On the website that he created against the advice of his counselors (who have since dropped their representation), http://therealgeorgezimmerman.com/, George Zimmerman said the following:
“I was involved in a life altering event which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage. As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately, my entire life.”
It was a life-altering event, particularly for Trayvon Martin, who lost his life, but also for everyone directly connected and all of us who aren’t. He calls Trayvon’s death “the incident” which diminishes the tragedy. He’s been charged with second-degree murder and is in custody.
Being charged 46 days after Trayvon’s death is a late first step toward justice, accountability, and responsibility. But it is time that we all were held accountable. Americans have not been good stewards of positive race relations. We are not persistent in breaking down stereotypes that hurt our collective identity.
We never had an honest dialog about how black boys and black men are relentlessly demonized in America. They are portrayed as violent and sexually driven predators, based on an historical fear that white society held about their black slaves hundreds of years ago. This perception gives credence to the paranoia demonstrated by George Zimmerman. He was acting based on perceptions widely accepted by white Americans.
Of course, white men have historically been predators. They repeatedly raped slave women without remorse, resulting in the birth of light skinned babies that became house slaves because they were deemed trustworthy compared to the darker field hands. After all, they worked in close proximity with the white women and children.
The fear whites had of black men lead to lynching, the One Drop rule, Jim Crow laws including anti-miscegenation laws, housing discrimination, and unequal educational and job opportunities. Civil Rights may have theoretically changed our collective ethical stance on equality between the races, demanding that we strive toward an ideal America, but little has changed. How is shooting less violent than lynching? How was Trayvon walking back to his father’s house any more criminal than a black man looking at a white woman?
We are unable to embrace a post-racial America. Rather, since the election of President Obama, there has been an increased expression of racist ideals and actions, not just from fringe groups, but in mainstream America, too. We have left our best selves behind while allowing old racial paradigms to thrive.
I know this because I’ve lived it for thirty-six years as the white spouse in an interracial relationship. I see how insidious racism is. I see how often whites unconsciously express racist sentiments and get defensive if they are called on it. I see how hopeless black members of my family feel because it is soul depleting to be treated as a skin color, not as a person, with the full weight of having dark skin in a white world bearing down on them every hour of every day. I am not exaggerating. I have to say this, and I hope you will listen. I hope you will ask yourself what stereotypes you harbor about people who are a different race than you are. I hope you will question your perceptions and ask if they are factual or emotional. Then I hope you will strive to change those perceptions so that we can all live in a safer world.
It breaks my heart when I see people who don’t bother to get to know my husband. They’ve already decided who he is from the moment they lay eyes on him. They will never know his quirky, random sense of humor, his creative and artistic spirit, his deep sensitivity and empathy, his ability to study, focus, and excel in his profession as a fire lieutenant, as a musician, an artist, and a golfer, and his driving need to be of service to others and his community. They won’t believe that he is a dedicated, loving husband and father. They will never know how their fear, or even worse, contempt, has burned a searing scar in his soul.
They will also never know how they disappointed and frightened me, because they feel entitled and righteous in their feelings, perceptions, and actions. They will never understand that I am afraid of the violence they may perpetrate against my family. I don’t want some strange white man to feel possessive and protective of me. I chose my life partner, my soul mate, because I love him deeply, so far beyond the color of his skin or mine, that I willingly gave up whatever whiteness to which I felt connected. Not that I ever felt white in the sense it is portrayed and perpetuated here in America as a non-ethnic, non-racial, middle class persona, the imitation vanilla in the spice cabinet, but in the sense that I am of European descent. I gave up family, friends, privilege and entitlement for my relationship, and I don’t regret it.
What I regret is how we Americans ignore our racially divided society and depend on perceptions based on emotions and stereotypes, and how our willful ignorance abetted George Zimmerman the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. He held the gun, but America pulled the trigger.