Cultural Appropriations · Rants For Thought

The Zimmerman Trial: Racism Isn’t Just An American Thing

If you’ve been following the news, as I have and do, you’ll know that yesterday, the verdict in the Trayvon Martin shooting case was due to come down. The case has been one of great media interest and public outcry. A 17-year-old black boy was followed and shot because George Zimmerman, a white man who fancied himself a “neighbourhood watch cop”, decided he looked suspicious. As famously reported, Martin was not armed and was found carrying a pack of Skittles and an iced tea. He looked suspicious because, as Zimmerman said, “he was wearing a hoodie”.

Yesterday, George Zimmerman was cleared of all charges. He was found not guilty, despite his own admission that he shot and killed Martin, despite police advice not to follow the boy, despite being told to leave things alone. He was cleared and is a free man.

I get asked a lot why verdicts like this, or other news stories, such as the Marissa Alexander case, upset me as a Canadian. I’m asked why I bring race into something like this – why a white man shooting a black boy is worse than whites shooting whites or blacks shooting blacks. I’m asked why I tweet and Facebook about this, why I write about cases that don’t affect Canadians.

I’m often told that Canadians don’t really experience racism in the same way as Americans do. I’ve been told several times over social media since the Zimmerman case verdict came down that justice was served and that with the laws in place, the jury had no other place to turn. And as a Canadian, why do I care about what happens in Florida? Why do I care about what happens in Texas, or in North Carolina, or in the Middle East? Why do their laws upset me? Why do I spend time feeling angry, hopeless, and sickened?

It may surprise some of my fellow Canadians to know that while we look down on the States for racial profiling and for targeting people of colour (POC), we do the same thing here. First Nations tribes often live in squalor while white people are oblivious. Our jails are stuffed with people who are black and of Native descent, overrepresented by ten times in some cases. Black people are seen as dangerous and in gangs. Aboriginals are seen as thieves and lazy welfare bums, wanting something for nothing. Canadians gloss over our bloody history in order to pretend that we’re better than the rest of the world, that racism isn’t an issue here.

It’s only not an issue if you’re not a person of colour. It’s only not an issue if you’ve never had to watch your children grow up and battle their own skin colour in order to live. It’s only not an issue if you’re not someone like Trayvon Martin, walking in a neighbourhood where he looked suspicious because he was black.

White privilege is something that most people I talk to don’t want to talk about. They don’t want to admit that white people have inborn advantages over people of colour in our society. After all, we live in a post-racial society. If a POC is upset, they’re just “playing the race card”. Everyone is equal under the eyes of the law.

I wish – and I really, really do wish – that that was the truth. Because then a boy like Trayvon would have been exonerated yesterday. A man like Zimmerman would be in jail for murder. Black and Aboriginal people wouldn’t be overrepresented in Canadian jails. They wouldn’t be arrested for walking down the street at the wrong time. They wouldn’t be automatically seen as suspicious, the first people to be called upon for inciting violence or crime. They wouldn’t be pulled over at the border, their children would be seen as children and not mini-thugs, and they wouldn’t be rightly afraid of what our justice system will do to them. They wouldn’t be punished more harshly for the same crime a white person committed.

Does this make you angry? Because if it doesn’t, it should. It should make you really angry. And if this, as a white person, makes you feel defensive, maybe it’s time for white people in our society to start unpacking the privilege knapsack. We’re not taught about white privilege when we learn about race relations in school. But it’s up to us to learn about it, because if you want to pretend there’s no racism alive and well in our country, you’re sticking your head in the sand. That’s never been okay, but in this day and age? Hiding behind “they’re pulling the race card” and “people of colour can be racist against white people too” is not okay.

As a white-passing Aboriginal woman, I will never have to wonder what it will be like for my children in today’s world. I’ve been reading Twitter and Facebook all night and all day – thousands of people are telling us how scared this verdict makes them. How their children look like Trayvon. How they’ve experienced racism from the day they were born. Institutional racism, where children in poor, minority-populated areas get substandard education and little opportunity. Racism on the street, where white people cross to the other side of the road when they see POC walking. Dismissal and uncaring attitudes. They’re telling us their stories and like always, we’re not listening.

