We Should all Be Terrified

Today, do not speak to me of peace. Do not speak to me of reconciliation or “turn the other cheek.” Today we must confess. We must confess to what our nation was and is continuing to be. We must open our eyes to the way the cancer of race in America not only persists but has mutated, calibrated itself to the supposed inoculations of “multiculturalism” and “post-racialism.”

This morning we need to face a terrifying fact. George Zimmerman is a product of the “multicultural.” A mixed-race man, the son of a Latina mother and a white father, a man who identifies himself as Hispanic, killed a black boy who he identified as dangerous and followed as a suspect. The “not guilty” verdict in this case means quite simply that the [white] jury in this case deemed his actions “reasonable.” Race permeated this case, but in new ways that we cannot lose sight of.Image

To lose sight of Zimmerman’s racial self-identification is to lose sight of how race has worked in this country, how whiteness was never about biology. Whiteness has always been about a presumption of innocence, a power to judge, the freedom to exist and to be who you declare yourself to be.

Whiteness is a story, a current that generations of people have been excluded from and worked to have access to: Irish, Italians, Polish, Jewish. These were people who found themselves to be strangers on these shores, whose citizenship was in perpetual question. To varying degrees they were called criminals, lazy and seen as threats to “real” Americans. But through a mysterious process these peoples slowly became a part of the fabric of the American dream. How did this come to be? They became acceptable citizens by emphasizing their difference from the black bodies of America.

More recently we have seen waves of immigrants from China, Japan, Mexico, Korea. Their arrivals have been met with the same vehement refusal as the Irish and in so many ways they continue to struggle to be seen as citizens. But even recent immigrants are not immune from the pattern of differentiation that served earlier immigrants so well. But these various in-between bodies, even while they experience their own exclusions, are not immune from the legacy of American racial logic that deems white bodies safe and ideal while seeing black bodies as criminal and dangerous.

Zimmerman’s case reminds us that too often citizenship and freedom to name yourself, to protect yourself (your home, your job, your family) is built upon an old a tragic foundation, that “we” are not the dangerous ones, that “we” are not the lazy ones, that “we” are not “them.”

Who is the “them”? It is the dark body, brought here in shackles so long ago, whose bodies were measured by their capacity to work, to bear children. But these bodies were also feared. They were feared for their difference, they were feared for the strength, they were feared for their joy, they were feared for their faith, they were feared for their curves all of which seemed so foreign to the white bodies that were their masters.

Is the fear that fueled anti-miscegenation laws, and lynching, and Black Codes, and Jim Crow, the War on Drugs and “Stop and Frisk” policies, and racial profiling so different than the fear that drove Zimmerman to appoint himself a neighborhood watchman for his community and routinely report suspicious black men?

We cannot lose sight of the fact that Zimmerman, this mixed-race man, does not make this case less racial, but reveals how thoroughly the fear of black bodies is knit into American life. Zimmerman is not the exception; he is the image of how American whiteness continues to endure. It draws people (even non-whites) into a desire to determine their own lives, to believe in their inherent right to protect what is theirs, in their own capacity to determine what the “good life” looks like.

Today we cannot speak of peace or reconciliation. We must speak of the fear that is driving our country into wars against others and into war against ourselves. We must confess the deep terror that abides within us that allows us to justify the deaths of innocent lives because we can better identify with the fear of the killer than the innocence of the victim. We must risk these confessions lest we become lost in a quagmire of an oversimplified dichotomy of white/black. Zimmerman was a self-identifying Hispanic, deemed white by police, deemed innocent by a jury white women, all while a black boy, Trayvon Martin was as much (if not more) on trial than Zimmerman.

None of this is simple and if we have the eyes to see, we must begin to recognize how an old disease is becoming something more invisible and more dangerous. This is not about a white man and a black boy. This case is about the impossibility of seeing ourselves as untouched in this moment. All of us, recent immigrants, mixed-race, Asian American, Hispanic, black, white… we should all be terrified at how thoroughly race envelopes our world. We should all be terrified at how easy it is to see a black boy murdered and how easy it is to justify doing nothing.

So in the midst of this, my hope is not necessarily for more conversation, for more awareness or, right now, for talk of reconciliation. My hope is for confession, confession of the fear that is driving us to see the deaths of some as more reasonable than the deaths of others, the prosperity of some as more legitimate than the poverty of others.

From these confessions perhaps we can begin to see our crucified Lord more clearly, perhaps we can begin to see ourselves as we are. But if we fail to do so… God help us.

62 thoughts on “We Should all Be Terrified

  1. Yes, I’m afraid our society “identifies with the fear of the killer, rather than with the innocence of the victims” – and the slaughter of millions of innocent babies before they are born is brushed under the rug, in defense of the inconvenience of the mothers and fathers. We live in a culture of death, and innocent lives are lost, every day, to the shame of our country.

    1. Quite right Karen. But for the sake of those struggling to understand the death of Trayvon Martin and fearing for the lives of their own sons and daughters, I would hesitate to conflate these two moments. There is much discussion to be had regarding abortion, but to pose the issue now is to deflect from racial reality that this situation confronts us with.

  2. I believe that abortion, and our country’s casual acceptance of it is another sign of the evil that grips us and leads us down the slippery slope that includes violence in our entertainment, easy access to guns, and hiding behind both gun rights and abortion rights.

  3. Brian, did you follow the story of the media referring to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic”?

    1. Yes, Holly. The various stories regarding Zimmerman’s racial ambiguity have been fascinating. Even the conflicting ways he seems to describe himself. In so many ways I think it points to the ways that racial identification and the related politics are becoming so much more complicated. What are some of the stories that have stuck out most to you?

  4. Hi, some good words to ponder. Just one thing I think should be clarified here- a “not guilty” verdict is not the same as deeming his actions “reasonable” by any means. All it means is that it is possible to reasonably entertain some doubt as to whether he is guilty of the particular crime with which he is charged. They could very well have believed his acts despicable and irrational, but their duty as jurors was to recognize that criminally we cannot punish someone unless the proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. So if they had any way of doubting, if it is possible in any way that Zimmerman’s account of things is true, they couldn’t really convict. The importance of holding to such a high burden of proof becomes really evident if you switch things around and imagine Zimmerman had died and Martin were on trial- it would be big trouble if a jury looking at some black boy were allowed to decide whether or not to convict on a standard of “we think he probably did it” instead of one of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    1. This is the most insightful item on this whole page, but seems be have been ignored. As others have pointed out – Andrew Cohen and Ta-Nehisi Coates – trials are not strict “moral surrogates.” Everything that is immoral is not illegal–nor should it be. Living in society that presumes innocence, requires a heavy burden of proof for conviction and does not prosecute non-codified morality is a privilege that we tend to only think about when someone else is attempting to prosecute those we identify with most closely.

      The real triumph in this case was that the state took up the case and prosecuted it. The inability to get a conviction is not an indictment on our society or our view of what is reasonable behavior, but merely an insight as to what is illegal under the current laws.

      It would be ideal if the significance of the verdict was not overblown – it doesn’t fix anything to engage in hyperbole and to misrepresent the law with the Holiday Inn law degrees everyone seems to now have.

      1. I can see your point Jonathan. But I wonder if you can begin to imagine why this case touches a deep nerve for so many. It is not that this case is extraordinary. It is that this case is representative of the treatment black men receive on a daily basis in this country. If anything, this case has become a symbol of the underlying frustration that has been unheard for a long time.

      2. This is probably the type of conversation better had in person where empathy can be better shown. I certainly understand why it hit a nerve – especially when the state did not initially arrest and charge Zimmerman.

        However, I don’t believe that some injustice was done here. There was no practical way for the state to prove its case for second degree murder and the jury believed Zimmerman’s account, or at least believed it created reasonable doubt, as to whether he killed without justification. The lacerations on Zimmerman’s head and face were not insignificant and, accompanied with his account of the events, were clearly sufficient to leave at least six observers with a reasonable doubt that the killing was not done in self-defense. I am not happy with the verdict in this case, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an appropriate verdict.

        This just doesn’t seem to me to be the case that folks should be taking to the streets over (really for either side) as it is causing a loss of credibility. There are plenty of injustices black men face across the country. I would include, poor education, lack of economic opportunity and heavy imprisonment rates for minor drug crimes among those injustices. In this case, Zimmerman instigated a situation with Martin, someone attacked someone and Zimmerman was clearly being beaten violently, and Zimmerman killed Martin. The state charged him with second degree murder and the trial went as trials are supposed to go – there wasn’t a racist judge or a racist courtroom as has happened many times even in very recent memory – it was just a jury that didn’t buy the prosecution’s version of events. This happens all the time and is not good reason for outcry.

