The Zimmerman Verdict: Is Race An Issue?

Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman. Still with me? I know we’ve heard those two names a lot lately, but there’s still a lot to be said about the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.

In a recent Pew poll, respondents were asked whether they were satisfied with the results of the case and whether the issue of race is receiving more attention than it deserves. Conversely, they were asked if the case raises important issues about race that need to be discussed. Of the respondents who were white, most responded they were satisfied with the results, while the majority of black respondents reported dissatisfaction with the results. Black respondents were more likely to respond that they believed the case raised important issues that need to be discussed while the majority white respondents said the issue of race was getting more attention than it deserved.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that when we’re getting tired of the discussion and thinking it’s been talked and written about to death, we need to take a step back and think about where we’re coming from. Who are we in the conversation? Are we someone who has felt the effects of racism in its many forms? Or are we someone who has grown up with the privilege of not having to think about our racial identity?

Race is an issue in this case because people who experience racism are telling us there’s an issue. Shouldn’t we take a step back and think about that for a minute?

The thing is, any one of us could have just as easily been George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin. In fact, most of us will assume roles similar to those seen in this case. We will experience judgment based on our appearance, and we will judge others based on their appearance. For that very reason, we can’t dismiss the conversation about the Trayvon Martin shooting and the subsequent trial. It isn’t just a conversation about people of color or white people. It’s a conversation about the choices we make as individuals and as a society. It’s about the moments when we look at another person and decide who they are and what they can do to us based on snap judgments and stereotypes.

If we aren’t talking about this, we aren’t acknowledging that a serious tragedy happened. A young man is dead. The value of human life is too great not to examine why he’s dead, what led to his death and how to stop it from happening again. The same snap judgments that George Zimmerman made about Trayvon Martin could be the same you or I have made when we were walking down the street and we started walking just a little bit faster because someone fit a certain stereotype. The same judgments people have made about Trayvon Martin being a troublemaker and a delinquent could be the same judgments thrown on you as a young person who chooses to dress in a certain way, or even as a parent who would allow it.

We need to talk about these perceptions and judgments because, while they don’t seem that big of a deal in our everyday lives, it only takes that perfect storm of a moment when, you’re holding a gun and that profile goes up in your brain and your fear or anger turns into a finger on the trigger.

So have the conversation. Stick it out. Think about how you might have acted if you had been in George Zimmerman’s shoes. Then think about how you can act differently in your own shoes every day.


Posted by Juliana Rose, YWCA Missoula Racial Justice Intern