Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Whites Insist on Defending Zimmerman

I have really been shocked at the stridency with which so many white folk – otherwise intelligent, even liberal white folk – have engaged in semantic gymnastics in an effort to justify the Zimmerman verdict and criticize those who see injustice.  The righteous anger in defense of Zimmerman is startling, even for someone like me, who has grown accustomed to racial animus as a fact of life.  But why has this case struck such a nerve, in the white community as well as in the black community?

I think back to something a very wise, sympathetic figure said about me more than a decade ago.  

I was still closeted, and had not come to terms with my sexuality. I was engaged in furious online debates with this man, who was unapologetically open about his orientation. I came up with every argument in the book as to why he was wrong, mistaken, sinful, sick, twisted, and deluded.  I would grasp at any weird event that had happened in the gay community, and attempted to characterize it as ‘normal’ for that group. With each such bizarre post, I would punctuate my comments with the equivalent of “A-ha!  See?!  You’re a hypocrite/wrong/blind blah blah blah."  I was irrational in my need to prove I was right.

This gentlemen with whom I was debating wrote a private message to someone else, who had the courage to send it to me.  What it said was,

“Thom is a man conflicted.  You fight yourself the hardest, and he is not really fighting me…he is fighting himself.”

That insight was brilliant.  I have never forgotten it (eternal thanks, John/Jane Z)

And I see the same concept manifesting itself among white people in the aftermath of the trial.

White people who insist that they are not racist, because, in their heads, they know it's a bad thing to be racist.

But for who, in their guts, still have knee-jerk feelings...based on race.

In their hearts, they know they distrust blacks more than whites.  They know they’re even afraid of blacks, and will cross the street to avoid them.  They know in their gut that when they hear about welfare queens and people who rip-off the tax system, they envision a black family.  They can’t avoid these feelings, often because they were raised in an environment where they were taught to fear and loathe blacks.

But, they know in their heads that such misplaced hate and prejudice is simply wrong. Ergo, they deal with a conflict between the head and the gut.

And so, “they fight themselves the hardest.”  They scour their minds and the internet and every cliché they can find to make sure that they can satisfy the racial fears in their guts by lauding Zimmerman, without violating their conscience which tells them that racial fear is not a good enough reason.

They throw punches in the air:

“Black on black crime is much worse…”

“No one ever talks about a white kid getting killed by blacks…”

“The jury spoke, it’s over…”

“You don’t see whites rioting…”

“Zimmerman was being pummeled…”

“It’s the media’s fault…”
"He was a thug.."

“If Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton wouldn't get involved….”

“The civil war ended over a hundred years ago, and all you people do is talk about race…”

Of course, not one of these arguments is a legitimate reason to support George Zimmerman. Not one of them addresses the District Attorney’s sweeping this under the rug for 45 days,  the misuse of the Stand Your Ground Statute and the refusal of the Judge to issue jury instructions on that matter, the admission of concrete slabs and shirtless pictures of Trayvon as evidence, the lack of *any* pre-emptory challenges by the prosecution over jurors, the lack of any men or blacks on the jury, the fact that Zimmerman’s father was a local Judge and the venue wasn't changed,  and a host of other suspect irregularities.

But what these folk are doing is not fighting for or against Justice.

They are using George Zimmerman as a proxy for themselves.

They know that George suspected Trayvon, because Trayvon was a young black man in a gated, middle class neighborhood.  

And they know they would have felt the same.  

Putting Zimmerman on trial is like putting them on trial.

And so the only way to fight the inner vestiges of racism in their gut, is to ‘fight themselves the hardest’ – lash out and defend Zimmerman any way they can, so they can avoid the ugly reality of having to reconcile Gut with Mind.

It’s an irrational, ugly, brutal process.


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