JUL 17, 2013, 9:30 AM
BY DAWUD WALID
The George Zimmerman acquittal has angered many as yet another sign of racial injustice in America. Others, however, were elated by the verdict arguing that he should have never been indicted and that race should have not been a factor.
I lean more towards the former and believe there’s opportunity to bring change for the better due to Trayvon Martin’s homicide.
One of these opportunities is that we should all commit ourselves to having candid discussions about race in America. Texas Governor Rick Perry asserted after the verdict that we have a “colorblind” justice system. This is false as surely other daily social realities in America are not colorblind. Our biases go with us – including into courtrooms.
There is a difference between a semblance of procedural justice, as in the eventual prosecution and trial of Zimmerman, with racial and social justice. Hence, Zimmerman apparently saw Martin as a threat not simply because he was a stranger but because he was a young black teenager in a hoodie. The reality is that young black men are perceived as more threatening in America. An AP poll last year found that 51 percent of Americans express explicit anti-black sentiments.
Though personal accountability is important to the current plight of minorities, there is much to be said about structural inequalities in America that have roots back to the founding of our republic.
According to a Texas A&M study, why are whites 354 percent more likely to be acquitted when shooting blacks using the “Stand Your Ground” defense than if whites are shot?
Why are our prisons filled with black and Latino males primarily from nonviolent drug offenses, yet whites use and sell drugs at the same rates as their demographics in society?
Why do Native Americans who reside on reservations have higher rates of dropping out of high school and alcoholism than the national average?
Why does the Heritage Foundation say that “Hispanic immigrants, even after several generations, have lower IQ’s” than whites within the context of immigration reform discussion?
It’s evident that we are not a post-racial society. Instead of acting as if we are a colorblind society, we need to discuss how race matters.
Whites need to lead these discussions with fellow whites to unpack how white privilege is a reality in America. White privilege does not mean that whites do not work hard or are all born with silver spoons in their mouths. White privilege is the other side of racism that affords freedom of societal movement for whites that minorities do not fully enjoy. Black Americans cannot lead in this matter, for it would invoke defensiveness or charges of playing the race card.
Arabs, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and blacks also need to have frank discussions on how race affects self-awareness and perceptions of others. There is ethnic animus and insensitive among people of color against each other. Zimmerman after all has lighter skin but is not white according to the traditional American racial construct of whiteness.
If we renew our commitment to discuss our misperceptions about others, it may lead us to be more comfortable about discussing race in mixed forums and environments. I recognized that many Americans simply aren’t there yet.
I plan to march this Saturday at noon outside of the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Fort Street to exert pressure of the Department of Justice to thoroughly review if Martin’s civil rights were violated by Zimmerman. I also plan to continue to push for the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) to become the law of the land. However, my larger goal is to be a part of a broader regional and national conversation of how race still matters. Ignoring the problem of racism and its social consequences will not magically solve anything. Recognizing and candidly discussing its reality is the only way that we can ever hope to rid our country of the ugly disease of racism.