What I’ve been thinking about since the verdict

You know how a lot of times when something hurts the mostand you think you can’t do it, that’s the point right before change happens and
everything gets better? This might happen to you as you read this. So hang on
if it starts to hurt.

For those who’ve never read me before: I’m a white, 40-year-old
mother of two white sons. I grew up in the Midwest, lived in Mexico (the country)
and NYC, and now live in the Midwest again.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I tweet a
lot about race and racism and privilege in the United States. I know there are
people who will say that we’re in a “post-racial” society and will point to the
fact that we have a (mixed-race) Black president as evidence to support that
view. I think that’s complete and utter crap, and that even if there was any
such thing as a “post-racial” society we are far, far from it. This country is
mired (and I choose that word specifically, because racism pulls us all down
into the mud) in racism and privilege. And white people have to be the ones to
stop it.

Let’s back up a little. I listened to a lot of hip-hop and
rap when I was in high school–Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Run DMC, LL Cool J (back when he
was on purpose), Arrested Development, De La Soul, Heavy D, etc.–and it was
all fun and it was all about the beats and the hooks and the rhymes.I loved it.

And then came Public Enemy. I listened and part of me loved
it but part of me recoiled and wondered why Chuck D was so angry. Why was he so
angry?? I couldn’t figure it out and it hurt my feelings that he was so intense
and that I could feel his rage in the music, and I wasn’t who he was rapping it
to but who he was rapping it at.

But because I had a sweet, serious mother who’d always given
us the time and the imperative to really think about things and analyze what we
could and look things up when we didn’t, I kept listening. And as I listened
and watched those videos and read interviews and heard them talk  it came to me: There must be some experience
Chuck D was having that I wasn’t having. And that I couldn’t even see.

That was the red pill. This sudden realization that other
people were living things every day that not only were not happening to me, but
that I didn’t even see as they were happening and didn’t know existed.

The fact that I had never noticed before, because the things
that happened to me as a white person were the default: that’s privilege.
Because I am white, the system is set up to conform to my idea of normal, so I
don’t even notice that the system isn’t totally transparent. I think that what
happens to me, the way people react to me, is what happens to everyone. It’s
not. But because I am white, I’m the default, so I don’t notice that other
people are having different experiences.

(If this is confusing you, search on Google for the phrase "invisible knapsack" and read what comes up. It’s an easy read. I’ll still be
here when you’re done.) 

What does this have to do with racism? Well, racism and
privilege are flip sides of the same record. Racism is something that hurts
some people unfairly. Privilege is something that helps some people unfairly.
They don’t exist independently of each other.

White people are trained to be racist, and we have to do a
lot of work to undo that. White people are given privilege, and even if we don’t
want it and don’t willingly accept it it is always there.

A program note: Racism is combination of prejudice against
someone because of their color, and power. If there’s no power, it’s not
racism, it’s just prejudice. So a white person can be racist to a Black or
Latino person or other racial minority, because the system gives white people
power. People of color in this country can be prejudiced against white people,
but they can’t be racist because they don’t have power over white people. This
is also why the n word is so hurtful (because there’s a power structure behind
it) but the word “cracker” just isn’t as bad (because there’s no power
structure behind it).

Another program note: There’s a difference between personal
racism and institutional racism. Personal racism is when I’m nasty to someone
because of the color they are. Institutional racism is when there are barriers
to people of certain races that prevent them from applying, from qualifying for
whatever the official requirements are, or that make requirements to join or
maintain membership impossible for people of certain races. I’m largely not
talking about personal racism here, because I’m assuming that you, dear reader,
are not engaging in that or are actively working on ridding that from your
life. Institutional racism, though, is everywhere, and many white people don’t
see it because these systems are “just the way things are” and we don’t
question things.

A few completely trivial questions just to make you think a
little bit about institutional racism: Why are professional hockey players
mostly white? Why are many professional basketball players Black?

I think that institutional racism is out of control in the
United States. I also think that institutional racism is more harmful than
personal racism. If someone is personally racist to you, you can walk away
knowing the person is not worth your time, and eventually arrange things so you
don’t have to interact with that person anywhere. But you can’t escape the
system. Things are rigged to make it more difficult for people of color to work
through the system than for white people to. And that’s every day, and affects
your ability to work, to raise your kids, even just to walk down the street
without being stopped and frisked.

Note: That doesn’t mean that white people don’t get the
shaft sometimes (we’ve all gone to the DMV). And it doesn’t mean that sometimes
people of color don’t catch a break, or know someone, or find some program that
helps them navigate things. But for the most part, in the aggregate, daily life
is much more tiring and demoralizing for people of color than for white people.

(And this is why it is not ok to be “colorblind.” Not ok to
say “I don’t see color–I just see people.” Because a) you’re lying–you do
notice what color people are. We all do. How could you not? And b) when you say
you don’t see color you’re saying that the experience that a person of color
has that isn’t your experience isn’t valid. You’re erasing their experience. Their
color isn’t the only thing about them, but it is A thing about them that
affects them. So by ignoring that, you’re asking them to pretend they aren’t
having the experiences they have. The fact that there’s no impact on your life
of being “colorblind” is another example of privilege.)

That’s a hurtful realization (at least to me). But don’t
look for a way out. Don’t look for an excuse, or a denial, or a justification,
Just sit there and let it hurt for a little bit.