    2. TM, Thanks for your thoughts. But I wonder. In this case the question doubt is not whether or not he committed the murder, right? The doubt is concerning whether the murder was justifiable given the circumstances. For second degree murder the court had to prove that Zimmerman got out of his truck with intent. This was not proven and it seems the jury was quite right to find him not guilty on this. But the manslaughter charge was a charge that Zimmerman acted recklessly. The doubt the jury has about Zimmerman’s guilt is about whether or not he was reckless. To find him “not guilty” must mean they had some doubt that Zimmerman was reckless, they thought he might have had legitimate fear for his life. That is the question I am asking.

      1. Well, strictly speaking, the (statutory) crime wasn’t “being reckless.” (Though he certainly seems to have been guilty of a moral crime that could be defined that way.) Manslaughter in Florida involves intentionally committing an act that caused someone’s death and was not justifiable or excusable. And the question they had to look at as jurors was not even “did he do that,” but “can it be / has it been _proven_, to a degree that we can have no doubt, that he intentionally did something that can’t be excused or justified?” Imagine for a second that his version of the story is true- if so, he did something stupid, unkind, unfair, and which would make Martin nervous. However, if Martin then attacked him, is it possible he legitimately feared for his life? If it is possible, even thought it may be unlikely and not particularly believed by the jurors, then a jury couldn’t vote to convict. I just wanted to clarify that saying something hasn’t been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean the same thing as saying whatever took place was “reasonable”…and that while it does mean people go free for things, I would not trust people to issue judgment on any lesser standard of proof when the accused parties fit into categories that “look like criminals” in the minds of large segments of the public.

  5. Self-examination is in order… Everyone has as much right to this world as I do and I must remind myself of that and teach that to my daughter. Some people do have hope and it’s their hope that I look to for inspiration in these dark days. A 16 year old shot in the face is able to hope for peace and is able to forgive. I’m going to root for those like her. I’m going to teach her words to my daughter. “This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.” -Malala 2013

  6. Three ‘hooded black youth’ came into a convenience store in my small community and robbed, shot, and killed 3 innocent teens working at the store. The unfortunate truth is that the overwhelming majority of violence is committed by African Americans. (At least in my community.) What do we do with this inconvenient truth? I should love my neighbor as myself, and not see the color of skin – but people with intent on harm and concealing their identity often times wear ‘hoodies’…see the following story – the clerks put up no resistance and were very young.

    1. “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
      ― Thomas More

    2. I question the truth of your claim that “the overwhelming majority of violence is committee by African Americans.” What do you base this on, other than the anecdote you mention or your perception of what happens in your neighborhood? Violent crime is terrible and perpetrators should be held accountable, but that doesn’t mean we can extrapolate statistical claims without due mathematical care.

      Further and on a different note, “not see[ing] the color of skin” (i.e. colorblindness) is a great way to continue denying the humanity of people who have a wonderful variety of skin tones. Please, notice skin color, and while you do, notice the stereotypes that we have all been taught about it. If you ignore skin color/race, you can’t be aware of racial stereotypes.

    3. Karen, At some point you will need to look beyond the scope of your own experiences and look at these issues through the eyes of others. If this is an issue that you are serious about dialoging about I hope you will find the time to explore the issues and the history. Apart from that, I am not sure there is much convincing anyone can do to help you see what all of the grieving and anger is about concerning this case. I am thankful to Phil and others who have responded to your comments.

    4. It does not follow from those tragic convenience store killings that all or even most black youth wearing hooded sweatshirts are criminals any more than the huge number of priests guilty of sex crimes protected by bishops makes all Christians sex perverts. Not guilty until proven guilty is the law in our country and it’s high time the enforcement is corrected to reflect that for all citizens equally.

      At least one of the young men charged was mentally ill: http://www.witn.com/mobi/breaking?storyid=146037285 which is confirmed here: http://www.witn.com/mobi/breaking?storyid=146037285

      An unacceptable proportion of those incarcerated are mentally ill, but prison guards aren’t trained to deal with it. Overwhelmingly whites get sent to mental wards while Blacks go to prison.

      Racial profiling puts blacks at a disadvantage before they start. Black kids understand that, so the real question could be asked why so many of them turn out fine (but of course, they don’t hit the news, let alone repeated over and over to fill up the 24-hour news requirements)!

