Though overt racism is no longer condoned in American society, it has been demonstrated that implicit or unconscious racism is still at work today. Whether known to the individual or not, racist beliefs and attitudes could greatly affect one’s behavior toward a member of another race. The case of Trayvon Martin screams explicit racism with a capital “E” letting me know that explicit/overt racism is alive and well in American society. A young black man is shot dead because he was in a hoodie and in a gated community. The shooter has yet to be brought to justice. The father of the shooter ( who is white), wrote a letter stating that his son George Zimmerman is not racist because he is Hispanic and grew up in a multicultural family. This leads me to the readings I have done on a different kind of racism, that kind of racism is horizontal racism. Horizontal racism is defined as the results of people of targeted racial groups (Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics, Asians, Native) believing, acting on or enforcing the dominant (White) system of racist discrimination and oppression. Horizontal racism can occur between members of the same racial group or between members of different, targeted racial groups. Why then can we suppose that the Florida authorities are not charging Mr. Zimmerman with murder? He clearly has an extensive history of targeting blacks. A news article stated “At the very least, a series of 46 emergency calls made by Zimmerman over the past six years document a man vigilant about keeping his neighborhood safe and orderly. The calls include complaints about unruly people at the pool, potholes, dumped trash, and kids playing in the street. In recent months, as the neighborhood saw an uptick in crime, including burglaries and a shooting, Zimmerman’s calls had focused on specific suspects, the majority of them young black men”
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.
In the film The Blind Side while the “white” women were eating “$18 salads” at a restaurant, Sandra Bullock’s character asks if any of the other ladies had ever been to the “other side” of town after some teasing remarks, the one woman stated; “I’m from there, but with a little hard work and now look at me”. For me this resonated with the frameworks we discussed in class on Wednesday and how if “they” just worked harder they too could live the “good life”. It also brought to mind Trayvon Martin and the way that people have stated that “if he had dressed differently” he would not have appeared to be “suspicious or threatening” again; change and conform to white society and everything will be just fine.
As I was reading the article by Kang and Banaji (2006) I began to really think about stereotype threat, stereotype lift and stereotype boost. I find it very interesting that many social categories perform according to the stereotype that has been placed upon them in many situations. If a woman takes a mathematics test in a group of people with men and women and she knows that her math intelligence is being tested, she will do worse on the test than if it were just for an exercise or something that didn’t quite matter. At the same time, if a black person takes a test in a room with white people and is aware that their intellect is being test, they will underperform. I find it interesting, then, that a white male would perform better when a certain stereotype about them is present as is the definition of stereotype lift.
In light of the delayed Trayvon Martin coverage this week, Fox News caster Geraldo Rivera excused the actions of Zimmerman because of the hoodie Martin was wearing. Not only was Rivera blaming the victim, but he used a cultural frame to dismiss this grave injustice. It wasn’t just Rivera that has expressed this sentiment; this week when I was expressing my frustration and anger about the case, a friend of mine said, “I understand that it is wrong, but I can understand why he looked suspicious.” I looked at her and explained that it was problematic to assume that a young boy, who was wearing a hoodie—which plenty of white boys wear—could be looked at as suspicious because he was standing, while being Black. I explained to her how the fact that we look at Black males and immediately think of violence is problematic in of itself.
More really interesting commentary on the book and movie, The Help. From the Association of Black Women Historians. Recommended readings are included: An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help.