Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don’t Want to See

I tend to filter out crime stories, because so often they get more coverage than they deserve, like O. J. Simpson. So I’ve been slow to catch on to the significance of the Trayvon Martin story. But lately this has turned into a meta-story: reactions to the killing say even more about our country than the killing itself did.

The basic facts are simple: A white-Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer (George Zimmerman) got suspicious of a 140-pound black teen-ager (Trayvon Martin) for no apparent reason. He called 911, and the dispatcher told him not to follow the kid. Zimmerman followed anyway. Some kind of confrontation ensued and he shot Martin dead. Martin was unarmed and had nothing easily mistaken for a weapon, but the police accepted Zimmerman’s self-defense claim (in spite of at least one witness who denied it) and let him walk away. That all happened back on February 26, there’s still been no arrest, and the local African-American community is getting pretty upset about it.

The story points out the continuing presence of racism in America. To some segment of the population, being black raises suspicion all by itself. Probably Zimmerman is not the kind of racist who would go out hunting black teens at random. Probably he really believed that Martin was planning some kind of mischief, and that Martin must be armed, so that he had to shoot first once the confrontation started. But why did he think that? Why did he frame the situation in such a way that shoot-to-kill seemed sensible?

And why did the police find his story credible and his actions excusable? You’re an armed white adult chasing an unarmed black teen-ager you outweigh by about 100 pounds. Naturally, you would feel threatened.

That’s the kind of racism that is still endemic in every nook and cranny of America. We’re almost entirely past the “I don’t hire niggers” phase, but still in a phase of “he just doesn’t look trustworthy to me”. What would look like a well-deserved break for a white employee is goofing off when a black does it. An ordinary mental glitch becomes evidence of low intelligence, and so on.

Being black is no longer three strikes against you, but it’s still one or two.

By and large, White America doesn’t want to believe that. Last year a poll found that 51% of whites (also 60% of Republicans and 68% of people who name Fox as their most trusted news source) say that reverse discrimination against whites is at least as big a problem as discrimination against minorities.

You can see just how badly White America doesn’t want to believe in its continuing racism by how it has reacted to the Martin story. Fox News did its best to ignore the whole thing. ThinkProgress totaled up how much attention each cable news network gave the Martin story during its first three weeks:

Compare this to Fox’s obsessive coverage of a series of scary-black-people stories. For example, it devoted 95 segments totaling 8 hours of air time to the trumped-up voter-intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party.

Or check out how the Glenn-Beck-founded blog The Blaze has covered Martin’s death. Searching on the word “Trayvon” got me 15 stories, five of which were about the scary ways black people are reacting to the incident — the New Black Panther Party (of course), Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Barack Obama, and the New Black Liberation Militia. The Sharpton post ends by raising more suspicion about Martin. (He was on a 10-day suspension from school, and “Sources sympathetic to Martin say he was suspended for ‘excessive tardiness’.” But the Blaze makes sure we know all the more serious stuff that a 10-day suspension could be about.)

A sixth Blaze post quotes Beck himself, who is worried not about white vigilantes, but about black extremists “winding everybody up”:

“We have this extremist African-American militia group that says they’re just going to come in and handle it. You’re got Al Sharpton winding everybody up. You’ve got Color For Change winding everybody up.” … Beck ceded that the man who shot Trayvon could indeed be a racist, but that many of his detractors are driven by a racial agenda too, and thus are everything they claim to stand against.

Got that? You should focus not on what actually happened to an innocent black teen, but on what “extremist” black groups might do. Zimmerman could be a racist, but blacks and liberals upset by the Martin story are racists.

So the beat goes on: For the part of the media that panders to I-am-not-a-racist whites, the Martin story is just one more example of racism against whites and one more reason for white people to be afraid of black people.

Among the presidential candidates, only Newt Gingrich directly pandered to white racists by turning the incident into a reverse-racism story. President Obama had reached out to Martin’s parents, saying “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

Gingrich’s response:

Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. … When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.

Gingrich glossed over the whole walking-while-black angle that makes the story important: If Trayvon Martin had been white, he might not have been shot at all. George Zimmerman “turned it into a racial issue”, not President Obama.

