By Brian Gilmore on Jul 16, 2013
We were never post-racial.
This is the message of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. The delusion is over.
Many Americans never believed that anyway. Some did, and now they are shocked at the fierce and sustained reaction to the not guilty verdict for a killing in America of yet another unarmed African-American male.
But if there is any good that shall become of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, it is that this false notion of an America that has become a “post-racial” society has come to an end so we can get down to the serious work of really addressing it.
Wake up, everybody, as Teddy Pendergrass once sang.
We can see it in the reactions to the verdict that acquitted George Zimmerman. Rallies and protests across the country began almost immediately. These multiracial gatherings in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and countless other cities railed against the racism that was part of this killing and the trial.
These protests should not be surprising, either. While the killing of Martin has a clear racial component, the denial of this element just made the racial component even more lethal.
Judge Debra Nelson, the presiding judge in the case, didn’t help matters when she ruled that the prosecution could not even use the phrase “racial profiling” in their opening statement. It was an astonishing legal ruling considering that George Zimmerman had repeatedly called the police about black men when he was doing his neighborhood watch. According to some legal observers prior to trial, this evidence of “racial profiling” by Zimmerman was critical to the prosecution’s second-degree murder theory; yet, they were forbidden to use the phrase.
But strangely, during closing argument, the prosecution argued that the case was not about race. Perhaps, they believed the jurors – five white women and one Hispanic woman – would never buy the argument or they too were naive about our racism in the United States.
But even more insulting, Mark O’Mara, Zimmerman’s lead defense attorney, while also claiming race was not part of the case, played the race card numerous times. The defense’s attempts to shed a negative light on Trayvon Martin prior to trial with photographs of marijuana use or gold teeth were just cheap appeals to racial fears. Perhaps it is good lawyering; however, it is still racial.
Even George Zimmerman’s brother, Robert, got in the act before the trial when he posted pictures of Trayvon Martin on social media alongside convicted felons. This was an attempt again to play to the racial components in the case even though they all claim race was not an issue in the trial.
Does any of this racial ugliness mean the United States hasn’t made racial progress? No.
The United States has a black President, Barack Obama. There are countless black elected officials across the country, including Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts. The Attorney General of the U.S. is African-American. Blacks run major companies, successful non-profits, are international entertainers, perform admirably as lawyers, doctors, accountants, government workers, and talk show hosts. In addition, other racial groups – Hispanics and Asians, for example – have made great strides in society as well as the nation pushes towards more and more diversity each year.
But despite the progress, racism lives in the United States, and this trial has made that clear. It continues to contaminate every institution across the nation. It changes life outcomes; it causes health problems.
Yet now what is even more dangerous than our racial problem is our unwillingness to agree that we still have a problem.
We owe it to Trayvon Martin to fight racism even harder now; anything less would demean his memory.
Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer