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“Fear And Consequences”: George Zimmerman, The Not-So-Faceless Bogeyman, And The Protection Of White Womanhood

My first week of college, I had a heated debate about abortion with two new friends—both were white, and one, Nancy, was extremely pro-life. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for having such an “adult” conversation—we disagreed, but everyone was being respectful. Then my other pro-choice friend asked Nancy what she would do with a pregnancy if she was raped. I will never forget what Nancy said: “I think it would be cute to have a little black baby.” When we expressed outrage at her racism, Nancy shrugged. It never occurred to her a rapist would be anyone other than a black man. (DOJ statistics show that 80 to 90 percent of women who are raped are attacked by someone of their own race, unless they are Native women.) When this young woman imagined a criminal in her mind, he wasn’t a faceless bogeyman.

I hadn’t thought of this exchange in years, not until I was reading the responses to George Zimmerman’s acquittal—particularly those about the role of white womanhood. When I first heard that the jurors were women, I naïvely hoped they would see this teenage boy shot dead in the street and think of their children. But they weren’t just any women; most were white women. Women who, like me, have been taught to fear men of color. And who—as a feminist named Valerie pointed out on Twitter—probably would see Zimmerman as their son sooner than they would Trayvon Martin.

Brittney Cooper at Salon expressed the same sentiment: “I am convinced that at a strictly human level, this case came down to whether those white women could actually see Trayvon Martin as somebody’s child, or whether they saw him according to the dictates of black male criminality.”

And indeed, Anderson Cooper’s interview with juror B37 sheds light on who was considered deserving of empathy and humanization. Hint: it wasn’t Trayvon Martin. As Igor Volsky of Think Progress pointed out, “B37” used Zimmerman’s first name in the interview frequently and twice used the phrase “George said” even though Zimmerman didn’t testify. She also indicated that she wasn’t moved by Rachel Jeantel’s testimony because of her “communication skills” and that “she was using phrases I had never heard before.”

Perhaps most tellingly, though, “B37” told Cooper that Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done.” (The phrase “above and beyond” is interesting, given it’s generally understood as a positive.) To her, Zimmerman was a protector. Sure, maybe he went a bit overboard but “Trayvon got mad and attacked him,” and Zimmerman “had a right to defend himself.”

This juror’s comments cannot be divorced from our culture’s long-standing criminalizing of young black men, and white women’s related fears. As Mychal Denzel Smith pointed out here at The Nation and on MSNBC’s Up With Steve Kornacki, defense attorneys stoked this fear deliberately and broadly.

To my disgust, O’Mara literally invoked the same justification for killing Trayvon as was used to justify lynchings. He called to the witness stand Olivia Bertalan, one of Zimmerman’s former neighbors, who told the story of her home being burglarized by two young African-American boys while she and her children feared for their lives. It was terrifying indeed, and it had absolutely no connection to the case at hand. But O’Mara presented the jury with the “perfect victim,” which Trayvon could never be: a white woman living in fear of black criminals. Zimmerman had offered to help her the night her home was robbed. Implicit in the defense’s closing argument: he was also protecting her the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

They carefully made Martin—the victim—into that not-so-faceless bogeyman. Now, I don’t know what was in the jurors’ hearts—but the story the defense told and that juror B37 parroted is not a new one. It’s a story that ends with fear trumping empathy and humanity. (A fear that even now is being grossly defended as justified.)

Yes, white women—all of us—are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism.

I’d like to think if I was on that jury I would look at pictures of Trayvon Martin and see him for the child he was. I hope I would.

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, July 16, 2013

 

July 22, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Temptation Of Renown”: Juror B37 Considers Writing Book About The Zimmerman Trial, Then Comes To Her Senses

It’s sort of quaint that when the winds of national attention float past someone who never would have otherwise gotten the chance to receive something resembling fame, their first thought so often is, “I should write a book!” The publishing industry may be dying and 99 percent of authors may never get sales out of the four figures, but everyone, even people who haven’t written anything longer than an email since they were in their teens, thinks the world would be eager to read 300 pages of their thoughts and feelings.

So it was that Juror B37—since she hasn’t revealed her name, I’m going to call her Gladys—emerged into the bright light of a Florida morning and said to herself, “There’s gotta be a way for me to cash in on this.” And she decided to write a book, because like most Americans, Gladys isn’t non-famous, she just isn’t famous yet. She quickly retained a literary agent, who no doubt told her that this thing was going to be huge. After all, it’s all over the news. Folks just can’t get enough of this Zimmerman trial. How many millions of people would gladly plunk down 25 bucks to read the real inside story of what went on in those two days of deliberations? Maybe Hollywood would option the book, and then Gladys could be played by Anne Hathaway, who would want to learn all about the trial from her personally, and then they’d totally become best friends, and then…

Let’s say this for Gladys: After running through all that in her head for a day or two, at some point she said to herself, “Who the hell am I kidding?” After all, it would take her ghostwriter at least a month or two to spit out a manuscript, then it would take weeks more to get it into stores, by which time nobody could possibly give a crap what Gladys, or anybody else on the jury, thought about the trial. After all, the whole thing was televised—it isn’t like what went on in the courtroom is a mystery. And the trial itself wasn’t particularly dramatic. There were no stunning moments, no “Oh my, I can’t seem to get this glove on my hand,” no gripping testimony from the one person who was actually there when the crime took place. All Gladys would be able to tell anyone is what she and her fellow jurors discussed, which probably isn’t that interesting. So Gladys quite sensibly decided not to write a book after all.

Gladys’ return to reason notwithstanding, it never ceases to amaze me how many people think that their lives will be improved if they achieve some measure of fame, not as validation for their efforts, and not even the kind of fame that comes with enjoyable privileges, but just being known to strangers as an end in itself. There are dozens of reality shows which exist to let us gawk at people so despicable that we can feel much better about our own lives and relationships, and they not only have no trouble finding people willing to let them turn the cameras on every pathetic detail of their lives, they have to beat off the potential stars/subjects/contestants with a stick.

OK, you got frustrated and yelled at your kids the other day, but have you seen those monsters on Dance Moms? If you’re in the mood to have your faith in humanity’s fundamental goodness obliterated, I highly recommend the program, although it turns out, not too surprisingly, that the producers work hard to make the show’s participants seem as horrid as possible. What I’ve always wondered is whether the moms themselves think that they come off as sympathetic. What are they getting out of their participation, other than the contempt of millions? Perhaps they and others like them think that, like the Duck Dynasty fellas, once the cameras are on them they’ll be able to turn their brand of homespun charm into an entire multimedia empire. (Right now a book by the Duck Dynasty patriarch stands at number 3 on the combined print and e-book New York Times bestseller list, trailing only Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and the publishing phenomenon of the last couple of years, Proof of Heaven, in which a doctor describes how he went to heaven for a while when he was in a coma, and there’s just no possible way it could have been a dream, because, you know, Jesus is awesome. There are a couple dozen Duck Dynasty books of wisdom, cookbooks, kids books, wall calendars, and who knows what else available for purchase.)

The best move Juror 37B made this week was doing her interview with Anderson Cooper in darkness, so we can’t see her face. She probably did that because she was afraid that if everyone knew who she was, she might get harassed by people who disagreed with the verdict she rendered, which is possible. But being a regular person is its own kind of privilege, one she may have learned to appreciate.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 16, 2013

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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