It’s not your fault that you’re the color you are, no matter
what color you are. We’re all just dealt a hand by fate. But, if you’re white,
you have to accept that even though you didn’t choose it, you have an advantage
over people of color in the system. That’s just the way it is. Now: What are
you going to do about it?

What I choose to do is call it out. By naming it and
exposing it for what it is, I steal a little power from it. And I teach my kids
to notice and call it out. I can’t change the legal justice system in this
country, but I can talk to my kids about the Zimmerman verdict and all the
forces that set this tragedy up and that created a system that made Zimmerman
think he could kill a kid because he was Black, and then the police system that
didn’t arrest Zimmerman, and then the laws that disadvantage people of color,
and then the legal system that privileges white people. There’s both
institutional and personal racism in the Zimmerman story.

Once your kids see it, they know. And once they know, they
start pulling it apart by exposing it. Which lessens its power over them. (It’s
as simple to start as exploring with your 5-year old why everyone in a certain place
looks alike. You can guess, and speculate about reasons, and then tease out
what’s behind it all. Start there, and keep talking about it, and your
conversations will scale up as your child understands more.)

Now, up above I said that white people have to stop racism.
I know someone out there is thinking “but all the races have to work together
to stop racism.” Well, no. Remember that racism is prejudice PLUS POWER. People
of color don’t have the power in our system. People of color eat a shit
sandwich every day, even if it’s just little things (and sometimes it’s
enormous things). I mean, I’m exhausted just hearing the stuff that happens to
my friends–think of the energy it’s sucking from them just trying to live a
normal life when everywhere they turn the system is telling them they’re Not
Normal. So, really, it’s white people that need to start exposing and
dismantling this system, because we have access to the power structure.

Why should we expose the system to dismantle it? Well, three
reasons come to mind right now (there are tons more, but this is just what I
have room for here):

1. It’s the right thing to do. If you are a person of good
will who is trying to act in good faith, you will attempt to fix things that
are unjust and unfair once you know about them. (If you’re not a person trying
to act in good faith then you probably stalled out shortly after my PE story
and just skipped straight to the comments to tell me what a racist I am.

2. Don’t you want your kids to actually be the best? We’re
all constantly on the lookout for overpraising our kids so they think they’re
amazing when really they’re not. But if we allow white kids to grow up in a
system that specifically and deliberately excludes certain other groups of kids,
then we’re basically blowing smoke up our white kids’ asses by telling them
they’re the best, when in reality they aren’t actually competing against
everyone. I want to go hard. I want to compete against the best because it
makes me stronger and because then when I win I know I really won. And I want
to collaborate with the best, so that I know I’m really doing my best work. I
want the same for my kids. If we’re not actively working to create an inclusive
system, we’re putting an asterisk next to everything our own kids do. And that’s
not fair to anyone.

3. How would you feel if you constantly had to justify your
own existence, your own intelligence, your own right to speak and be listened
to? And you knew your kids would have to do that every day, too? I’ll just leave
that right there.

Take a breath. It’s shitty. Really shitty.

Next post about this: Practical tips for digging in and
getting real. It’s not a one-time event, this understand privilege stuff. And
we can make mistakes. We have time. Give yourself a hug and give your kids one,




50 thoughts on “What I’ve been thinking about since the verdict”

  1. Those that point to the fact that Zimmerman’s identification as a Latino has negates racist allegations are ignorant of two major factors: the tense historic relationship between blacks and Latinos and the fact that his father is a very powerful white man who has shown very clear racist tendencies. Those two factors greatly influenced his behavior, and by talking about it from only one of those directions negates the other.

  2. I love this. Well, not THIS, obviously, but your thoughts on it. I was way, way too old before I realized that I had a different, more privileged life than others because I am white. And even now, as an adult, even though I know it, it still takes me by surprise sometimes, to remember that the world is not fair, and systems are not fair, and that it is so crappy for so many people just because they are not Like Me.Sometimes it feels like it’s not OK to call it out, but that’s part of the racism, too, isn’t it?

  3. Being black does not mean you are under privileged. And being white does not mean you are privileged. There are folks of all races out there trying to scrape together enough to survive. People just have to keep bringing up race. I guess it is easier to polarize folks and get attention that way.

  4. Nice job.I had a weird (but maybe not incredibly unusual) experience growing up out West. I was an outcast white kid, so I hung with the only kids who were genuine, welcoming, and real. That’d be the Chicano kids, and the Utes, and the Shawnee. We were all outcasts together, and I have no idea if I was their token white kid, but I didn’t ever get that sense. I was just another kid outside the system, one of the ones without power, who didn’t get invited to dances (except as a joke), who didn’t hang with the geeks because I was not just a geek but a dork, who didn’t hang with the popular kids because I didn’t go to their church and my sister was an out lesbian and I didn’t mind.
    I grew up watching the white kids, from the perspective of my friends. Even though I’m pretty white. We also watched the ONE black kid in the school, who was the son of a professor at the university, and who had moved here from somewhere East. And who was The Cool Kid, but he was cool *because* he was the only black kid. He was special, because the white kids could hang out with him and look brave and cool and better than everyone else because they were with him. Like the black would rub off, and they would be something other than whiter than white. We watched, and I wondered if he noticed how brittle he seemed, how much he pushed the cool factor, how hard he played his skin color for status.
    And then we moved East, when I was in high school, and my first boyfriend was black. Not because I thought I was colorblind, but because kids on the fringes of power were my natural peers. But I didn’t know what to do with it, because the power structure was really different. Chicanos were barely visible, there wasn’t a Ute anywhere, and black kids seemed to have their own separate hierarchy from the white kids, so they each had their cool kids, and I couldn’t figure out how that worked.
    So I dated the dorky but nice black kid with the car, as my first dates. I didn’t tell my mom his race not because I was color blind and it didn’t matter, but because I thought it *might* matter and I didn’t want to give up my authority to make my own choices.
    We moved again (still East), and I ended up dating another black guy, eventually. By then I knew it was Not Okay in the local rules. I was completely not equipped to navigate that, and the only advice I got was to not touch him in public because I could get myself (or him) killed. Which wasn’t entirely true in our town, but it certainly didn’t do much for my social power or hierarchy. But then, I was in Drama at that point, and we had our own outcast cool factor. I’d learned to make friends with whomever, so I had some brains, some jocks, some geeks, some voice, and even some of the druggies in my circuit. But most of them were white.
    I didn’t lose the ability to watch from the outcast power margin and recognize a lot of places where the privilege was granted, but there were huge blind spots for me, stuff like my automatic intentional smile at any black person I passed, the ‘I am not one of THOSE white people’ smile, the one that tries to convince that I am not part of the problem, then doesn’t hold eye contact.
    I spent plenty more time talking race with my African American undergrad and grad peers, and later, my coworkers. We talked about a lot, but privilege still never quite came into it. Not for a long time.
    But it is in the discussion now. My church has same-race discussions on race, which are intense and pretty raw for the whites (the only ones I’ve attended, obviously). We’re talking to each other because why should it be someone else’s job to educate us? Again. There’s a ton of information out there. We can read it. There’s a ton of resources, we can find them. And it needs to be our job to unpack our own issues, not someone else’s job to do it for us. It’s hard to face the gaps, recognize the pain we cause because we just don’t have to wake up knowing we’re not white every day, don’t *have* to have conversations about race with our kids frequently just to keep them safe, don’t *have* to think about how to act at work to not raise hackles or get us treated as less than, don’t *have* to translate our body language, tone, accent, culture, just to be thought of as competent, on top of doing our jobs well.
    There’s a lot to go. Not talking about it is not an option. Not talking about it with the kids is shown in research to make kids racist, not make them not racist. If race is so different and so scary that parents can’t talk about it EVER with their kids, or only rarely, then it must be a really big deal. Talking about it often, regularly, as part of life is essential. We still don’t do it enough, and that’s privilege – we don’t have to, nobody will be immediately harmed if my kids are not urgently and constantly aware of their place in the social order just based on their skin color. So instead, we must make it intentional, so we can open it up, unpack it, make it obvious to them, so they can maybe be in a position to help.

  5. Unfortunately, you, other posts like yours, and the other ignorant people of the world are part of the problem surrounding this case. You are all ignoring the important part about this case, which ISN’T racism. Race has nothing to do with this case. It’s a case of a man trying to protect his neighborhood from people attacking it (which some had been doing and stealing things lately). A young man he didn’t know was walking through the neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Zimmerman called 911 and followed him in his car. He told the 911 operator that he was going to follow him on foot. The 911 operator said he didn’t HAVE TO do that, there was never an order not to follow. Barring that, a 911 operator is not a law enforcement officer, you are not legally bound to obey any orders given by such a person. From there is where it gets kinda sketchy and no one knows exactly what happened. Did Zimmerman pull the gun on him? Did Zimmerman grab his arm roughly? Did Trayvon cop an attitude with him? We will never know. The only thing we know for sure is that Trayvon ended up on top of Zimmerman beating his head into the concrete sidewalk. I don’t care who you are, if you are in that situation and you have a gun on you (legally btw, Zimmerman has a license), you are going to shoot your attacker, and you aren’t going to care where. It’s called survival. It’s an instinct.And just for the sake of asking, who’s to say Zimmerman even knew Trayvon was black? He had his hoodie up. And one last thing, Zimmerman is hispanic, another minority… not white.
    Stop being so ignorant.

  6. Thank you.I grew up biracial (black and white) in a white family, and was well into my teen years before I realized the difference that the color of my skin made, both with the outside world and to a certain extent within my family. And I felt guilty for years for acknowledging that difference, given that my family had insisted for my entire life that they “didn’t see [my] race.”
    And it’s not as though being of color is the only challenge people face. Poverty is another one, and there are more white people (numerically, not so much proportionately) who are impoverished. Gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion…. all of those things are axes on which power and privilege also work.

  7. I’d be very very surprised if I discovered that anyone who says “race wasn’t a factor in this case” is anything but white.

  8. So I grew up a white child with a black father (my step-father, but he’s the father who raised me); race was always apparent to me. Even so, I realized about a year ago that I was much more comfortable talking to my young daughter about gender than about race. I didn’t even like talking about the color of people’s skin in her books. She’s almost four now; still young for discussions of the kind you mention above; but I’d love to see some ‘conversations’ here about talking to even young children about race. Thanks Moxie, as ever.

  9. Very nice post, Moxie. It’s a good way to also open discussion about oppression in all forms (gender, sexual orientation, economic status, disabilities, etc). There are a lot of differences also that are not visible to the eye as well, but we shouldn’t dismiss those.Dialogue is essential to progress, and we should all have a role. Change is not a spectator sport, and I am glad to see that there are so many readers who want to take charge as well. My husband and I recently just bought our first home, and it’s quite awesome being in a pretty diverse neighborhood (economically and racially). I am extremely thankful that my neighbors are a good bunch, and I look forward to getting to know many more of them. I’m also excited about starting my PhD program this autumn; apparently the university I’ll be attending is one where discussions about race (and other demographics) are highly encouraged.
    Here’s to making new friends from all walks of life.

