Playing the race card with Trayvon Martin.

| April 2, 2012

What has become the iconic Trayvon Martin photograph, taken several years prior to the boy's untimely death.

For the past few weeks, it’s been common for Facebook to inform me upon my logging in that several of my friends have posted about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed seventeen-year-old who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. The story of Trayvon’s murder has been resting comfortably at the top of the headlines for over a month now, and many of my friends have been active in the online conversation about Trayvon’s death, through writing about, commenting on, and taking in the knowledge afforded to the public about the situation. The coverage I had read either somewhat succeeded at objectivity of reporting or implied what I thought was obvious: Trayvon Martin was murdered. Trayvon Martin deserves justice. I naively thought that all of my real friends, all of my Facebook friends and, well, most of the world held similar views to mine. Overzealous neighborhood watchman disobeys official 911 operator’s orders and a seventeen-year-old boy ends up dead. It certainly sounded like murder to me, and nothing revealed in the ensuing investigation has swayed my position on that.

Still, through the continued coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, I’ve been doing a lot of learning. I learned a lot about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which perhaps could be understandable in its roots, but is very, very troubling in execution. I’ve been treated to a live-action diorama on how public figures and broadcast journalists react to alleged racially-charged crimes: ignorantly, incompetently, absurdly or immediately, angrily, emotionally. But the real lesson in my life didn’t come through those occurrences which I observed from a distance. It came from my Facebook newsfeed, in an update surrounded by shared articles, photographs, and displays of solidarity with the Martin family. A distant acquaintance, with whom I have not talked in several years and whose identity I will not share, posted a status update, which I’ve paraphrased here:

i am so sick of people playing the race card with this trayvon martin case, so i’m going to do it too. do you know how many white people are shot by blacks for no reason? not enough to make national headlines, but noooo, when a black kid is shot by a half-white, half-Hispanic (because remember we’re playing the race card here) it makes headlines. and besides he’s not turning out to be such a nice person anyways.”

I was stunned, staring at the status for a good few minutes attempting to comprehend its logic and implications. After a few minutes, I defriended the poster and headed over to Google, where I verified that, in fact, such responses were not limited to my ex-Facebook friend. Many people were, to use her words, questioning certain aspects of Trayvon’s life –was he a drug dealer? was he a “gangsta” or thug?–instead of questioning the chain of events that led to Trayvon’s death, or questioning George Zimmerman’s supposed motive of self-defense for pulling the trigger. It was no longer “why did this seventeen-year-old kid die?” but “well, who was this kid, anyway? Should he really have been walking around there at night?”

Another photo of Trayvon Martin, this one likely taken while he was seventeen.

An interesting hybrid of symbols.

Let me just go ahead and pretend that I can somehow follow the deeply, deeply disturbing train of logic that because Trayvon Martin has grown to 6’3″, chose to wear a grill, modify his body with tattoos, and allegedly used and/or dealt marijuana, it’s no longer a tragedy that he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Even if I was to disregard the complete moral bankruptcy of that argument, even if I could pretend that alleged drug dealers with tattoos and grills deserve to be shot by neighborhood watchmen, the logic is still flawed. At the time of Trayvon Martin’s death, all we knew about him was that he was a black teenaged male wearing a hoodie, carrying Skittles and iced tea.

Guess what?

When he saw him walking alone that night, that’s all George Zimmerman knew, too.

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Category: featured, Politics, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Allyson is in the class of 2012 majoring in English, minoring in anthropology and moonlighting in mass communications. She is perpetually restless and intrigued by nearly everything, and her hobbies range from photography to fantasy football to excessive caffeine consumption. Follow her @aegalle

Comments (4)

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  1. questioner says:

    Maybe the greater question is this: Why is the subject of race used in reporting some stories, but not others? For example: George Zimmerman is labeled a “White Hispanic” even though he identifies as Hispanic. I have never heard of Mr. Obama referred to as a White- African American. It sounds ridiculous as White Hispanic.

    Recently in the news, there is the story of a Miami man who was also homeless being cannibalized by another individual. In the articles I have read, they identify the attacker as being “originally from Haiti” but never as “black.” The victim (who at this point is missing the majority of his face. Is only identified by his name and picture, not the fact that he is also Caucasian.

    So why were the races of the individuals in the Treyvon Martin/George Zimmerman case released in almost every article, but not in the Miami Case? What is the standard to which, a writer decides, “race is important in this case” or “race is NOT important in this case?”

  2. Allyson Galle says:

    Icee – so, so true! That isn’t something that should be overlooked. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece!

    Eric – truth bombing was my intention, I cannot lie. Thank you!

  3. Eric Baker says:

    Those last couple sentences are truth bombs that just blew my mind. Great stuff!

  4. Icee says:

    And, barring the race card, let’s not forget the fact that a grown ass man killed an unarmed teenager. I feel like people immediately jump to the race card, but we should also remember that as well. Well written, Allyson :)