Friday, July 5, 2013

The Defenders of George Zimmerman Would Have Been Cheering on Emmett Till's Killers

[I have received some very kind emails in response to my series of pieces on the George Zimmerman trials and his killing of Trayvon Martin. I have been following this case since the beginning and will continue to offer my thoughts and observations on it through to the duration. 

Those essays here and on the Daily Kos have brought quite a few new readers to We Are Respectable Negroes. As I do during such moments, I inaugurate an informal fundraising drive. Some kind folks have thrown some money into the virtual begging bowl. I very appreciate that. I doubly appreciate it given that this is a holiday weekend and money is being spent on festivities, food, and frivolity.

I do not advertise or monetize my work here on WARN. I also choose not to run advertisements or sponsorship because I want to remain independent. Random monies thrown into the tip jar Paypal bucket are however always appreciated. My work here and elsewhere are labors of love. However, I never refuse encouragement.]


During the 1950s, two white sheriffs discover a black man's body hanging from a tree and shot through the heart. The first sheriff is befuddled. He is looking at the body and is very confused. The second sheriff asks him "what is wrong?" The first sheriff takes off his hat and starts scratching his head. He looks up at the body and turns to his friend, "I don't know how this niggrah hung himself from this tree and also managed to shoot himself through the heart?" The second sheriff starts to laugh. "Hell of a thing. That nigger must have been one hell of a gymnast or Harry Houdini type!"

I am unsure as to the origin of the above story. But, it does capture the essence of the George Zimmerman trial for his killing Trayvon Martin perfectly.

It has all of the combustible elements of race in America--guns, crime, violence, and the law. The Zimmerman trial is also an example of how attitudes about race and politics are intimates. Defenders of George Zimmerman automatically assume that Martin is a black male "thug" with no right to life. Defenders of Trayvon Martin see a person guilty of the crime of walking down the street while being black and male.

As others have pointed out, a thought experiment is helpful in exposing just how messed up this race business is in America.

If people were told a story about a teenager walking home carrying only a bag of candy and a bottle of iced tea, and a person who was a self-appointed defender of the neighborhood/failed wannabe superhero cop shot and killed them, the standing prior would be that the latter committed a crime. Public opinion would sympathize and favor the former. If the public was also told that the shooter did a national TV interview in which he showed no remorse and said it was "God's will" that he took a life, he would be even less popular as his guilt would be utterly transparent and all but admitted to.

However, when these events are viewed through the white racial frame, with the victim being African-American and the shooter being white, the narrative immediately changes.

How perverse. Justice is apparently not race neutral. Given that America was founded as a white republic by law, and that people of color for four centuries in this country have had no rights that whites are bound to respect, such an outcome should not be a surprise.

Race is also a story of contradictions.

The United States can elect a black man as President. This moment can coexist with an increase in white racial animus towards black people since Obama's election, a fictive belief that white folks are oppressed in the Age of Obama, and research which demonstrates how white people are generally not empathetic towards the pain and suffering of black people.

I like to share readers' comments when they are particularly sharp and insightful.

In the following comment here on WARN, CSM summed up the national spectacle around the murder of Travyon Martin by George Zimmerman perfectly:
If ever there was a test to determine if what motivates the tea bagging/right wing/GOP is racism, the Zimmerman case is it. They support Zimmerman, even though he clearly is someone who they would normally hate as a "Mexican." Yet he's been taken up as a cause celebre by the racists not so much for who he is, but for who he shot. Before any of the latest Zimmerman story came out about Martin ambushing him from non-existent bushes, when all we knew was Zimmerman saw Martin, followed and shot him, while he was minding his own business coming back from the store, they were already calling Martin a "thug" who deserved to be killed on the basis of nothing else but his race. If this were 1955 they would be cheering on Emmett Till's killers. If it was 1963 they'd be cheering on the killer of Medgar Evers. They would have said no need for a trial in those cases. And if it was 1869 they'd be cheering on the Klan for destroying Reconstruction.
I am in agreement with CSM. As I have said previously, Zimmerman's supporters and the Tea Party GOP racial reactionaries would probably not commit the personal act of murder at a spectacular lynching. However, they would cheer it on, buy souvenirs, and make sure that their kids and grand kids are in attendance to learn the lessons of Whiteness as an identity predicated on domination and authority over the Other.


Elly said...

I have nothing to add to the observation - after surveying some of the truly awful comments left on even mainstream media sites, the comparison is painfully apt. Zimmerman's supporters are horrible, heartless people.

It did, however, make me curious about what happened to Till's killers. It appears that neither one prospered after their acquittal - they lived the remainder of their lives in bitter obscurity.

I'd like to believe that Zimmerman - assuming he's acquitted - won't be as lucky as Bryant and Milam. His supporters may be cheering for him now, but I suspect they'll drop him like a hot rock after his "purpose" is fulfilled. And I don't think that "obscurity" will be an option for him... this is going to follow him wherever he goes.

chauncey devega said...

I don't know. I could see him being a celebrity victim of sorts doing Fox News, doing the NRA gun nut circuit, getting support from the White Right and other think tanks in order to "heal."

Jenny said...

Thanks for this. I regret the intensification of unfriendly racial feelings among people who are looking for an easy targest, as usual.

splinter said...

not even Emmett Till's own mama cried as incessantly as contemporary race hustlers scrambling to eek a living out of their fin d'siecle parasitization of the imaginations of soft-headed fools.

OL GRIFFIN said...

Bingo .. BHO dual election almost makes elevating GZ a LOCK IMO

Lilredhead said...

I for one hope that Zimmerman will live out the rest of his life with the same fear he gave Trayvon Martin the night he took that innocent young man's life. I hope he looks over his shoulder with fear every time he is outside his home. He murdered that young man, no question about it. Zimmerman made an assumption about Trayvon simply because he had black skin. The right wing tea baggers will forget about Zimmerman as soon as he is of no use to them any longer. My husband and I have watched the trial and have been so angry at how the defense has tried to trash Trayvon's life just to try and save Zimmerman. It has all been so incredibly sad for the Martin family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

chauncey devega said...

It was a great comment from one of the smart folks who offer up their thoughts here on WARN. Was my pleasure to share.

chauncey devega said...

Zimmerman is fulfilling a fantasy. I hate to say that, but he is. He is going to be a martyr and a hero for the most twisted among us.

Lilredhead said...

I have to say I agree with you Chauncey. Zimmerman wanted to be a cop so bad but couldn't make it. So he was trying to live out his dream of killing black people because "they always get away". His Karma will come back and get him, I only hope it is in this lifetime so we can all see him have to pay for his crime.

Brian said...

Thanks for this, Mr. DeVega.