  10. I’m a weird one. I have been the white privileged person and also the hated minority. My early childhood was in white neighborhoods and I think there was one black child in my elementary school. Then my family moved to Hawaii for 5 years and I became the hated minority. Only white kid in my class, called names daily, hit, mugged, lunch money stolen daily. Having to run on the last day of school to keep from being beaten up by the locals. And this was a common experience for all white kids (there weren’t many of us, I was usually the only white kid in my classes). Finally by 8th grade I had some drama class friends and we were a rainbow assortment. But the danger was still there every day.Then we moved back to the mainland and suddenly I became a child of privilege again. It was weird. Also, for the first time I had black kids in my classes. That was different and I didn’t understand the way they spoke and they seemed from a different world. By then I had gone so internal from 5 years of keeping my mouth shut and my eyes down to avoid beatings that there was no way I could have become friends with any of them. I was too scared of everything.
    Then I grew up and became the still privileged college-educated white woman. And I have gotten jobs because I was white and have gotten all kinds of perks from being white. I know I have, I’ve seen it and found out about it after the fact.
    So I’ve lived both sides of this and I can say that in a society that is racist like ours, you don’t even begin to know what you’ve gotten because you are white. People don’t generally tell you, “By the way, that boss hired you because you have blue eyes and white skin. He doesn’t think black people are smart and he thinks Hispanics are lazy. So that’s why he picked you, he’s comfortable with you because you are white.” No one will ever say that to you. You will just get the job, or the apartment, or the award. Not to say you don’t work hard or are deserving, but sometimes you are getting more than someone else who might be more qualified. And I do believe that if you don’t acknowledge that fact, you are part of the problem.
    I am in total agreement with everything Moxie has said. I just hope I can pass on to my kids a better understanding of how to behave and how to treat people than what is currently going on.

  11. And about this verdict: Right. We all go around following people we think don’t belong in our neighborhood with guns. No. We call 911 and let the cops handle it. Zimmerman decided to go stalking him with a gun. And either because he saw that the boy was black, or because he was wearing a hoodie and he ASSUMED he was black. There is no way this is not a racial incident. If Trayvon had been a white boy, Zimmerman would not have batted an eye to see him walking around.

  12. I wonder why the Supreme Court (okay- 5 of them) felt that racism was dead.We all have preconceived notions of what people are like. We all say “first impressions” and then try not to allow the negative experiences in our lives affect them. But this was clearly a case of a man following a kid that didn’t look like he belonged.
    I wish I understood the Flordia SYG law better. I suspect that the jury was instructed to view the SYG law in terms of the actual interaction instead of the entire situation. That’s the only thing that makes sense in my mind.
    Dialogue is good. Straight insults is bad.

  13. “I’d be very very surprised if I discovered that anyone who says “race wasn’t a factor in this case” is anything but white.”Either white or Clarence Thomas.

  14. What I don’t understand is how you ignore the evidence presented, the multiple investigations, and the law. You’re an educated person, so how do you do that? Does that approach work in business school? How do you blame white privilege for a Hispanic man shooting a black teenager who engaged with him in a physical altercation? How do you ignore sworn testimony that Martin was on top of Zimmerman hitting Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk when the shot was fired? How do you ignore that the cops investigated and found that they couldn’t charge Zimmerman, the feds investigated and found that Zimmerman did not act out of racial animus? Then, the media and people who benefit financially from charges of racism (e.g., Al Sharpton) get involved and then the President too? Our Department of Justice supports the protests in Florida? The special prosecutor deliberately avoids using a grand jury because she knows they will likely reject the charges like every other neutral observer has done. They bring charges, and the state DOES NOT PROVE ITS CASE. And it isn’t a bench trial, it’s a jury trial. Are you saying that all of the above is because of white privilege? Seriously?The Martins have suffered what I wouldn’t wish on anyone — the loss of their son. And I don’t doubt that George Zimmerman wishes that things could be different too.
    But you know what I am going to tell my son, Moxie? That facts matter. The law matters. That he afford everyone the respect that human beings deserve. But that if someone of any race attacks him, breaking his nose, and then jumps on top of him, slamming his head against the sidewalk for 40 seconds while he screams for help, then he better wake up and defend himself. And if he does that and tells the truth, that he was in fear for his life, that his attacker said that he was going to kill him and he believed it, then he deserves to expect that his government won’t incite racial hatred against him, won’t pay taxpayer money to organize protests against him, and otherwise bring the power of the state against him.
    That’s what I’ll tell my son, Moxie, and if you want to tell your sons to lie there and wait for the cops to show up, that’s your prerogative.

  15. Thank you for this opportunity to expand my consciousness! I have grown up with definite white privilege and felt guilt for not understanding racism and prejudice better. More importantly, I knew there was something I could be doing or thinking differently, but had no clue what it was. I tried to explore these ideas during grad school, but was stuck on the idea of colorblindness and therefore made no progress.Now that I am raising two (white) boys, I really feel a responsibility to know better, so I can raise them with a better understanding or ability to understand what is really going on around them as well. Looking forward to your next posts.