We need to listen. I’ve written about this before. We need to listen and we need to change. We’ve had hundreds of years to fix what we broke – to reverse colonialism. We don’t and we haven’t, because to have white privilege is to have a comfortable cushion. It’s to live in a cloud where we can talk about “race cards” and “how Affirmative Action is wrong and racist” and to pretend that race isn’t an issue in Canada. We can do that because this stuff never touches us. We can do that because we will never experience racism. Not like POC in our society do. Not even close.

I can’t ignore the racism factor in the Zimmerman case because it’s the sole reason why Trayvon Martin was shot. I can’t ignore racism in the Quvenzhane Wallis case back in February because it’s the sole reason why someone used her as a joke and why she was made fun of on the red carpet. I can’t ignore racism because racism has allowed me, a white woman, to live safely, comfortably, with privilege and with advantages.

That’s why I care about what happened to Trayvon Martin. That’s why I care about the fact that Marissa Alexander, a black woman, was sentenced to jail for 20 years for invoking the same “Stand Your Ground” law that Zimmerman did. That’s why I don’t care that I’m Canadian and these people are American. It’s not about that. It’s about justice and humanity.

It’s time to change. We’ve let this go long enough. How many more human beings have to suffer injustice before we realize what our indifference and blindness are doing to them and our society?

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13 thoughts on “The Zimmerman Trial: Racism Isn’t Just An American Thing

  1. I am Canadian so I not to sure about the Zimmerman case but it does seem odd that you can chase down a person, get into an altercation, shoot him and then call it self defense? On the racism/intolerance level I feel the situation is getting better. Most people go about their daily lives not really concerned about the color, religion, or sexuality etc… of the person beside them. But I am not blind, I recognize that intolerance takes shape in many forms. The only thing you can control is your actions, if you are a decent person and you do no harm (in any form) then as far as I am concerned you have done your duty while on this planet

  2. I understand your logic when it comes to this case, however, I, being a black woman beg to differ. The issue within this case was not so much a race issue, but more of a culture issue. Nobody can prove George Zimmerman is a racist first and foremost. Second, I would like to say that I try to stray away from black men who sag their pants and speak as if they didn’t have proper schooling because those are usually the ones who try to get me in the bedroom or the ones who carry a thug-like persona. On the other hand, I’ve liked a black man before, but he spoke like he had the proper education and dressed appropriately. According to forensics and other evidence, Trayvon Martin was high off of weed the day he was roaming Zimmerman’s neighborhood. He might have been looking around and about and he was cutting through a neighborhood he did not live in. While I agree the Zimmerman shouldn’t have followed Trayvon, Trayvon had a history of fighting frequently and getting into drugs. Trayvon even took a picture of himself with his friend’s gun. So, the thug persona is not being pulled out of thin air. This was a tragedy for Trayvon’s parents, but I believe both parties were at fault. Everyone is trying to pain this in a light like some innocent little black kid was walking home with some skittles and a tea, when he was a thug-wanna-be walking home with some skittles and tea with a history of punching people, including his bus driver in the face. So, yes, Zimmerman was a wanna be cop, but Trayvon’s aspiring to be a thug got him in a bad situation that unfortunately had a fatal consequence.

    1. I recently moved to a new area and I’ve spent a lot of time wandering round neighbourhoods nearby, looking around. I don’t think I should be shot for it. But I won’t be, because a) I live in the UK where you are not allowed to chase people and shoot them for “looking suspicious”, and b) I am white. I don’t care if Trayvon pulled the legs off kittens in nursery school, he was shot dead because of the way he looked. We may complain about the amount of CCTV cameras there are in the UK, but at least they mean that there would never be any doubt over which of the two stories “he was just walking” and “he punched me in the face” are true. Frankly, even if he did punch Zimmerman in the face, I wouldn’t consider shooting him dead to be reasonable force. This case made me incredibly angry.

  3. I can relate to your comments about how it relates to Canada, because it’s pretty much the same in Australia with Aboriginal people. I don’t know the stats for other POC, but racism is far too often ignored in Australia.

  4. I’ve read this post several times, and still I’m not sure how to respond. As a young(ish), middle-class white woman, I can’t help but feel after reading what was written here that my thoughts and opinions on the matter really A)don’t matter and B)aren’t welcome.

    While I understand the anger and resentment that is bred when justice is not served where it is due (and in this instance, I believe that it *was* due, and was *not* served), the tone of your post, to be brutally honest, makes me feel that, because I’m white, if I don’t agree 100% with you on this matter, I should keep my mouth (and fingers) shut on it.

    But I can’t.

    While I believe it is important to bring to light the hard issues, like racism, abuse, poverty, etc., I believe it is equally important to do so in a way that allows discussion, give and take, and open communication. Bringing the subject to the table with anger and pointed fingers retards discussion and eliminates the possibility for resolution.

    You said that if you’re white and feel defensive that we should “start unpacking the privilege knapsack”. Well, I won’t get into my thoughts on that proposed solution here, but I did feel the need to say that while reading your post, I didn’t feel defensive because I’m uncomfortable that I’m privileged just because I’m white, I felt defensive because I felt attacked, simply from reading your post, just because my skin happens to be white. I felt no urge to join you in finding a solution to this problem, I just felt angry. I felt discriminated against. I felt like you were doing in your post the exact same thing you were ranting about.

    If your post had simply come across as a rant about the injustice of it all, I most likely wouldn’t have commented. It is your blog, and you have the right to vent/rant if you want to, but a rant or venting session is mostly rhetorical in nature, and doesn’t require or call for a response (especially on so touchy of a subject). However, your post struck me as a rant posing as a call for a solution. Please know that this isn’t an attack on you, your character, or your blog (which I happen to like, that’s why I follow you). I’m simply trying to say (perhaps rather poorly) that I can’t tell which it actually is, and so, with not knowing, I felt I had to reply, not with a rebuttal about what I agree or disagree with you on, but simply about how reading your post makes me feel.

    I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to is this: we will never find a solution while alienating one another with anger and accusations. Every race, somewhere, is discriminating against another race, and until we take specific races out of the equation and attack racism in ALL of its forms EVERY time, racism will always prevail.

    As a member of the HUMAN race, that is my humble opinion.

    And I still like your blog.

    ~A

    1. Just to be clear – I never am angry when people express their opinions. You have as much right to feel the way you do as anyone else does. Thanks for following and leaving your thoughts 🙂

      1. The reason I like your blog so much, in all honesty, is because our views on things often differ. Your blog makes me think, it makes me reflect on my feelings and thoughts about a myriad of subjects in a way that is impossible to do when someone only surrounds themselves with people who think the same way as themselves.

        Opening ourselves up to people of differing views, opinions and ideas than our own is what promotes growth and self-realization, and your blog does that for me.

        I truly appreciate the fact that you allow people like myself to share their thoughts, even when they don’t necessarily line up with your own, because I know that sometimes that’s not so easy, especially on things that deeply matter on a personal level, like this post.

        I hope you know that I make a great effort never to post an opposing opinion on someone’s blog without taking time to (attempt) not coming across as combative, insensitive, aggressive, or rude. Sometimes I fail, miserably, but it isn’t from intent, it’s mostly due to ignorance or miscommunication on my end (it’s so hard to express in text things that body language, tone of voice, and facial expression convey effortlessly in person!).

        If I ever say anything on your blog that is offensive to you, please feel free to let me know, because that is never my intent. I know oftentimes we are at odds on some subjects, but I strive to disagree without causing offense, and if I do, knowing what it is, and why it is offensive will greatly help me to adjust how I express myself, in comments as well as in my own posts, because sometimes things can just come off wrong, and so much is subjective to the person reading it.

        Thanks for being open-minded. 🙂

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