      Most Americans are clueless. Read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness“ by Michelle Alexander. The War on Drugs hasn’t changed the use rate much, just increased the violence rate, just as prohibition of alcohol did. Evidence-based education and treatment of addicts would reduce the huge price (both tax dollars and human lives) of incarceration. Check out Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP): http://www.leap.cc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXVkGeJeMo4

      EVERYONE’s actions are a product of genes, hormones, experiences, etc., which are ALL out of the person’s control. Please rethink free will: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-illusion-of-free-will

  7. Brian–thank you so much. I am grateful for your truth telling in the midst of so much duplicity on this case.
    NPR’s Tell Me More and Code Switch has had some more nuanced coverage of race in the trial. I wish those news outlets would pick up your response here!

  8. Brian: I am going to push back a little on the fragmentation you are making between confession and reconciliation. If I understand your point: that a fundamental fear of the Other motivates a kind of inflexible, space-inducing differentiation (race being one particular tool for this) that can be utilized to justify certain kinds of treatment, then a more complete reconciliation is actually what is needed. I understand confession to be a part of a whole reconciliation process, but confession alone does little to actually transform person, community, institution, system etc.

    A narrow understanding of reconciliation leaves us with trite conversations that end with ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘forgive and move on’ or some other utterly inadequate end. Moreover, expectations that a formal justice system that at times fulfills what we think is just and at times fails in the same does not provide, as TM and Jonathan mention, the moral or existential resolution that motivates the outcry that has not only surrounded this and various other cases.

    I nod in complete agreement with as you mention the complexity of the issues at hand. But I want to suggest that we should not so quickly remove the reconciliation piece. It is the hard, tri-nature of reconciliation that is actually required in this and other moments: The issues of Self, Other, System (Institution, Communal Habit, Etc.) Complete reconciliation should address all three for it to be the kind of reconciliation found in Scripture or touches the existential struggles already mentioned. Peace, then, cannot be totally proclaimed (I nod in agreement with you) until these three inter-connected realities have been approached. Confession of fear, which is to say the continual confession of trespass toward our neighbor, is merely a starting point. It orients us to the hard work of peacemaking and reconciliation. Thus we must confess for a time, but not lose the pivotal importance of confession and its relationship to the whole. That for moments such as this, we should avoid the differentiation between confession and reconciliation but view them together orienting us toward a kind of peacemaking that is for the common good.


  9. White, black, Hispanic, who cares?!
    Zimmerman saw a teenager walking up close to the homes in his community; a community that had seen a rash of break-ins. He called the police no -emergency number and kept an eye on him until police could come. Instead of heading home, the kid double backed and attacked Zimmerman.
    Both men made mistakes that night. Trayvon Martin’s death is a tragic event. Considering he was on top of Zimmerman, bashing his head into the cement, his death certainly wasn’t the execution so many are making it out to be.
    What about the thousand+ black kids that have been killed since Trayvon Martin’s death? Those aren’t nearly as news worthy since over 90% were “black on black” crime.
    As long as someone’s race continues to be mentioned in the media, race will continue to be an issue.

  10. As I understand it, the criticism, particularly when it was directed to CNN for using the phrase “white Hispanic,” came from those who were suspicious about seeing race at play in this case. But for me, the whole exchange–use of the phrase and criticism thereof–highlighted points I hear you making: “race” not only has to do with social construction and power, but is also steeped in complexity and hybridity. In the U.S.,it has everything to do with a menacing “them.” Working at Providence College–which was founded because Irish Catholics could not be admitted at other institutions–has allowed me to begin to see this history in new ways.

  11. I find it incredible that you fail to mention a couple of very important facts:

    1. George Zimmerman was a mentor to 2 black teenagers. When the government subsidies for the program he volunteered through were cut, Zimmerman continued to mentor these teens on his own.

    2. The young, black man Zimmerman followed turned and beat the living daylights out of him. Trayvon broke Zimmermans nose and caused multiple lacerations on the back his head, which he repeatedly pounded into the concrete.

    Facts are stubborn things. If you are going to paint the picture of what happened, please include these details that give a fuller picture of the truth. You are right, this is not a simple case. But parts of the case are intentionally left out in some circles. Why is that?

    1. 1) Nobody (at least not Brian or myself) is saying Zimmerman was a card carrying Klansman who hated all black people. That’s exactly the point – race and racism is so deeply engrained in our individual and collective psyches that even such a person was capable of seeing “other” black people, “the ones he didn’t know” as “suspicious” due to the color of his skin, his attire, and the speed of his walk.

