situations where an innocent life is legally taken.
I encourage everyone to keep fighting the good fight against our own internal demons like prejudice (we all have them, regardless of who we are). I also encourage everyone to take a hand in the political/legislative process in your county, city, state, or nation that legally allows extreme violence to happen to innocent people. Altercations will happen, but it is possible through law to mitigate the level of extremity and frequency (gun laws and castle laws respectively) it occurs.