  16. Also, just FYI, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law doesn’t come into play here. Stand Your Ground would be involved if Zimmerman had an option to retreat and get away from the situation — he could not retreat because he was on the ground under Martin (based on Zimmerman’s police interview and the neighbor’s sworn trial testimony).Facts and law matter.

  17. AN,I don’t know Florida law, but having someone trail you because you don’t look like the right kind of person is a serious issue. I’m going to assume you don’t tell your son how yo walk and act in a white nieghborhood. Black parents to tell their sons because race still matters….
    I am wondering where your anger is coming from?

  18. IMG Zimmerman is as “Hispanic” as a blond white chick that ate Taco Bell last night… Freaking racist, I-want-my-gun-rights Republicans using the fact that someone who shouldn’t have killed someone else as a defense!

  19. Economic privilege does not negate racial politics. My one long term SO is a black man from an economically successful family. He had the educational and social advantages to be successful in his field. But he still never touched me if we were at a sporting event at the Vet in Philadelphia. And he still stepped away from me when he heard a car coming in a neighborhood he thought might be less accepting of a black man and white woman together. And I still was shunned by my mother for 14 years for embarrassing her by being with a brilliant, funny, successful, man of character who happened to be black and whom she and no member of my family ever met. Sorry. Race is still a meaningful, powerful, divisive, and difficult subject on its own merits. There’s no need for shit stirring. If you think race doesn’t matter in America, you’re white, and not colorblind, but simply and deliberately fully blind.

  20. @AN, I think I’ll teach my kids not to assume that a black kid in their neighborhood is up to no good. That assumption that Zimmerman made is what made this a racial issue, and it was that assumption that set the entire terrible chain of events in motion.If you are open to trying to understand what those of us who are upset by the verdict are thinking, you might find this post about a hypothetical situation in which the races in the case are reversed instructive: http://thepoliticalfreakshow.us/post/54972680080/race-reversal-a-hypothetical-scenario-of-what
    Or just really think about what would have happened if it was a white kid who was followed and ultimately killed by a black man that night, and ask yourself why the scenario is so different if the races are reversed. THAT is what we need to change before we can ever try to call ourselves “post-racial.”

  21. Anyone who thinks Zimmerman should have gone to jail for 30+ years when a jury decided that there was not enough evidence to convict him of either murder or manslaughter, is themselves a racist.In America (and I’m not American), people are innocent until proven guilty, and he was not proven guilty. If you want to start jailing folks because the victim was black and the accused is non-black, that’s racist. It’s mind-boggling how so many people rationalize that the opposite is true.

  22. From the reading I’ve done about this case, I see it like this: Two mixed-race guys got into an idiotic testosterone-inspired fight over respect, as some males are inclined to do. One of them was likely to die, and one did.That may be a more useful spin to put on it for your sons, to keep them and the boys they may choose to rumble with more safe. This is way more about males using stupid violence instead of words, as it is about race.

  23. There is a long history of racism in Central Florida. (Google Ocoee Massacre, for starters.)I think that the history of racism here (I live in Orlando)is an important part of the context of this case, regardless of your views on it. Even if (and I don’t believe this) race was not a factor in Zimmerman’s decision to react to Martin’s presence in his neighborhood, the fact is that people who know and care about the area’s history of racism will wonder about the handling of the case.
    Maybe that’s not fair, but I think it’s an inevitable outcome given our (largely known about locally but still unacknowledged in public) past.
    Legally, I think the jury could have been right. We don’t have access to all of their information, and hopefully they were as unbiased as possible in terms of making a decision.
    But in terms of the larger moral issue, I don’t believe justice was done. Even if Zimmerman was acting in self defense at the exact moment of the shooting, I feel that he was clearly wrong, even idiotic, in his initial decision to arm himself and patrol the neighborhood. I don’t understand why so many people are defending his initial choice to go after Martin.
    And I really don’t understand why (and someone please point me to a reputable link if I’m wrong about this), it seems like Zimmerman has no remorse about having taken a life and sees nothing wrong with the outcome of events. That just…I don’t have words for it.
    My son is 13 and I can’t imagine him being dead four years from now.
    Full disclosure: I’m a white, 41yo mom of two who has always lived in this area.

  24. Anonymous above, I agree with you 100%. Even if you (general “you”) don’t feel that Zimmerman actively and intentionally set out to murder Trayvon Martin, why do so many people feel compelled to defend his idiotic Dirty Harry project? You can strip out every aspect of race and George Zimmerman still looks like a violent buffoon who ended a child’s life.So many things here are really bumming me out. I had a long response typed out, but then I realized that people who are coming here to say that actually you’re prejudiced against white people!!!! (…sigh) are not actually listening and trying to understand.
    Moxie, I appreciate you talking about this stuff. I feel really strongly that it’s my duty, as a white person raising a white child, to at least to raise someone who understands that this is happening and does not tell black people that their experiences are invalid or made up. I appreciate seeing others try to figure out specifics.

  25. I love this blog for a lot of reasons but I have to disagree with you on this. The verdict was not about race and it worries me that people are making it a race issue. And, no, I’m not white. I’m Asian and I moved to America with my family as a teenager. ( It’s so sad that I have to point that out to some previous commenters to “prove” my innocence of racism.) Yes, racism does exist, but not in this case. The jurors were presented with evidence and they didn’t have enough to prove second-degree murder nor manslaughter BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. My best friend who is black accepts this. The judicial system will fall apart if jurors followed their emotions rather than the evidence on hand. What happened is a tragedy but it’s not right for the jury to send a white man to jail if his guilt was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That would be racism too, just in a different way.

