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I was deeply moved by President Obama's comments about the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. But a little voice in the back of my head whispered some disturbing things, and as a little time has passed, I'd like to share some of my thoughts about it.

So what did that disturbing voice whisper to me?

That to some people, it would have been fine and equally justified if the president had been profiled, stalked and killed 35 years earlier. That there was something terrible wrong in a world where another black punk lived to become president of the United States.

I was not pleased with this voice. I was very uncomfortable to find that it had a place inside my mind. And yet, with the comments from the right after Obama's statement, I knew that I was right and that some people really thought like this. I remember a cartoon that I saw after the 2008 election that showed the White House lawn growing watermelons, with fried chicken buckets and bones littered about. From inside the White House came sounds of loud rap music, and bubbles with gangsta-speak dialogue from the Obama family.

I was incredulous. Hadn't the cartoonist seen or heard this family during the campaign? How could he imagine that they were like this?

But the fact is, he hadn't seen or heard the Obamas during the campaign or onstage at the convention or anywhere at all. He was unable to see a well-dressed, well-spoken, intelligent and educated, family. When he looked at the Obamas, he didn't see them at all, he saw his fears instead. This was behind the birther movement and all the other ridiculous attempts to deny that we had a black president who had been elected by a majority of Americans. He wasn't "one of us," he was "other."

Since the verdict, I have read many different analyses in different places, but the one that seemed closest to my own take on reality, yet taught me something new, was by Vorris L. Nunley and appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It begins with this:

THE FLORIDA JUDICIAL SYSTEM got it right. George Zimmerman did not murder Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who had gone to the store to get a snack, the individual person, had nothing to do with the events of that horrible night. George Zimmerman never saw him. Instead he saw a theoretical construct which Nunley calls a trope.

And this of course is the tragedy.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    remembrance

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 01:43:42 PM PDT

  •  I was just having a discussion elsewhere (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Patate, remembrance

    -- trust me, this is relevant -- about underrepresentation of certain demographics in fiction, kicked off by the specific question of LBGTQ+ people (which is to say, the lack thereof) in the Harry Potter books.  It wound up taking a side turn onto race.

    One commenter said that he hadn't been aware that the character of Dean Thomas was black until the movies came out -- and when called on the fact that the text actually says so, attempted to argue that the text only says so in the American versions.  (False.)  I commented that I might have been in doubt, except that I remember how so many viewers of the Hunger Games movie were shocked to discover that the character of Rue was black, despite the fact that her skin color is explicitly stated in the paragraph that introduces her.

    Because Dean Thomas is Harry's friend, because Rue reminds Katniss of her little sister Prim, some people's minds overwrite their canonical blackness with something they consider more sympathetic.

    But they can't do that with a person they see in real life, as opposed to a person on a printed page.  In real life, what happens in their minds instead is that the visual impression of blackness overwrites everything that doesn't fit their personal story of who and what this person is.

    Tropes are powerful.  And they can be so very dangerous.

    •  It's a matter of perception. (4+ / 0-)

      I do see the connection.

      I had a friend years ago whose daughter was in the second year of a program to integrate an exclusive private prep school. After a short time there, her daughter complained that the people there thought they knew things about her even though they didn't know her at all.

      That's the definition of prejudice.

      Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

      by ramara on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 02:12:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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