While researching this case, I learned something interesting about the law: Self defense falls into a class known as affirmative defenses. In other words, at your trial you’re not just looking at the state and saying “Prove I did it”, you’re making assertions about facts that are supposed to exonerate you. When you do that, part of the burden of proof shifts to you.

So the state does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not act in self defense. In making a self-defense plea, Zimmerman would be conceding that he killed Martin, and he would then need to convince the jury of his self-defense claim by a preponderance of evidence (not beyond reasonable doubt).

Want some background music to read this piece by? Try Eminem’s “White America“:

Look at these eyes:
Baby blue, baby, just like yaself.
If they were brown, Shady lose,
Shady sits on the shelf.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • David Lance  On March 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I was in Atlanta when the Rodney King verdict came in. Working for the Atlanta Journal in order to have access to a darkroom. I saw the riots. I saw people get beat up. I saw a photographer walk boldly down into the riot, and I saw her at the end of it bloodied and striped of her equipment. I saw a reporter get hit over the head with a bottle. I saw a Korean family huddled on the roof of their liquor store which had been raped by the mob. I came close to having my camera striped from me. I saw the truck driver in L.A. pulled out of his truck and beaten.

    I know in my heart that if I’m walking in a strange neighborhood and some cat comes up to me and asks me who the hell I am, I am going to be cool as a cucumber to him. I am going to be the Fonze himself. Nobody is going to get shot. I know this neighborhood watch guy, George Zimmerman, had a broken nose and a cut on the back of his head.

    And I am still a little miffed at Queen Latifah.

    • David Lance  On March 29, 2012 at 9:10 am

      Huh. Just saw the video of George Zimmerman at the police station. No blood on his face, or his shirt. No broken nose. No cut on the back of his head. You would think that I would understand people lie when they want to frame someone. Obviously I was stupid to believe what was reported. The truth will either come out, or it will be distorted by knaves to make a trap for fools. In this case, you can count me squarely in the fools camp.

      • Jason  On March 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm

        If only he had filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run…well placed reference

  • Bob Hurst  On March 26, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    This is from a retired cop friend of mine who lives in Florida.

    Zimmerman ended up with a bloody nose and blood on the back of his head and a wet back (no pun intended). What I envision is him chasing the kid until the kid turned around and, in self defense, popped Zimmerman in the face and dropped him. That is not a defense for Zimmerman.(Florida Statute 776.041 – Use of force by aggressor: “The justification described (Use of force in defense of person and Use of force in defense of others) … is not available to a person who initially provokes the use of force against himself…” Google this for the full language). The kid was unarmed. The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to pursue. He should have been arrested at the scene.

  • Anonymous  On March 27, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Zimmerman’s has black friends that insist he does not hate african americans. We have no evidence this is a hate crime at all and “facts” witnesses allege it was Trayvon who first hit Zimmerman, jumped on him attacking zimmerman from behind. Zimmerman’s face is consist with those allegations. It appears the evidence supports a defense. Approaching the kid is not provoking, and no evidence supports zimmerman provoking. He maybe should have did what dispatch told him but he did nothing illegal and police see the same. We need to stop supporting the race pimps like al sharpton and a reverse racism in america. Reverse racism exists when a group is quick to allege “hate” when the facts either are inconsistent or not clear. Zimmerman has black friends! I dont think you can hate black people and be friends with them too. This article is misinformed on the whole facts nullifying the conclusion. We are innocent until proven guilty, lets let the facts play out before we start playing the race card.

    • weeklysift  On April 1, 2012 at 8:23 am

      The kind of racism I was talking about in the article isn’t the hate-crime type, it’s just a propensity to see the worst in any situation involving blacks — similar to looking at President Obama, thinking there must be SOMETHING wrong with him, and believing the first person who tells you he’s not an American citizen.

      • thetruth  On April 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        Great Post and very believable !

  • devenw  On March 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    There is no mention of CNN or MSNBC over sensationalizing this story without the facts. Perhaps Fox News actually has some journalistic integrity and decided to wait until the facts came out. On the front page of CNN this morning, in the Supreme Court case, there is a picture of a 3 year old girl who might die if the Supreme Court doesn’t uphold Obama’s Health Care Law. Really, that is how a news organization educates the people on the facts of a case? I don’t understand how I as a conservative can see through the propaganda on Fox News, but you all as liberals are completely blind to the fact that CNN and MSNBC, especially, are twice as bad.