      2) This “fact” is the product of testimony from the only living witness remaining, not some empirically proven truth. We don’t know who started the physical aspect of the confrontation – that’s precisely why Zimmerman got off. Not because his side of the story was problem, but because it wasn’t possible to know what happened and this disprove his story.

      1. This is the problem: you contend that Zimmerman saw Martin as “suspicious” due to the color of his skin, his attire, and the speed of his walk. That is a conclusion drawn, not from facts in evidence, but from a presumption that Martin’s race played a factor in Zimmerman’s view of him as suspicious. You are projecting your beliefs about systemic racism onto Zimmerman’s motives and you have no basis for doing so. If you look at the 9-1-1 call (not the one doctored by NBC), you will see that Zimmerman thought Martin looked suspicious because he was out at night walking around looking at the houses in the neighborhood. Add to this the fact that there were numerous burglaries in the neighborhood (it would be interesting to learn if there were any eyewitness accounts as to build and/or attire worn by any suspects in those crimes), and race is not the issue. Zimmerman only discovered the skin color/race of Martin when Martin turned and started walking toward Zimmerman’s SUV, AFTER Zimmerman’s “suspicions” has already been aroused and commented on to the 9-1-1 operator.

  12. “Race permeated this case, but in new ways that we cannot lose sight of.”

    Apart from the injection of racial motives being ascribed to George Zimmerman and, apparently now by yourself, to the jury, please provide actual proof of this statement. Is race an issue of vast importance in this country? Absolutely. You could probably search in a very short amount of time for numerous examples proving the need. This case does not provide the example you seek, unless you want to cite the obvious attempt by NBC News to fan the racial flame by way of a doctored 9-1-1 call.

    I’m afraid race has permeated this case in the usual, tried-and-true ways, more so than in any new ones.

    1. Scott, there is a wealth of social science research showing the ways that race plays out just in situations like this case. Can we prove with specific evidence the motives of Zimmerman, or Martin for that matter? No. But did Martin, as a black young man, have reason to fear for his own life while being followed on a dark street by strange man? Yes. Are there statistics that demonstrate that the lives of black men are considered to be worth less than others in our society? Yes. Is is reasonable to think that both Zimmerman and Martin have been affected by these society-wide racial assumptions? Absolutely. The burden of proof (not legally, but in social/theological analysis which is what Brian is doing), it seems to me, is on those who believe that somehow Zimmerman was magically above it all.

      1. Phil, the problem I have is when a broad-brush, social-justice narrative is applied (conveniently) to a case where it may not be appropriate and, as a result, does more harm than good. When EVERY conceivable crime against a black victim is trotted out as an example of systemic racism, even when the facts of a case do not warrant it, the result is for the argument to essentially be ignored as yet another in a long string of perceived injustices by a group of people who have bought into their victim status – and therefore easily dismissed. It is counter-productive when there are plenty of examples one can cite of injustice that fit the bill better. When the media (NBC) distorts the truth to push a racial agenda, then is found to have distorted the truth, people like Dr. Bantum should be as vocal in their opposition to these distortions as they seem to be willing to exploit a poor example to further a reasoned discourse on a real issue in society. That is my objection. And, if TM had reason to fear GZ, then why didn’t he run the 100 yards to the safety of his father’s fiance’s house instead of turning to confront the person he was supposedly in fear of? He could have gotten there before GZ hung up with the 911 operator and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  13. So, now that Jesse Jackson has called for a boycott of the “Apartheid” State of Florida, will there be any blog calling for such clear demagoguery to be stopped and/or ignored as unhelpful?

  14. Not from Brian I fear. Nor from any other race relations ‘expert’ whose livelihood is dependent on continued demagoguery.

    1. Trayvon Martin doubled back and attacked because Zimmerman said so?

      Trayvon Martin said Zimmerman would be dead because Zimmerman said so?

      How convenient (for Zimmerman) that Martin is dead, silencing his side of it!

      Why does nobody acknowledge that Trayvon Martin was scared of a stalker (but no right for HIM to stand his ground?

      Zimmerman,knowing he was pursuing a criminal (without any supporting evidence, of course) had got out of his car to chase Martin because Martin had started running AWAY from his stalker, causing Zimmerman to fear the real live authorities would arrive too late to catch the perp.

