The jury selection process has begun for the trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin and claims it was self-defense, the man who identifies as Hispanic and claims the incident was not about race. I spent many hours after the shooting commenting on blog posts that others wrote about Zimmerman and his motives. Most of those posts were written by Black men. One of those men – a friend and prolific blogger – wrote a piece entitled “I Am George Zimmerman, Sometimes” in which he admitted that in the past he had occasionally harbored the same kinds of suspicion about Black men as Zimmerman apparently did.
It seemed to me that he took a pretty big risk making that admission in such a public forum. Telling the truth like that is a courageous act. It got me thinking about how I’d been conditioned to perceive Black men and how that mind-training had been cancelled out by later experiences. But it also made me give some serious thought to this whole idea of claiming connectedness with someone you’ve never met. This is my comment on my friend’s post, with a few revisions that reflect some recent insights:
I’ve been thinking about my response as an older White woman and the discrepancy between what I was taught about Black men and what I've experienced. I feel much safer surrounded by young Black men, with or without hoodies, than I do walking past a group of White teenage boys. I’ve strolled in the Black neighborhoods where my son has lived - previously on Chicago's Southside and now on the West Side - and I feel comfortable. The only way I can explain this is that throughout my life I've been harassed by White teenagers, while Black men of all ages have treated me with respect and even protectiveness. Maybe it's because I've never been physically threatened that I have this trusting expectation. Maybe it's because the only violence I've ever experienced first-hand was when two White cops rushed up on us as we stood on a Chicago street corner at night and roughed up our friend - a young Black man dressed in business attire. This is my experience as a soul who is temporarily associated with a pale-skinned, female-gendered, 63-year-old body. It is clearly different than your experience.
Yet here's where I have to tell the truth. I am George Zimmerman too. As I've been posting links to articles about Trayvon Martin's innocence, as I took a photo of myself in a hoodie and posted it on the millionhoodies site, as I passionately urge the overwhelmingly White residents of this coastal Oregon town to think about the implications of stereotypes, all the while I've been thinking this: if we are truly one human organism, then George is as much a part of me as Trayvon is. I am deeply connected to him - to his fear (even if unfounded), to his shame (even if hidden), and to his unconscious sense of superiority (even if denied). What injures George injures me. He is a victim too, because he is an inherently noble being who has been brainwashed to believe the lie that all young Black men are a threat. He is a soul temporarily associated with a mind that has been manipulated, oppressed and wounded by racist conditioning. What has been done to the brains of White people in this country is a sin and a crime of horrific proportions because it leads us into separation from our fellow humans.
A year ago I read a blog post by a Black woman whose son was called “N…..” by a very young White boy. My question was – who's going to save that White boy? Who will intervene on his behalf? What will protect him from the onslaught of societal or parental messages that will eventually rob him of his freedom to choose his reactions to Black people based on his nobility rather than his brainwashing? It's easy to ask this out loud about a White child, but more difficult with a full grown White man. Yet I've been thinking it. Who will acknowledge the victimization of George Zimmerman? I've been thinking it, but I was not courageous enough to write it. I was afraid my Black friends would call me a traitor.
Whether or not this man is guilty will be decided by the jury; I can only hope that the truth will be uncovered and justice will be administered. But regardless of the verdict, there is an assailant that is walking free. Racism is a killer and a thief. None of us are safe from its tyranny.