If you listened very carefully the night of the George Zimmerman verdict, you could hear the soft clink of the word “post” falling off the “post-racial” Obama White House shingle put there by people not getting stopped and frisked. Many Americans are covering their racism with Sean Hannity talking points and a Rush Limbaugh hood. They are on steroids since the Zimmerman acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin, lobbing “r” bombs at Jackson/Sharpton civil rights activists who would dare suggest that racism is not as dead in America as a black teenager put on trial by people blaming him for his own demise.
Pictures of Trayvon looking like a “thug,” proliferate as people rake over the dead coals of this boy’s life to prove the point that…well, what is the point of that? Tattoos, a gold tooth, and bad language? Clearly, this 17-year old needed to be put down. Maybe racism is dead, but robo-racism has risen from the ashes.
None of these people know Trayvon Martin, but Rachel Jentel did. In an interview with Al Sharpton, he asked her what her friend was like. She responded with the same candid, unembroidered remarks that made her a breath of fresh air at the trial. She said that Trayvon was “laid back…he was so quiet you wouldn’t notice him.”
Not only was Trayvon Martin put on trial in the courtroom and in the media, black culture is being put on trial here as well. We glimpsed that world when Rachel Jentel took the stand. It is a world where black and brown poor communities are riddled with drugs, crime, and unemployment, with posturing youth with twisted caps and falling-down pants living under the shadow of the criminal justice system as they cope with shattered families and crumbling schools. Our media, movies, and the TV series, The Wire, have exposed this world and we ogle and even mimic it at a safe distance. We sift through the ruins of this American dream for music that enriches corporate coffers, fashion statements that we modify and take on, and hip language that makes us sound cool. We wear baseball caps turned back and low-rider jeans on casual Fridays at work. But we divert our travel around these spaces and compartmentalize our minds so that we don’t connect the poverty of these dark people with our own frustrations to realize the American Dream.
We believe that the words “ghetto” and “urban” are inextricably attached to black people and black and brown people are sucking up all the welfare dollars. But here’s a flash: poverty breeds crime and dysfunction not black people. Poor white communities are sucking up welfare dollars and have crime and dysfunction, as well. Eighty nine percent of white people are killed by their own race. White on white crime. White youth can be seen swaggering with their boxer shorts peeking above their low-slung pants listening to gangsta rap and wearing a hoodie. The difference is that whites do not come out of the damning history of being ex-slaves. They suffer classism, but not institutional racism.
Blame the culture, blame the victim is a go-to position for many people. However, blame-the-victim “stand your ground” laws are up for scrutiny as a result of this volatile Rodney King flashback, bringing Americans of all races together to stand for equal justice in America. Congress is discussing a remedy for the new Voting Rights Act decision to strike down safeguards to the disenfranchisement of minorities. Americans of all stripes are organizing to roll back institutional injustice. Police who monitor the thousands of people demonstrating as a result of the acquittal verdict of George Zimmerman are being a bit more cautious because outraged Trayvon supporters have brought attention to the many Trayvons that have been killed by law enforcement. The federal government is making noises about taking on the Martin case. Black attorney general, Eric Holder, admitted that he was racially profiled when he was a prosecutor.
Many people who may have embraced America as post-racial, who were encouraged that we have elected a black president and overcome the shadow of a swinging noose and the embarrassment of Jackie Robinson “42” racism, are unwilling to witness justice lynched by the new and more sophisticated ghost of Jim Crow.
Calling Al Sharpton a racial hustler, ridiculing Rachel Jentel, and making Trayvon Martin into a thug who deserved to die, is not a political strategy. The people who make up these talking points spewed by people, white and even black, are going to have to work a little harder. No justice, no peace is the clarion cry. From the Voting Rights Act decision of the Supreme Court to the acquittal verdict in a Sanford courtroom, justice is stalking America, because American justice looks really suspicious.
Marian Lewis is a writer living in Baltimore.