    I’m also confused as to how Zimmerman is considered white? I honestly feel people can call themselves whatever they want to based on their heritage, but if a white man killed Zimmerman and said some racially derogatory comment towards hispanics, he automatically becomes Hispanic instead of white. Can anyone not see the irony in that?

    Also, we can bash talk about reverse racism, but the fact is black on white violence is almost 40 times more likely than white on black. Reverse racism is a problem. The white man is not the devil any more. The devil is in the news media who perpetuate racial stereotypes based off isolated events without the facts. The devil is in those who make excuses for, rather than help and educate the black communities. The devil is the drug dealers who ultimately cause too many black kids to grow up without their parents. The devil is in the rap artists who perpetuate poor values towards children who too often don’t have parental figures to offset said poor values.

    I’d love to see a world where race isn’t a factor, but it is never going to happen if we ignore the real problems and focus on isolated incidences as proof to why full equality hasn’t completely happened yet.

    • weeklysift  On April 1, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Debunking the liberals-are-just-as-bad meme is one of a minor focus of this blog. I’ve looked into this in some detail, and liberals are not just as bad.

  • David Lance  On March 27, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Dear Devew, I hate to divert a good series of comments, but I have to ask: As a conservative WHAT? A conservative patriot? A good citizen of the Republic? As a defender of the Constitution? A good conservative reader and defender and supporter of the Bill of Rights, particularly the sentiment behind the 1st Amendment (First for a reason)? If so, how can you casually shrug your shoulders and tolerate propaganda where your information is supposed to be? Has Democracy and ethical journalism gotten a divorce? Who got the communion silver? Who is Democracy dating now? China? Oh. Well that explains all the Big Brother stuff. (Hope the NSA makes a good copy of this comment. For the original, have them call me direct. Guess it does not qualify as either a paper, or an effect. Not that anyone cares about that. At least not the “good conservatives.”) Is there any way that a Republic can ever have a professional and ethically-true source of information? Should we all just chip in and pay for it – or is that too much like socialism? Can a Republic have a reliable source of news? Or is it all down a long ditch of cynical Rush Limbaugh and the mean woman with the long blonde hair now? What a shame. I mean sham.

    • David Lance  On March 27, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      P.S. I can see the irony in it, but so what? I really don’t care if his grandfather went to temple and his great aunt’s lineage traces back to before the European devils came in and stole all the gold. What matters is a horrible tragedy occurred. Some people are responsible. Some behaviors have to change for the better. It was the worst of days. It was the best of days. I think we have to look at the African race and stop seeing something else. We have to embrace the thought processes that it represents. We have to study the evolved ability to endure the wilds. We have to accept the culture and history and take it all at face value. It is what it is. We have to get finished apologizing for the vicious crime of kidnapping and enslaving. They did that. Not us. They sent 300,000 boys to get killed ending it. We didn’t do any of it. We have to see that African people and European people and goofy people and tall people and short people and gray people and little people and big people and Russians and Slavs and Hollanders and Germans and Italians and Mexicans are all just people. And when you walk around in someone else’s yard at night – you treat them with respect if they ask who you are. Even if they are crazy.

      • devenw  On March 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        I definitely agree with your post script. No argument here.

  • devenw  On March 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Conservative is just a label that most would put upon me, perhaps I should have said sometimes socially liberal, fiscally conservative, small l libertarian. As far as journalistic integrity? I can’t imagine that you have been blind all of these years and haven’t seen it. It isn’t anything new, it has been going on since the founding of our country. People don’t want to believe that there is corruption almost everywhere, they don’t want to believe they are fed news just so they can buy the products that endorse the news agencies, so they pretend that it isn’t the case.

    The only saving grace, and the best thing about our country is that you don’t HAVE to be a sheep in the masses. Most people just choose to be, which is why CNN, Fox, the AP and MSNBC are able to exist in the first place and make all of the money that they make. Where can you find journalistic integrity? There are places, but I think you need to form your own opinions. Do you think CNN has covered this whole situation so extensively because they care about the black man, or do you think its because it gets them ratings by stirring the pot?

