Everyday people of color, especially young men of color are profiled. They are seen as criminal, unsafe, suspicious, etc. Unfortunately, this issue has to be brought to light to the eyes of many Americans through the story of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed for appearing “suspicious.” Trayvon was unarmed, wearing a hoodie, and about 100 lbs lighter than his killer, George Zimmerman, but for some reason Zimmerman felt threatened. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested under a self-defense claim. Normally, in cases of self-defense, the one claiming self-defense bears the burden of proving that is the case, but in this particular situation, the police have chosen to take Zimmerman’s word for truth. It took three weeks for this story to receive the attention it deserves, despite the recent emergence of a socially aware group both for and against Kony 2012.
The responses I’ve heard in person, seen online, and in the media fit into the frameworks and rhetorical styles discussed in the ‘Racism without Racists’ (Bonilla-Silva 2010) excerpts we read in class. Bonilla-Silva (2010) claims that White people use these frames in order to interpret information that could be seen as racism with other justifications. The frameworks and rhetorical styles Bonilla-Silva (2010) addresses are used to veil racism. The rhetorical styles refer more specifically to the way that people speak about racism. I will be using some of the responses I’ve seen/heard to illustrate Bonilla-Silva’s frames and rhetorical styles.
The four frames are abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism, and minimization. Cultural racism focuses on arguments that are based on cultural assumptions. A few comments on online forums have claimed that the shooter was justified in his concern about a Black man in a hoodie, because Black men dressed in that fashion have been responsible for most of the break ins around the area in which the crime occurred. This assumes that there is some cultural link between all Black men in hoodies and endangering the neighborhood. It also frees the commenter of being seen as racist, because they feel that they are just stating the facts. Minimization is a frame that suggests that race does not play a part in people of color’s lives. People have pushed for others to stop being so sensitive, because the Trayvon Martin case has nothing to do with race. They even have pointing out that Zimmerman is part Latino, in an effort to negate the claims that this situation has anything to do with race.
I have heard a few people on campus say that Trayvon’s situation just is not about race, which falls into the the rhetorical device of “anything but race.” Students in my classes have come up with every other excuse to justify this case, even if that means ignoring some of the key aspects of the case, like the fact that the Sanford Police are not following proper protocol.
One of the problems about the Trayvon Martin story that worries me the most is that Trayvon’s story is seen as something that is an isolated incident. People can detach it from their day to day lives as something separate. If they choose to view it as a incident of racism, they can do so without acknowledging that this kind of thing happens all the time. They can say that Zimmerman was a bad, blatantly racist guy. What will it take for people to realize that this is an everyday thing?
How do we respond to those who chose to ignore the racial aspect of the Trayvon Martin case? Can we convince them?