      Read the transcript of the 911 call:


      I hadn’t heard of the Roderick Scott case, probably because it was not unusual, being prosecuted in a timely manner, but I found this report of the verdict in the Broderick Scott case:


      It important to realize that when a Black man in New York who had caught white teens (who had admittedly been drinking stolen gin) in a crime at 3:00 A.M. (and the other two did not deny that the one killed had charged at the black man before being shot) there was no delay in an arrest and manslaughter charge; but when an apparently white, self-described Hispanic man in Florida shot a Black teen who was walking home from buying Snapple and a bag of Skittles at a convenience store at 7:00 P.M., the shooter was presumed innocent, only arrested and charged 44 days later because of public protest with national attention.



      The jury deliberated 19 hours over two days to find Roderick Scott not guilty of manslaughter although Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Julie Finnochio reportedly told the jury that, regardless of the circumstances, the shooting was not justified.

      A March 13th affidavit recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter, http://www.unheardvoicesmag.com/2012/06/26/police-say-zimmerman-had-chances-to-avoid-situation-before-shooting-martin

      …but Angela Corey initially charged him with second degree murder, which would seem impossible to prove, especially given the odious Florida law pushed through state legislatures by ALEC. Given her unconscionable prosecution of a Black woman, isn’t it doubtful that she was trying to convict, that backing down to manslaughter mid-trial to avoid later criticism of overcharging, only confused things?


      1. “Why does nobody acknowledge that Trayvon Martin was scared of a stalker (but no right for HIM to stand his ground?”

        This would be a relevant defense, perhaps, if Trayvon were alike and George Zimmerman dead. As you said, George Zimmerman, conveniently for him, is the one who is left alive. Then it would be all about Trayvon’s assertions being, “because he said so.”

        The 911 call proves what exactly that is relevant to the point you are making?

        The thing that nobody seems to be acknowledging (who claims that Trayvon was so scared of “stalker” George Zimmerman) is that Trayvon could simply have run to the house where he was staying and been there before Zimmerman hung up with the 911 operator and he’d still be alive. The fact that he ended up in a confrontation with his stalker seems inconsistent with someone who is afraid of said stalker.

      2. You may want to find out more about the facts in the Marissa Alexander case rather than just taking the word of a politician. She fails to mention that Alexander left the house and went to the garage to get her gun, then returned to the house and shot at the wall (which just happened to be between her and the one she was aiming at). She also failed to mention that while on bond and with strict orders from the judge to stay away from her boyfriend nevertheless went to his house (a different house, not the one where the shooting had occurred) and ended up giving him a black eye, sustaining no injuries herself. If her defense lawyer counseled her to reject the plea agreement and lodge a stand-your-ground defense, he/she should be disbarred for incompetency.

        Now, if you wish to take issue with Florida’s self-defense (and stand-your-ground) statute, I’d be inclined to support you. If you want to argue that Angela Corey is an opportunistic attorney who regularly overcharges as a means to sway a defendant to take a plea, again you have my support. But, if all you want to do is parrot the half-truths and distortions trotted out by unscrupulous reporters (and their employers) and race-hustlers like Corrine Brown, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, then I will resist you because these people care nothing about justice or truth but are only concerned with gaining and keeping power and wealth.

  15. @Scott Arnold and @Guy Smith — Respectfully, why don’t you start that blog and write that post?

    To be sure, I agree with what Brian’s written here. But even if I didn’t agree with him, I’d still find it a little odd to take umbrage at the fact that the blog post you wish existed didn’t exist. I mean, WordPress blogs are free. Why not just set up a blog, come up with a comment policy, do the work of moderating comments and building a readership, and then meanwhile, write the post you want to see in the world?

    But perhaps you already have your own blogs and the gravatar link isn’t working? If so, I hope you’ll share the URL. (Said sincerely — no snark.)

  16. Sarah, since I am a white male, I doubt a blog written by me would have much affect in taking Jesse Jackson to task for calling Florida an apartheid state – something I’m sure would not be lost on you. I would like to see someone who is black and who touts racism as permeating the Zimmerman/Martin case first use facts in evidence in the case to justify his position and, second, be willing to decry black “leaders” who do more harm than good with their incendiary rhetoric. Do you think this is an unreasonable request? Or is it that only the Zimmerman trial verdict is of any importance with regard to the state of race relations in America?

  17. @Scott – That’s a fair question. But I actually do think it’s, if not an “unreasonable” request, at least an imprudent and energy-wasting one. As I’ve said, I agree with what Brian’s written here; but even if this were the Blog of All Things With Which Sarah Disagrees Vehemently, I still don’t think it would be a good use of anyone’s energy for me to comment in this space and take umbrage that nobody wrote the post I’d have written if it were my blog. Nor would it be productive for me to call upon the blog’s supporters to publicly espouse positions I already know they don’t agree with. The reason it would be a poor use of anyone’s time/energy is precisely *because*, in this scenario, it’s the Blog of All Things With Which Sarah Disagrees Vehemently.

    By way of analogy, I think the anti-vaccine movement is wrongheaded and, even if it’s well-meaning, harms people enough that its good intentions aren’t benign. I suppose, if you asked me, I’d say that I wish the leaders in that movement would decry pseudoscience. But, of course, they’re not going to, because… well, they disagree entirely with me on the matter at hand! So it’s no surprise that there aren’t a lot of posts on anti-vaccine sites explaining the relationship between Type One and Type Two error, or the difference between longitudinal studies and randomized controlled trials, nor questioning the rhetorical tactic of an appeal to nature. That’s not the raison d’etre of their blogs, and in fact is contrary to it. And as much as I might like for all other people to be just as I prefer, at the end of the day they’re simply not, nor is it their job to optimize my reading pleasure. If I have a superior case to make, then I’m free to make it, but I don’t think people who disagree with me owe it to me to lend me *their* platform so that I may tell everyone how wrong they are.

    As I read this it sounds a bit more pointed than it sounds in my head, and perhaps I should say that my target is not *you*, specifically. I confess it just squishes my dolmas when ever I hear the sentiment, “He/she/those people over there/everyone should really just do [insert behaviour that I prefer].” Well, perhaps I’m right, or perhaps I’m just spouting from my own limited and very privileged experience that I’ve falsely universalized to apply to every person whatsoever. Or perhaps it’s a mixture of the two, the sorting out of which will prove very complicated and contentious. But regardless, at the end of the day other people aren’t expressions of my will. So I can depend on Captain Picard just to Make It So, or I can gripe and feel superior, or I can make a better case in a compelling way, and hope it’s persuasive.

  18. What is the intent of posting the videos? The culprit who assaulted Pittsburgh teacher James Addlespurger was promptly arrested last October 11th.


    The white drug users from the suburbs screwing up the Black Detroit neighborhood apparently weren’t stopped. Even the conservative Cato Institute convincingly writes that the war on drugs has failed, is terribly expensive without changing use rates much, only filling up our prisons with those who need treatment rather than incarceration.

  19. There are plenty of things in this country to be “terrified” of but Zimmerman isn’t one of them. Multiracial identity isn’t one of them. Neither is interracial marriage. I’m sick of people who say that hypodescent should be enforced because mixed-race people might all become “white” and oppress blacks. If you believe that, then surrender your own white identity. Don’t tell me to surrender mine.

  20. To all who have commented so far… thank you for your contributions to the conversation. It has been interesting to see some of the responses. But in the midst of all of this it seems to me that some folks are using this space as a cypher to vent their overall rage at the outrage. The point I was trying to make was that race and racialized thinking is mutating. It has always been a complicated reality but initially I was struck by how Zimmerman, a mixed race man, had inhabited patterns of fear and mistrust at the sight of black men. We should be terrified because we do not know how race is forming us to fear certain people more than others, to trust some more than others.

    But in reading some of these responses, it seems to me I should still fear the ease with which so many white people associate violence with black men.

    Guy, your posts have nothing to do with what I have said in my article. You have repeatedly posted disturbing videos that leave me with the impression that you believe black men are more violent than others and that I somehow must answer your question to your satisfaction before moving on. That is not going to happen. If you have thoughts on black on black violence then you are more than welcome to write a blog about that. But this blog is not the place for that.

  21. “The point I was trying to make was that race and racialized thinking is mutating. It has always been a complicated reality but initially I was struck by how Zimmerman, a mixed race man, had inhabited patterns of fear and mistrust at the sight of black men. We should be terrified because we do not know how race is forming us to fear certain people more than others, to trust some more than others.”

    Brian, is it possible that what you call “mutation” is more a movement away from “race” as the motivating factor behind the “patterns of fear and mistrust” that you are attributing here? As I’ve argued repeatedly here and elsewhere, I think Zimmerman was interpreting the “suspicious behavior” of Martin on the basis of what he was doing, not what he was wearing (or his race). Was Zimmerman “fearful” of Martin because he was black? If so, how does this explain his mentoring of black youths in his past? How does it explain his taking the police to task for failing to prosecute the son of a white policeman who beat a black homeless man?

    Is the issue that we do not know “how” race is forming us to fear certain people more than others or “that” race is forming us to fear certain people more than others in this ever-increasingly racially-mixed society? Are you lamenting a lack of predictability of racial motivation because it is harder to spot or because it may be diminishing?

    1. Scott,

      Certainly fear and mistrust are always a coalescing of markers. But to suggest that those who speak of race and are trying to make visible the patterns we see and experience in the world… to suggest that we are actually creating the patterns is unnerving and roundly ignores the research, writing and insight of countless people. The mutation I speak of is not a moving away from race, but submerging of racial logic within seemingly objective codes – behavior, speech, region. But for many of us who have studied this for the majority of our lives we see how race continues to underly these patterns in implicit and explicit ways.

      1. Brian,

        I don’t think I was suggesting that you were “creating the patterns.” I am analytic by nature, having been in the so-called “hard sciences” my entire career and am merely questioning your conclusions as being the natural result of racial advances made in American society over the past decades. (Or shall we assume that the work of MLK and many others has had no effect other than to drive racial prejudice underground or merely to mask its overt tendencies?)

        Also, the research, writing, and insight of countless people is not in itself proof that this particular instance is yet another case in point. The inclusion or exclusion of the Zimmerman/Martin case as a data point in this research is a subjective judgment on the part of the researcher and, so far, I have seen little communication on the part of those who would include it as an example of racial motivation as to what criteria were used to make this determination other than the race, age, and attire of Trayvon Martin. If other criteria are being used, I have not seen them, and I think the criteria in question are insufficient to make this determination.

        Finally, I am posing a question to you and others (including myself) who wish to see an improvement in racial justice in our society: What will this improvement look like, and how will it be distinguished from a counterfeit that is marked merely by a morphing from biological differences to other differences (behavior, speech, region)? If we cannot tell the difference between “improvement” and a form of “shadow racism” how will we know if the actions being taken to improve the situation are actually working?

        For people, like me, who honestly endeavor to behave in a Christ-like manner and treat ALL others as “image bearers” of the Divine, it can become very frustrating when every action taken or attitude conveyed seemingly falls into the category of “damned if I do; damned if I don’t.” I think this is the frustration being voiced by many who have taken exception to your original post.


      2. Scott,

        I can appreciate that different people are often moved by different types of “evidence.” As someone analytic in nature perhaps you need something seemingly objective, a “smoking gun” that suggests to you that Zimmerman’s actions had beneath them some aspect of racial formation. Fair enough. I am not going to be the one to give that to you.

        If you are a person who wants to behave in a Christ-like manner and treat all others as image bearers I would suggest that before telling me that my feelings and what I say do not exist or are not what they seem, perhaps you might listen and take some time to consider where people’s rage, frustration, and disappointment is coming from.

        But perhaps you do. I don’t know you. Perhaps you have dedicated your life to understanding the African American story and what you are saying is coming out of your own struggle to hear the voices of African Americans and countless others who have found themselves perpetually marginalized in this society.

        I wrote the piece to express that if we are not able to begin to recognize the ways that race shapes us and our behaviors we are all damned, because we are all participating in multiple ways. “Improvement” in this regard is seen when the people in the church are able to see their own participation, their own prejudices, their own subtle patterns of differentiation more truthfully. And upon encountering themselves more truthfully they can begin to pattern their lives towards one another even as they confess the ways they fail to do so each day.

        I thank you for your contribution to the comments, but at this point I have to write and get ready for a new school year.



  22. Brian,

    I wish you well in your endeavors and success in shaping the minds of your students toward positive racial relations. Thank you for your responses. I went back and re-read your original post and my comments and agree with your overall point while I disagree with the extent to which the Zimmerman case supports it. I do believe the Zimmerman case raises some important issues to be addressed, including the implementation of self-defense laws (and stand-your-ground laws), the process of jury selection to ensure a more representative mix of one’s peers, and prosecutorial overeach/incompetence in this case. The outcome in this case is unsatisfactory to me. Both Zimmerman and Martin could have acted differently to avoid the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.

    I am intrigued to learn more about the history of how various minority groups played up their differences to other minority groups (notably, blacks) as a means of gaining acceptance to the “whiteness” group you mention. I think the technique manifests itself in other group dynamics, as well. (Having raised 5 children, the last of which is in his senior year of high school, I have witnessed this in the secondary school realm extensively.) I look forward to your future blogs on this subject.


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