Carl Trueman has already raised questions about feminism but those thoughts returned while reading a variety of reactions to the George Zimmerman trial. You see a lot about race and class, but hear nothing about gender.
What does gender have to do with this? Well, both Martin and Zimmerman received their father’s surnames. That includes President Obama who gave a speech about the verdict on Friday (more below). What would the press and pundits have been saying about the case had Zimmerman been called George Mesa (his mother’s surname)? And what would those folks have said about race and ethnicity in the U.S. if Zimmerman were identified as a Hispanic-American with Afro-Peruvian blood (from his maternal grandfather)? And what about Zimmerman’s membership in the Democratic Party? The country has had a lot of debates for the last five years about illegal immigration or undocumented aliens (with Republicans trying to get out from under their white-only reputation), many of whom come to the U.S. from south of the border. Granted, Hispanic hardly does justice to Mexican-, Cuban-, or Peruvian-Americans, nor does Mexican do justice to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in Mexico. But in the strange world of white/majority-non-white/minority relations in the U.S., George Zimmerman should qualify as a fellow as much on the minds of those who worry about race, class, and gender/transgender as they do about Sandra Fluke. In which case, the trial has an upside. A Hispanic-American, at a time when many Americans are skittish about immigrants from Central and South America, gained a welcome verdict in the nation’s white-dominated justice system. Obviously, that is no consolation to Trayvon Martin’s family. But since so much of the discussion of the trial and its aftermath has been about race, with the implication of how white Americans and their institutions mistreat non-whites, why doesn’t Zimmerman’s minority status provide some consolation to those sensitive to race and ethnicity?
Similar questions can be raised about President Obama. What if his name were Barack Dunham, and what if Americans perceived him as a white man instead of an African-American? (No one is really going to defend the idea that the slightest amount of African blood in a person makes them black, are they?) And what if the President himself thought more about being reared by a white mother and white grandparents before saying this:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
Instead of the Trayvon Martin case showing how badly America treats blacks, the overwhelming reaction has been how much white America empathizes with blacks.
Does this mean that everything is fine in the U.S. and that we can all go back to work believing that this is a great land where the justice and economic systems work fairly? If you’ve seen The Wire (or read Wendell Berry), you never go to work thinking that. In fact, it is hard not to see a photo of Trayvon Martin and not think of Dukie Weems, or to have watched the series and not understand David Simon’s recent reaction:
In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.
At the same time, the inequities of the U.S. extend beyond white-black relations. Turning the George Zimmerman case into only a discussion of race and class will miss the larger canvass on which the tragic encounter between Martin and Zimmerman played out. I think I even learned about the complications of all social interactions from David Simon himself.