  26. @Aimee, you’re missing the point. It’s institutional racism that was a huge factor here. The fact that the law in Florida allows a man to be found not guilty of killing a black child after creating a confrontation while it will send a black woman to jail for 20 years for firing warning shots into the air to ward of her abusive husband who is not obeying a protective order. http://m.cbsnews.com/storysynopsis.rbml?pageType=national&url=http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57433184/fla-mom-gets-20-years-for-firing-warning-shots/&feed_id=1&videoid=37&catid=57433184@Agreed, I find it interesting that you point out that he “isn’t white” right under my comment that lists the issues with that argument. There are historically tense racial relations between the Latino and Black communities. He was raised by a Peruvian mother (who was said to be quite racially prejudiced against black people) and a powerful white father who had also made very racist claims. I think that both of those play a role, and you can’t pull either out of the equation.

  27. Good stuff here. I really like your thoughtfulness and honesty, Moxie, on privilege and racism. It’s made me think (again) about how to talk to my (white) daughters about it, and in fact I had a short conversation with my 11-yr-old in the car this morning when the radio news covered the verdict. I used some of the language you used here, commenting that people’s experiences were different, often because of their race and how other people treat them.I look forward to your next installment, because I grew up in a racially homogeneous rural town, where you could count the number of black families on one hand, and pretty much everyone else was white (which doesn’t mean that I ever felt I “fit in”, but that’s a whole nother issue about socioeconomic/educational status).
    So I don’t feel like I have the tools to talk confidently about race to my kids, other than platitudes (everyone is equal, all are children of God, our country has a terrible history of slavery/racism, whose effects still linger to this day, etc.). I’d like to have conversations with a bit more substance than that, especially as they get older. Their elementary school is 80% white, which is less diverse than I’d like, but more diverse than anything I had growing up. (The nice thing about the area we live in is that there are a lot of immigrants from all over the world, so my kids will come into contact with not just white and black American-born students, but also American-born plus first- and second-generation Hispanic kids from different countries, Middle Eastern kids from a variety of countries and religions, Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants, African immigrants from a number of countries, etc.). As they get into middle and high school, they will have more racial diversity, which is a Good Thing.
    But here’s the thing about the Zimmerman case and the circus surrounding it: it has been sensationalized to a ridiculous extent, by the media and by groups (on both “sides”) who see the chance for some grand-standing and money-raising.
    I think jury probably made the right decision, *given what they had to work with*. I also think you can have the correct verdict according to our laws and still not have justice in the moral sense. I tend to think Zimmerman *at the end* did what he did in self-defense. But it also sounds like he started the whole sad chain of events through his own paranoia and probable prejudice (isn’t he Hispanic, not white?, so by Moxie’s definition, not racist, but prejudiced? Or is he mixed-race? I wasn’t clear on that.). Maybe if the prosecutor had charged Zimmerman with manslaughter or some other lesser charge at the beginning, it would have been easier to prove.
    The evidence itself just all seems much less clear-cut than the media want to discuss–and our system of “justice” is supposed to assume innocence until proven guilty. One can be guilty and get off because there is not enough evidence–that is built into our system. You could argue that the assumption of innocence breaks down far too often when the accused is a person of color, and I’d agree with you. But this case might actually be the system working the way it’s supposed to work–if there straight up wasn’t enough evidence to convict on the particular charges that the prosecution decided to bring against Zimmerman. Again, that does not mean that “justice was done.”
    I kinda feel bad for the jury, who will surely be accused of racism, when I suspect a good bit of their decision was because the prosecution screwed up. But most of all I feel bad for the Martin family. No one deserves what they’re going through.

  28. The first thing I did after hearing the verdict was to go back to your post & discussion about the race chapter in NurtureShock. That discussion helped me quite a bit in thinking about how to talk about race with my son, and it was helpful to review it again.Me: 40yo, white, mother of a 3yo, living in the urban mid-South, grew up in the rural Midwest. It’s been a long journey from growing up with almost no exposure to other races/cultures to being someone who struggles to this day about how to handle some of those outdated concepts of race that I was raised with. I didn’t really understand how segregated our society still is to this day, until I moved to an area with a much different racial/ethnic composition than where I grew up. I want better for my son, I want him to truly be a citizen of the world that we all live in, whether we realize it or not. And the first lesson is that the only people who can really ignore the concept of privilege are people who have privilege.
    Without knowing what went on the jury’s deliberations (and no one will every truly know), it’s impossible to say whether race directly played a role in their deliberations. Regardless of that, that anyone says that race was not involved in any way in how this story unfolded is truly shocking to me. Would Zimmerman even have been following Trayvon Martin if he weren’t black? Would he have gotten out of his car and challenged a teenager, if this had just been some white kid wearing a hoodie, walking down the street? Would the police (and particularly the police chief at the time) have responded the same way if it were a white teen versus a black teen down on the ground, dead? Would the public have reacted the same way? Would the prosecutors have made the same case, devoted the same level of resources? Would the defense lawyer been able to use the same race-baiting arguments in his defense? Would the verdict have been the same? The only answer I can come up with to those questions is: things would have been very different. We are not living in a “post racial” society, however much we’d like to bury our heads in the sand and pretend it is so.
    An unarmed teenager was shot and killed. It’s an unspeakable tragedy for his family and friends. Living in a society where people argue that was an okay thing to happen and where the person who shot him seems to feel no remorse and will bear no legal consequences is incredibly upsetting.

  29. “The verdict was not about race and it worries me that people are making it a race issue.” But you can’t separate the verdict itself from the larger issues of institutional racism that made Trayvon Martin a target simply because he was a black teenager in a white neighborhood. If he’d been a white teenager who went to the store for a soda and some candy and was walking back through that same neighborhood, would George Zimmerman have been on alert? Would he have called 911, followed him in his car, gotten out of the car against dispatcher advice? We can’t know for sure, of course, but I’d venture to guess that no, he would not have been as suspicious and felt as threatened by a white kid. That’s the institutional racism and racist culture of this country and that area of the country that set up this tragedy.

  30. I’m a long-time lurker finally compelled to comment. Just want to say – Yes. And, Thank you, Moxie.I was raised by wonderful liberal parents, Civil Rights movement activists, in the ACLU of Mississippi, but reading McIntosh’s essay in college was my “aha” moment of linking racism to privilege. I’ve used it with adults and with my middle school students, and it’s always an effective tool. I’ll use your essay as well, for its great breakdown of the difference between racism and prejudice, and the difference between personal and institutional racism.
    I also want to echo what an anonymous commenter above said: the jury may have made the best decision it could, given the legal constraints on them, but justice was not served. Moxie, I look forward to your follow-up post about what we can do to challenge the rampant institutional racism in the United States.

  31. @Anon- “The fact that the law in Florida allows a man to be found not guilty of killing a black child after creating a confrontation….” See, right there, “BLACK child”. My point is, this wasn’t about race. You and the media and some politicians have turned this into a race issue when what it comes down to is that two people got into a fight and one, unfortunately, ended up dead. Can anyone prove that there was profiling involved? NO. Can you honestly say that Zimmerman wouldn’t have shot Martin if he were white? You can’t randomly contrast this incident to another one where a black person was found guilty just to prove racism of any kind.

  32. As someone raising a multi-racial teenage boy, who went through a skulky, hooded-sweatshirt phase, I’ve been following this case. That, and it’s local news.What I told him was, no matter how the verdict turned out, there are no “winners” in the case. Either way Martin is still gone and Zimmerman’s end of it is no picnic either.
    Good essay on race and privilige. I liked how you pulled the pieces apart and described them. good food for thought. Very interested to see the follow-on. Thanks.

  33. You said that “personal racism” is being nasty to someone because of the color they are.But please explain the statement that people of color cannot be racist because they have no power, in the context of the following example.
    I have a friend who I shall call M. M is not liked, and is regularly treated like crap, by her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law has made it known that she Does Not Like the fact that her son married a white woman.
    Without going into detail about her behavior, M’s mother-in-law has not accepted M into the family in the same way as she has accepted her daughter-in-law who is not white. Anyone who is married knows that in-laws, especially mothers-in-law, often have great power over people and families.
    So: being nasty to someone for their color + power = racism, right? Except according to you, only white people can be racist, so in that case, what do you call this?

  34. I agree with your comments about race. We are no where near accepting each other as human beings. Unfortunately, people are making the Zimmerman issue a racist issue. Zimmerman is Hispanic and his Black neighbors said he always was kind and thoughtful to them. I don’t believe he was being racist. I think he made a tragic decision as did Treyvon Martin in fighting rather than going. The verdict was not guilty because they did not see him planning to murder and that he acted in self defense. Whether we agree or not, they were there for the entire trial. We were not. The more people make this about race, the uglier it gets, and emotions run high.That’s the trouble with emotions. They take over our logical minds. Which is what happened here too I think.

  35. KMH, the situation as you describe it is still prejudice, not racism. Uncomfortable for your friend, and no doubt difficult to navigate, but it’s not an example of systemic power that enables one group of people to benefit while others do not. Not that prejudice is pretty, or always justified — it can be just as ugly — but the question I’d have is why this woman is so strongly opposed to her son marrying a white woman, and what happened in her family or her experience to root that prejudice so deeply. That sort of prejudice is another example of how institutionalized racism hurts both the victims of it and those who nominally profit by it.

  36. More upsetting, more surprising to me than the verdict is the nauseating level of blind justification I see all over the Internet, and now here in this comment thread. I like the analogy I read elsewhere to the effect of saying there’s no problem here because the law says there isn’t is like saying slavery only became morally wrong when it became illegal. We have to do better than this.As for the notion that there’s no racial aspect to this case, I recommend two things: one, look at the analysis of exonerations via SYG and similar laws over on the sociological images blog. Leaving this case to the side, these laws overwhelmingly favor white defendants in white-on-black crime. (And don’t tell me this wasn’t an SYG case — that was the basis of the defense, whether the words are uttered or not.).
    Two, work hard to LISTEN to what members of marginalized groups say about their own experiences. I am a white lady in America. I do not know what it is like to be black here, though I can try to imagine. But far, far better than my imagination is the actual testimony of people who are living that life. And when the overwhelming majority of that group (no, I don’t really care about the anecdotal opinion of your black friend) say there is a problem, there is a problem. There are a million places to go learn more about this — I recommend recent posts and links at racialicious and shakesville in particular.

