Saturday, July 20, 2013

Post No. 187: Why the George Zimmerman–Trayvon Martin Case Really Wasn’t about Race and Why It Was

© 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“This is just f---king ridiculous! An innocent teenager was killed.” - the view of 158,142,501 citizens interviewed over the past 3 days.

“A message was sent that law and order will reign again. He was a doped-up, disrespectful individual up to no good.” – the other 158,142,501 citizens.

Back in 2008, the Logistician was first amongst the Institute Fellows to blog. One day, he ran into our offices extolling the virtues of a “micro-blogging” platform called Twitter.

He and the Laughingman, being fellows of few words, exuded excitement at the notion of having their rants efficiently delivered in 140 character bites, while the Optimizer and Inspector Clouseau questioned whether the quality of social discourse would suffer.

Since then, we concluded that all 4 of us were right, in much the same way that those who claim the Zimmerman–Martin encounter was about race and racial profiling, and those who claim that it was not.

There is no one, clear, simple manner in which the case can be characterized - it depends on one’s perspective and experiences.

During the week before the Zimmerman verdict, we saw the number of tweets regarding Paula Deen’s use of the “N-word, and the innocence or guilt of Zimmerman [an Hispanic or Caucasian depending on one’s point of view] in connection with the death of Trayvon Martin [an African-American according to many], literally go off the chart. We could not imagine a more contentious discussion.

That is, until the verdict. We still find it unbelievable that Twitter’s servers were able to handle the volume.

One of the most frequent participants in our forum, who we personally know not to be a racist, shared this with us privately:

“This question has been much on my mind lately. Of course, I can speak only from the perspective of a white male so perhaps my perspective will be a bit controversial.

“Why must so many parents (and society as a whole) teach black teens to automatically take a defensive posture in so many circumstances? Teach them instead to answer clearly and politely when questioned as to their business in someone else's neighborhood, along with how not to behave in a suspicious manner in the first place, no matter whether ‘they shouldn't have to.’ This would seem to be pretty basic education in the realm of improving survival skills and race relations --- not to mention protecting black youth from harm --- but it appears to be infrequently taught to these young folks.

“I was certainly taught how to respond to, ‘Who are you and what are you doing here,’ with politeness rather than indignation, and I have practiced this all of my life . . . no matter the race or any other characteristic of the inquisitor.”

For our Caucasian friend, the issue was not about race, but rather attitude, and perhaps demeanor.

On the other hand, the New York Times Editorial Board, in its July 14, 2013 edition, noted, “Certainly it is about race — ask any black man, up to and including President Obama, and he will tell you at least a few stories that sound eerily like what happened that rainy winter night in Sanford, Fla.” Just yesterday [July 19, 2013], our President lamented, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

One of our African-American friends in his early 60s often tells of how he spent his youth in the South crossing to the other side of the street, as a pro-active measure, whenever he saw Caucasian women approaching, thus avoiding any chance of someone accusing him of “suspicious conduct.”

Per Harry S. Truman, “The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.”

In much the same way, we feel that the only perspective on the Zimmerman verdict which is sacrosanct is the perspective that one’s limited experiences in life haven’t allowed one to have – yet.

One of the jurors interviewed may have unintentionally provided the key to understanding our conflict when she said, “I think [Zimmerman’s] heart was in the right place.”

What the trial really was about was “relate-ability” and ultimately, “comfort.”

A contemplative citizenry, interested in improving the plight of all of its members, recognizes individual issues for what they are; not as what they would like them to be.

Some, searching for something to blame, have gone so far as to contend that the “system” failed.

In our humble view, the system did not fail. It did what it does.

It is incomprehensibly complex and yields widely varying results in different places and different points in time. The expectation that our existence in any system should yield consistent or fair results distracts us and detracts from our ability to improve as a people.

The recognition and acceptance of the widely varying perspectives of our citizens should be celebrated, not denigrated. A country which appreciates the different perspectives and contributions of its citizens potentially gets the best out of its people.

Last year, we generated Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest God’s Pissed. We’re living in a fast-paced world undergoing radical changes, and there is extreme insecurity in our daily lives.

