Trayvon Martin: ‘Racism without Racists’

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?

4 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin: ‘Racism without Racists’

  1. I think Nashalys’ use of Bonilla-Silva’s colorblind racism fit well with this case. You asked: “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?” I don’t know if I have an answer for that—as I’ve been struggling with the same issue. I think as Connie mentioned in class, this incident is also an example of White privilege and explains why Whites are so focused on maintaining the notion that it wasn’t racially motivated because in turn it means that they’ll have to come to terms with the ways that they experience privilege.
    When talking with my Dad this past weekend, my Mom and I experienced this same response. While he was willing to acknowledge that it was an unjust act and he thought Zimmerman was guilty, he was hesitant to acknowledge the crime had racial undertones. He kept falling back on the idea that under the law, there was little “proof” and wished there was a witness to collaborate Martin’s side. As my mom pointed out, people often overlook all the things that Zimmerman did do and the laws he broke; it outlined the privilege he had as a White male—not having to explain why he was afraid because everyone can recognize the persisting stereotype of the “criminal” Black well—accepting it without question—and minimize his own criminal record because those were all isolated incidents and irrelevant to his character. Because he’s White, he can be first assumed as the “protective” White man. It frustrates me to see this and I too don’t understand what we can do besides talking till we’re blue in the face.

  2. I think you’ve answered your own question. “This happens everyday” is a very difficult thing to just believe. Sometimes what it really takes is facts. If you give someone an exact representation of how many times this happens perhaps they will believe you.

    But, this may be rooted in a deeper need for a white person to be positively self affirmed. Perhaps explaining that this happens all the time makes a white person feel negatively about himself. Another solution may be to include some combatants to negative self affirmation in the explanation. Something like “I’m not saying all white people want to kill black people, but this is a pattern we have seen many times in the past,” could work better? Just some thoughts.

  3. I have encountered many of the same problems when discussing the Travyvon Martin case with my peers and members of my family as well. The more I attempt to justify my beliefs about this completely unjust case, I am met with more disagreement that is even stronger and more difficult to combat. This is where I start to become frustrated with other individual’s “colorblind” responses. Consequently, I become angry and even combative which only ends up making the situation worse. As much as I hate that it gets to this point, I also find it useless to continue on with the generic overtly kind mannerisms to explain my point because they seem to get me no where. When I do my best to keep from overwhelming the other individual I am having the discussion with by being extremely gentle with my words and almost dancing around the crux of the issue, I find that they seem to forget easily about our conversation. My point is that it doesn’t seem to hit home for them and they don’t feel the need to re-evaluate some of their own opinions or attitudes. How do I find a balance between getting combative or angry with the other person I am having a discussion with and not being overtly kind or sugar coating the issue at hand?

    • Much like we have seen with Katrina, Whites will see this as an individual incident propagated by an individual man, who may or may not have been racist because police wouldn’t let a truly guilty man roam free. I do not agree with that modality of thought but according to the Adams et al (2006) study along with the Unzeuta & Lowery (2008) study, sadly, that is indeed the “White” way of thinking when it comes to issues of race. I think that until we get the point across to Whites incidents of violent crimes against Blacks by Whites occur more often than the news cares to report and more than we care to hear the status quo will continue onward.
      I have had heard countless times from many Whites that as soon as they see Rev. Jackson and Al Sharpton on the television speaking out against an incident, they tend to “tune it out”. When I asked why I was told that “they always see everything as being racially charged” and my response was that if Rev. Jackson and Al Sharpton are involved it IS racially charged and needs to be paid attention to. My next question was never answered and that was, had Dr. King not been assassinated would they say the same thing or feel the same way if he were on television? This was usually met with blank stares. It’s almost as though they struggle with saying what they are thinking (which is “yes”) versus what is acceptable within society and specifically with regard to a man who is a highly regarded historical hero who was clearly murdered because of his race and his fight for equal rights.
      When it comes to family and even friends, nothing is ever easy let alone discussion about race when they, if White, will feel attacked. Attempting to navigate a highly charged conversation and remaining calm is tough however; sometimes getting combative will not send the right message because you end up being tuned out or being regarded as “irrational” and therefore any points made from there are discounted and ignored. For me, I tend to ask “why” questions a lot because I have found that when something is founded on irrational/inaccurate thought; it usually cannot be explained rationally without sounding crazy. Also, if you start posing questions that challenge the thought process you get further than you do if you yell or walk away or “play nicely”. Think about how we have been challenged to think in this class; most of our growth came from the questioning of our own biases THEN application of the terms and studies solidified things for us. Sometimes, questioning and even leaving the question hanging in the air creates a greater wave than becoming enraged and combative.

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