It’s hard for me to look at the ubiquitous picture of Trayvon Martin without thinking of my nephews. I knew them as children and as teens, and now as men raising their own sons and daughters. They have stories to tell– near misses and random violence. It’s this lived experience that gives the lie to the claim that race had nothing to do with George Zimmerman’s pursuit and shooting of Trayvon Martin.
In today’s New York Times is a complicated graphic parsing the attitudes and affiliations of people who identify as Black or Hispanic or White. The media has been pounding on this ever since Zimmerman’s father described him as a “Spanish-speaking minority.”
Before we all get too far into the metaphysical dimension of this, let’s remember that George Zimmerman might already have answered the question of his racial identity. On job applications, on school applications, on the US Census of 2010, which box did he check?
At times I have needed to get demographics as part of my job. In a meeting I said that I was always a little embarrassed to ask the race question. A Black nurse said she was glad I asked, often nurses just guess. I told her that it’s tough– I mean, no one ever asks me what race I am. But I need to ask, and often I’m surprised by the answers people give. Race is a scientifically fuzzy concept, we are a mixed society, and ultimately the individual makes the call on how they identify. I’m sometimes surprised by the prejudices people express. Belonging to a group that experiences discrimination does not make everyone sing Kumbaya. Human nature is more complicated than that.
All of us, by adulthood, have a paper trail of checked boxes. Did George Zimmerman always check the same box? Did he check the one most advantageous to the circumstances? Would there be anything wrong if he did?
It seems strange that we are so caught up in intangibles and un-measurables when dealing with something so final as a murder. A law that allows such an act to be committed with no accountability is flawed and must be fixed. This trial by media is nasty, but the willingness of the police and local law enforcement to take the shooter at his word and bury the investigation has brought us to this place.