  37. In every Catholic church in America yesterday, the gospel reading was the story of the Good Samaritan. A traditional interpretation of that parable reads that you need to help people stranded on the freeway, but a more nuanced interpretation reads that it was a person outside of the group who aided the vulnerable person.The readings in Catholic churches are on a set cycle and it was pure coincidence that the GS came up yesterday. But it spoke volumes to me about the institutions in our country, how we think of those who are on the wrong end of the power structure, etc.
    Great post.

  38. @Aimee, I was bringing his race into the equation to compare it with the woman that fired the warning shots at her husband because he abusive and defying a protective order. I was saying that this woman fired warning shots in self defense, did not actually wound him, and got 20 years, while George Zimmerman shot and killed this child and was found not guilty. I was pointing out the fact that people of a certain race are seen as guilty of something because of the color of their skin. Look at the stats on wrongful convictions, you’ll find that they skew overwhelmingly toward certain populations.

  39. And for the record, I would be just as angry if it was a white kid, or an Asian kid, or a purple kid. My “white” brother, who hung out with primarily black and Latino kids was once stopped by the police while waiting with a friend for a ride. The officer asked what they were doing, they told him, and the officer said that they should stand in a more well lit area. My brother moved to the spot, friend left, and a few minutes later the cop yells, “Hey, you left your bag.” My brother responded that he didn’t have a bag, but the officer said that he should come back and get it. My brother said that it wasn’t his bag, so he didn’t need it. The officer proceeded to bring him over to the spot that had a cheap duffle bag, that my designer bro wouldn’t shave been caught dead carrying, containing a 12 pack of Milwaukee’s Best. So, he was charged with possession of alcohol. Just because he was walking and waiting in his neighborhood. My brother had gelled hair and baggy pants and was waiting with a person of color, somehow I doubt that they would have done this if he’d been wearing a polo and khakis. Profiling exists and to deny that is hiding from the truth.

  40. My take-away on the Zimmerman case is that because he had effective legal representation, he was able to create the uncertainly required for “reasonable doubt”. And that was because of privilege. His lawyer took the case pro bono at first, perhaps because he was offended by the perception that Zimmerman was indicted only to appease the public. There seem to be very few cases of accused blacks who are getting free counsel. And the government is reducing the money for public defenders. Who will be affected by this? Blacks and lower income people. Until we as a country are willing to commit the resources necessary to make the justice system fair and equal we will continue to see these lopsided decisions.It’s like hockey – the people with the money can create an advantageous outcome, and those who don’t are at the mercy of mandatory sentencing and inexperienced counsel.

  41. I was surprised that Zimmerman wasn’t at least convicted of manslaughter, but i wasn’t completely shocked, because there was a lot of doubt around the particulars of what happened in the last moments, and reasonable doubt is all a defense lawyer needs. But what has really shocked me is seeing so many comments (including here) absolutely certain Zimmerman acted in the right, and vehemently denying that racism played any part. Usually at the same time. I am white and 37 and don’t have to be a genius to see that I get a LOT of breaks for being white: not because white = good, but because white = majority, the norm, not “other”. All I can say looking at the frothing here, and elsewhere, is that some people will do a LOT to avoid being uncomfortable.I guess I have two nitpicks with your post: “And white people have to be the ones to stop it.” I think that’s privilege talking, actually. White people have to help stop it, but to give us all the power to do so is disempowering to blacks and every other race. White people have to acknowledge their role. White people can’t keep their heads in the sand. We need to accept that we’re the recipients of some justified anger even if we personally are good people. We need to work hard to stop institutional and personal racism because the system empowers us to do so most easily. But we are not the end-all and the be-all.
    Second: I think some people hear “institutional racism” and think you’re saying there’s some group of Dick Cheneys sitting in a smoky room, lighting cigars with $100 bills and plotting ways to keep down black folks. I believe racism is insidious precisely because it’s often not intentional or explicit; it creeps in because of denial, or us wanting to say we’re “color blind”; because people don’t tackle these questions head-on. Just like personal racism may really sound like those people defending Zimmerman to the bitter end and less often like someone throwing the n-word.
    Perhaps there’s a place here for Jay Smooth’s “that’s racist” technique; i.e. we can talk more productively about racist behavior, conversation, laws, etc. rather than *who’s* racist.
    And, also, I think discussion of racism is hampered by our just as extreme denial about class in America and the prejudice we have against poor and low-class citizens of all shades; this overlaps with race issues and can again cause derailment.
    (Sorry, I’d edit this down but my browser is being a jerk.)

  42. "A program note: Racism is combination of prejudice against someone because of their color, and power. If there’s no power, it’s not racism, it’s just prejudice."

    People have been continually rejecting this statement since it was first included in the White Awareness Handbook. Why? It’s not true. Racism is a European word "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races". When you point this out CRT theorists say "ah but language changes". However, while it is possible for words to evolve different meaning … gay used to mean happy, now it means homosexual or sometimes even square … these are not actually contradictory meanings – you can be a happy, homsexual square. The two contrasting definitions of racism : racial prejudice OR prejudice + power …cannot however both be true. Because they are not just different they are exclusively contraditory. Either CRT theorists or EVERYONE ELSE is talking bollocks. Personally I’m going with EVERYONE ELSE.
    Making Racism a function of Power is actually a statement that Power its self is racist.
    This is clearly daft to all but the most remedial intelligence.
    Not to mention hugely offensive… and not in a good way.
    But I guess that’s the point in the slogan.

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