What we really need to do in this country is figure out a way for everyone who wants a job to have at least a half-ass job. We have long contended that jobs [from businesses, which develop from technology] drive everything in life, not only financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. No jobs, no self-respect, and all sorts of other negative things are magnified.

We call it “trickle-out economics.” When we have enough jobs and work for people, families on the whole are better. There is less spousal, child, and substance abuse. Less crime. Less paranoia. Fewer reasons to shoot one another.

When people have more self-esteem, their interaction creates more opportunities for them to get to know, appreciate, and respect one another.

Our primary target audience, namely college students, should take special note of Trayvon’s age.

You see, this case was not about race alone; it was about anything that anyone wanted it to be.


  1. 'Spector,

    Excellent perspective, although I'm not sure that the case was "about anything that anyone wanted it to be" but rather "all of the above".

    This is what concerns me so much: the problem is so many layers deep that its solution seems impossible . . . and it thereby intimidates people so much that they don't bother to try. I suppose that I am as guilty as anyone of this form of inertia . . .


  2. As always, you express the dichotomy of the issues without rancor. And well done. As I was chatting with an African-American co-worker back about a decade ago and had related the story of the time a couple of Florida Highway Patrol officers had pulled me over in Pahokee...(, I related that I was "profiled" since I was a teenager driving alone but that I got to grow out of that category. I also was profiled a number of times when I was in the Navy and after I got out (when my hair and beard grew to great lengths and I choose a motorcycle for my primary transportation). In other words, I could easily have shed the reasons people distrusted me. Others cannot. But even when I was a youth (and, therefore, "up to no good... likely"), I quickly learned that the distrust could be mitigated by civility and politeness. It didn't work quite as well when used in conjunction with a beard and long hair and a motorcycle.

  3. Thanks much Independent Cuss:

    "[A]nything that anyone wanted it to be..." could be "...all of the above." That is one option.

    We often speak of racism as if it is a static condition, like a defective strut on a bridge, which can be adjusted, engineered, or re-built. In actuality, it is far more instinctual, and about a feeling or a sense, and therefore far more difficult to repair.

    You are correct that any changes which occur will have to take place at the individual level.

    Thanks as always.

  4. You are absolutely right Douglas. Thanks for taking the time to add some other ingredients to the discussion. In discussing "protected classes" where there is a policy reason to prevent discrimination, the courts speak of things over which people have no control, such as their race, sex, national origin, etc. People do have control over the length of their hair, whether they choose to wear an earring in their noses, and the clothes they choose to wear, all along hopefully recognizing the consequences of making those choices.

  5. (158,142,501 etc.) I demand a recount IR, only joking, the research was obviously rigged. But i bet your estimate of 50/50 for the two viewpoints is accurate. What about that juror's point that GZ's 'heart was in the right place' This is the one of the most tragic lines to be reported in this whole farce. Since Travon was shot through the heart (totally in the wrong place) i think we can profile Miss Juror E54 (is that the one?) as insensitive - even if not slightly stupid.

    A great piece IR, if you, (and others like you) can reach students with this calm balance your life will have been well spent. Pity the real government doesn't want too many people to be employed and self-esteeming - you know how this affects wage demands don't you - cages are cheaper than fucking socialist safety-nets as well.

    Oh, i forgot - wage demands are being left to off-shore dictators nowadays. People who know how to answer them!

  6. Is now a good time for me to relate the story he told me about being pulled over by a white cop while he was driving a truck with no plates and full of furniture and appliances? Should I mention he didn't have his driver's license with him or any other identification? Want to know what happened to him?
    Nothing. He was sent on his way. Both my story and his are anecdotal and mean next to nothing. But we all view our worlds through a vision shaped by our upbringing, the influence of our peers and the media. Reality... well, that's a whole other thing.

  7. Thanks for your contribution, Douglas. While examining the tweets on Twitter earlier this week, we were struck by the "absolute," rigid positions taken by many, as if there is only one way to view an issue.

  8. Thanks for your input CorfuBob. You always have such an interesting perspective, in that you view us from a distant land. Visit us often. We need and respect your point of view.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™