Racism on Trial: Where Do You Stand?

egardless of your opinion about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, we mustn't ignore the underlying conversation -- a heated, potent, and critical discussion about race and racism.
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The trial of George Zimmerman has captured the media's attention -- television, print, on-line media, and books detail every minute of witness testimony, judge sidebars, lawyer macerations and arguments, as well as a wide range of opinions about what occurred and what the result should be.

While I am happy to see this level of transparency and public interest and investment in the case, I am afraid that the focus on the details of this particular case can obscure the background feelings, history, and experiences that fuel much of the interest. This background concerns what W. E. B. Du Bois called the color line -- "the relation between the darker and lighter races." On both sides of that line are feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, and misunderstanding.

The racial divide is apparent in the tens of thousands of comments posted each day of almost every article about the trial. Many of these comments presume to be logical and rational but rarely are; instead they are loaded with subtext and fueled by the racial animus that existed before the case began revealing more about the America's racial history of injury, injustice, and resentment -- feelings that can be seen and felt in the streets, hearts, minds, and people of our country.

For example:

About George Zimmerman: Some assert that George Zimmerman is a wanna-be cop, a hateful liar, and almost sociopathic in his lack of concern for the murder of a child. Others assert that he is an innocent victim, candid, and a good Samaritan who made his neighbors' lives safer.

About Trayvon Martin: Some assert he was a Skittles-carrying, college-bound, loving child in whose eyes one can see complete innocence. Others see a drug-using, trouble-making, predatory "gangsta" brought up in a culture of violence, hunting for prey on streets he didn't belong on, and deserving of the fate he brought upon himself.

About Trayvon's mother: Some assert that Sybrina Fulton is a woman of low morals, a liar, and an inadequate mother to Trayvon who feigns her feelings about her son for improper gain. Others assert that she is a loving, grieving, forthright, and heroic woman victimized by the defense team and the media.

About the judge and jury: Some assert that the judge was in the tank for Trayvon and always stood against the defense's objections and motions, while others assert that the all-white jury was in the tank for Zimmerman and would find him not guilty regardless of the facts.

About the legal system: Some assert that there is no way a white man can get a fair trial in this country when the "supposed" victim is an African-American male. Others assert that a black victim will never be valued as highly as a white victim and that black defendants are more likely to be suspected, get arrested, and be convicted and penalized.

About Zimmerman's guilt or innocence: Some assert that Zimmerman's acquittal caused a loss of all faith in the justice system. Others assert that the American justice system did exactly what it should have done in evaluating the facts of the case and rendering the proper result.

About the role of race in this case: Some declare that the trial was about "black racism" biased against Zimmerman, trying him because of a politically correct legal system, and "lynching" him in the media. Others assert that a young black male was profiled, pursued, and killed because of his race and presented to a jury who would never 'get' or sympathize with Trayvon, his mother, or his friend, Rachel Jeantel.

Regardless of your opinion about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, we mustn't ignore the underlying conversation -- a heated, potent, and critical discussion about race and racism. The debate is about American history and our awareness of that history; the debate is about how far America has come, or not come, from its racist past; the debate is about who is responsible today for the psychic, economic, and social conditions of many black folks. It goes on in the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 decision struck down an essential element of the voting rights act. It goes on in the back-and-forth commentary between MSNBC and Fox News. It fuels many of the hundreds of thousands of comments on social media. It informs our judgments, assumptions, feelings, and perceptions.

The evidence derived from the debate is clear. The verdict: Regardless of where you stand, the racial divide in America is alive. The wound is festering; the anger and resentment is hot; the differences in viewpoints are potent and real; and the capacity to really listen, understand, or step into the other's shoes is a rarity.

In my viewpoint, the long terrible night of racial injustice is not over and the wounds from that history are far from healed. The Zimmerman verdict presses upon, puts salt on, and exacerbates that wound and it hurts. I do not say this as a declaration about Zimmerman; I say this as an assertion about my country.

Langston Hughes cautioned that a dream deferred may explode; please be careful friends, the darkness around us is deep.

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