    Your syntax makes it difficult to discern if you’re making fun of me, or who you are making fun of, but the answer is in the fact that I am even commenting, and that is the extent of my powers. Others read this, others are provoked into forming their own opinions, and the cycle goes on. Much more truth can often be found in the comments of any article than can be found in an article itself. That is why we have the right to free speech. Pretty astounding how much foresight our forefathers had, huh?

    • David Lance  On March 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      I’m not making fun at all. I respect you and your thoughts a great deal. And it is pretty astounding alright. Those founders could build a Republic. And it worked for the first hundred years or so. Sigmund Freud and his sister married a brother and sister. (You can draw the grid if you want.) Out of the union with the other guy and Sigmund’s sister was born, on November 22, 1891, a progeny named Edward Bernays. He developed a progeny of his own. To my way of thinking, there was journalism before Bernays, and journalism after, and the two bear little resemblance to one another. I kind of hope and pray that the Internet is the healing of that rift, and the end product will deliver the state of the Republic back into the hands of ethical sources of untainted information. But it depends on whether the Koch brothers will let Congress support it. P.S. I heard once that someone in the hallway outside her hospital room updated Anna Nichole Smith’s Wikipedia article with the news that she had just died. Scooped every news organization in the world. And was accurate. So there is hope…

  • Jessica  On April 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Wonderful article. I shared it with many.

  • Sarah  On July 5, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    First of all George Zimmerman is NOT white both of his parents are of Cuban decent, 100%. Apparently you need him to be white so you claim it’s racism. If the recent break ins in George Zimmerman’s neighborhood had been committed by a Latino teenager and a Latino teenager had been out walking that night he would have acted the same. This man is not racist he’s just sick of crime in his neighborhood!

  • Anonymous  On July 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    No apparent reason….he was technically under the influence of drugs. So I think thats a reason..

  • Anonymous  On March 22, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    the white hispanic…….it seems like this is creating racism.


  • By Transcending Ideology « The Weekly Sift on March 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    […] Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don’t Want to See. White America really doesn’t want to believe that racism is still a problem. […]

  • […] to the question of whether suspicion of blacks is a reasonable prejudice in the first place. After my Trayvon Martin post last week, a reader emailed me a link to FBI crime statistics broken down by race. If that’s where your […]

  • By Soul Debt « The Weekly Sift on April 2, 2012 at 9:49 am

    […] weeks’ most popular post. Trayvon Martin: The Racism Whites Don’t Want to See got 451 views, and has a sequel this week. The most-clicked link was to Cara Santa Maria’s […]

  • By Things Better Left Unsaid « The Weekly Sift on April 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    […] Racism (242 views), Student Debt: the New Involuntary Servitude (221), and continuing interest in Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don’t Want to See (an additional 141 views to total 592). Interestingly, August’s Why I Am Not a Libertarian […]

  • By Not Laughing « The Weekly Sift on April 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    […] Slate’s William Saletan to make the roughly the same observation about racial profiling that George Zimmerman evoked in me: “drawing inferences about anyone based on race, sex, religion, or any other crude […]

  • […] we get to evidence that points the other way: Trayvon Martin. (Nobody jumps to the defense of black men who shoot unarmed white teen-agers.) Birtherism. (No […]

  • By Are you a “news” addict? | The Weekly Sift on July 1, 2013 at 8:53 am

    […] an opinion about Kato Kaelin’s character.) That’s why I covered it twice last year (Trayvon Martin: the Racism Whites Don’t Want to See and Prejudice, Bigotry, and “Reasonable” Racism). When the trial is over, it may be […]

  • By One Week’s Worth of Crazy | The Weekly Sift on January 27, 2014 at 8:27 am

    […] throw at people you don’t like when they do humorous but totally understandable things like shoot innocent black teen-agers or concoct conspiracy theories about the president’s birth […]

  • By What Should “Racism” Mean? | The Weekly Sift on February 17, 2014 at 11:12 am

    […] read Tim Wise’s “What if the Tea Party Were Black?” or just about anything about Trayvon Martin. If Michael Dunn had been a black man shooting up a car full of white boys, I doubt jurors would […]

  • By My Racial Blind Spots | The Weekly Sift on March 14, 2016 at 9:19 am

    […] researched the racial history that my formal education swept under the rug. I wrote about Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. I’ve explained what dog whistles are, and how to notice […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: