Once again we are confronted with America getting it wrong when it comes to race. The fear of black males which is inculcated in folks in America who are not black at an early age in myriad ways and on a daily basis is at fault for this dreadful murder. The history of the vilification of the black man can be traced back to 17th century America, when it became incumbent on white slave owners to justify their enslavement of black men. Pro-slavers wrote about how black men were bestial, sub-human, stupid and, to invoke the most fear and loathing, hyper sexual. This last category was used to justify any kind of brutality and enslavement. If they did not control and confine the black male he would be out raping everyone, including –gasp—white women! This view of the black male, so carefully, if falsely, crafted in slavery endures today. Fairly recently there was an uproar over the cover photo of Vogue with LaBron James doing a credible imitation of King Kong while grasping a blonde woman. To add more fuel to the fire, the woman is smiling. Whether the authors meant for it to or not the picture evoked historic stereotype of the dangerous, especially sexually dangerous black man. Its unspoken, but graphically illustrated, subtext was, “look out when they get some power and freedom, they are dangerous to our women!” It also portrayed James as an animal, snarling at the camera while he bounced a basketball ( we know they can all excel in athletics) in one hand and clasped the blonde in the other hand.
Black men and boys know what America thinks of them. It is reinforced each time they go out of their houses. They are targeted for anything from DWB ( Driving while Black) to drug possession. I have tried and tried to explain to white people that if the police only stop black males to search for drugs they are going to only find drugs on black males. If they primarily stop black men to search for drugs they are predominantly going to arrest black men. Most black men do not take drugs, but some do. If you target them you are going to find drugs on more black men. Let me see if I can illustrate this so that you can understand it. I am a police officer. My job is in drug enforcement. I choose to go to the black neighborhood, which I presume is rife with drug usage. While I am there I stop an average of 60 cars a day each with a black male driver. In 5 of those cars I find drugs and make arrests. I use this result as justification for targeting the black neighborhood. In the meantime the white drug sellers across time are having a field day, but the idea of drugs and white folks does not resonate with me. Their streets are cleaner, their people more well off, why would they take drugs? Although research has proven that whites use more drugs than blacks, it is still the black community, particularly black males that are targeted, arrested and jailed. The fact that so many are arrested is used as evidence that they are who should be targeted, circular logic at its best.
Years ago when I was in high school I worked in a grocery store where several of the cashiers had decided that our increasing loss of stock to shoplifting had to be due to the black kids from the local university. They had no proof , no arrests, no observations, nothing. It turned out our main thief was, as is usual even today, a middle-aged white woman. Again, if you only follow blacks in your store, the people who are going to get caught shoplifting, no matter how few are going to be black.
Part of white privilege is not having to explain to your sons that some people, law enforcement and others will consider him criminal and a problem before they ever do anything or open their mouths. You cannot imagine the joys of having to sit your pre-teen son down and explain how he should act if he is approached by a policeman for no apparent reason. Or having to remind him to be careful about what he says and does around females, especially white females. I taught a class yesterday of highly educated people, all adults, some middle aged, some young adults some 50+. We were discussing the Zimmerman/Martin case and I made the point that black males have been unfairly targeted, vilified and feared since the antebellum era. As an illustration I told the class that I had asked over 1,000 black men over a couple of years whether or not they had experience a white woman demonstrating some level of fear of him in what could not normally be considered a threatening situation, pulling her purse closer to her body , moving over in an elevator, crossing the street when she saw him coming, etc. Not one of the 1,000+ men could report that nothing like that had ever happened to him. It was not a scientific study, granted, I was asking men who in my classes or who were visiting campus for some reason. The respondents ranged from age 17 to 75, and were all body types and complexions. I explained the continuing view of black males as dangerous or potentially or even likely dangerous as the reason for this phenomenon. One of the older white women in my class raised her hand and told me that she was not sure race had anything to do with the white women’s actions. To support her assertion she told me ” I work at the hospital, we have prisoners come through for treatment. No matter what color they are I shy away from touching them.” She did not understand that she was comparing prisoners, who one might reasonably have some fear of, to every black man.
Zimmerman, if he made the comments attributed to him about race and class, was conditioned to believe two things; 1) No young black males should be walking around his neighborhood and 2) If they were there they were potentially up to no good. It would be easy to write him off as a nut, if something similar , usually less lethal, but no less soul destroying, was not happening to black men in America every day.