His first lawyers and advisers were too wrapped up in the publicity whirl to tend to their client’s best interests. But George Zimmerman now seems to have a savvy team around him – savvy enough to know that, if a prospective jury pool is going to be contaminated, they may as well throw in a little stinky stuff of their own.
Hence, last week, we were treated to the revelation that Zimmerman not only had black friends, not only had black neighbors, not only once had a couple of little black girls staying in his parents’ home, but he has black ancestry.
According to the strategically shared information, the man who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager walking through his neighborhood two months ago is the great-grandson of a part-African, part-Peruvian man.
And the people said, “So?”
Is there a biological rule that says, if you have a drop of black blood in you, you are immune to anti-black prejudices? If there is, it is a rule without enforcement, given the number of unquestionably black folks – including some very prominent ones – who seem allergic to their ethnicity, if not despising of it.
Zimmerman is entitled to a defense against the second degree murder charges brought against him, just as anyone would be. Arguably, the deluge of legitimate reporting and baseless gossip that is round-the-clock, ubiquitous, unavoidable and multifaceted makes him entitled to a defense in the court of public opinion as well as a court of law.
However, the “someofmybestfriends/neighbors/houseguests/great-grandfathers are” alibi won’t work. Or, rather, it shouldn’t. Since a good number of potential Zimmerman jurors are themselves likely to be adherents of that counterfeit logic, it probably can’t hurt to put his interracial résumé out there.
In the modern age, racism is too often defined by the extremes – heinous, premeditated murders; the use of invectives and slurs; participation in supremacist and separatist groups. The outrage over atrocities like those is as loud and sustained as it has ever been, more so than our ancestors would have ever believed possible.
Yet, we tend to give ourselves a pass on the everyday, subtle flecks of racism that pop into our heads and hearts – stereotypes, profiling, exclusions and such – and, most of the time, we get away with it because we are careful about whether and with whom we share such thoughts; or we take comfort in the faith that if one of “them” was hit by a car, we would rush to help.
Besides, some of our best friends, co-workers, even lovers are….
Again, it is the not an authentic defense. It may be a fine thing that a largely desegregated society has put us in touch with people we would, in bygone times, not have had an opportunity to know. And it is only natural that, in getting to know them, we have developed a genuine fondness or respect or love for some of the folks in our amalgamated circle.
But, the question is what do we believe – or assume – about the people we don’t get to know but whom we may encounter? And what is the basis of those beliefs or assumptions? Is it age or region or religion or nationality or race or fashion or weight or residency? Do we judge the book by its cover?
How well did George Zimmerman’s experience and lineage serve him on that fateful day?