A trial should be a crucible for the truth. While the legal outcome remains much in doubt, George Zimmerman’s murder trial is a reminder of the semi-permanence of race and the reality of the color line in post civil rights America.
The Zimmerman trial has revealed several truths so far. Young, dark-skinned, black women testifying in court about life and death matters--and who happen to be “working class” or “poor”--are to be savaged and mocked. The myth of the welfare queen lives on; black, female, and “poor” is to be less than a human being. She is most certainly not due the most basic amount of human respect or dignity.
White America is fascinated by black vernacular speech and how people of color talk in private spaces and among ourselves, as opposed to in public spaces or other interactions where we are subjected to the White Gaze.
The comments on Twitter, other social media, and the Internet at large, have revealed how one’s relationship to the truth is also very much a function of racial attitudes and political orientation.
Zimmerman’s supporters believe that he is a “victim” and black folks are existentially obligated to submit to white people (and those who identity with White Authority) at all times and in every situation. Most of Zimmerman’s supporters do not know about America’s long history of slave passes, white slave patrollers, or Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney’s infamous ruling in the Dred Scott case that black people have no rights that whites are obligated to respect. Yet, they echo such sentiments across time and space with ease.
Trayvon Martin’s advocates see in his killing one more example (among many thousands) where in the United States, black life is deemed to be cheap and expendable; African-Americans are presumed guilty until proven innocent—even while walking down the street and minding their own business.
While ostensibly a means of getting at the truth of what happened that rainy and dark evening, Zimmerman’s trial has also been a spectacle and a carnival sideshow in America’s centuries-long racial theater.
While talking on the phone to his friend Rachel Jaentel, Trayvon Martin apparently called George Zimmerman, the man who followed him in a vehicle, exited it with a gun, and pursued him against police instructions, a “creepy ass cracker.” In a twist of thinking, and an inversion of what studied, learned, and reasonable people understand about the realities of race and power in America, for colorblind conservative racists, George Zimmerman has been magically transformed into a victim of “reverse racism.”
Such a troubled relationship to the truth would be the stuff of a great comedy sketch if these serious matters did not involve a young person shot dead by a wannabe cop who imagined himself as possessing a license to kill.
The truth can also be inconvenient: by virtue of his actions and character, George Zimmerman is in fact a "creepy cracker."
The origins of the word cracker are uncertain. What we do know is that Trayvon’s use of “cracker” drew on a long history of mass racial violence by whites against African-Americans that began with the transatlantic slave trade and the plantation system in the “New World.”
“Cracker” is evocative of the sound of the whip, wielded by a white overseer or slave owner, as it lashes and tears black flesh. Cracker is a word that embodies white on black racial violence and tyranny.
Cracker is in no way equivalent to the word nigger.
Were millions of white people killed and enslaved by blacks holding the lash and calling them “crackers?” Were there signs that segregated whites from blacks that read “no crackers need apply” or “crackers sit in the back of the bus”? Were white people burned alive, their bodies defiled, postcards taken of their corpses, and public gatherings where blacks killed “crackers” by the thousands? Were there racial pogroms where blacks running amok, pillaging, raping, murdering and destroying property at will, yelled out for the blood of “crackers” in places like Tulsa, East St. Louis, Chicago, and Rosewood? Were there sundown towns that had signs on their outskirts which told "crackers" “not to let the sun set on them here” or they will be killed?
No. To suggest that the words "cracker" and "nigger" are at all similar is an act which is both intellectually dishonest and a lie.
History is rife with cruel coincidences and ironies. For decades, Sanford, Florida was a sundown town. Blacks were not welcome in its city limits. White racism was so potent in Sanford, Florida that Jackie Robinson, the trailblazing hero who broke the color line in baseball, was not allowed to train there.
When Trayvon Martin called George Zimmerman a cracker he was channeling a sense of existential dread and fear of white racial violence. Trayon’s worries were prescient. George Zimmerman would later shoot and kill Trayvon after racially profiling him.
George Zimmerman is also a creep.
George Zimmerman stalked and followed an innocent person on a rainy night. Strangers with loaded guns following innocent people around in the dark are almost by definition “creepy.” George Zimmerman has been accused of sexually molesting a relative. He has been visited with a restraining order for domestic battery. Zimmerman has also been in a fight with the police. On the evening he shot and killed Trayon Martin, he was taking a medication which can cause anxiety, violent impulses, aggression, and hallucinations.
As demonstrated by his many phone calls to the police, George Zimmerman is obsessed with harassing and confronting black people who he feels do not “belong” in his neighborhood. Zimmerman is such an extreme Negrophobe that he has even called the police on a black child who was walking down the street.
The throaty rasps of his call to the police and anger that “fucking punks. those assholes they always get away” was that of an obsessive, one whose exhalations were more suited for a phone sex line than a 911 call. George Zimmerman’s obsession with black people and vigilante-ways were that of a deviant, and yes, a creep.
The efforts by colorblind racists, the White Right, and Zimmerman’s defenders to invert reality so that he is a “victim” of “black racism” in the guise of the word “cracker” is part of a larger social dynamic in the Age of Obama. Recent public opinion research has revealed how white folks now believe that “anti-white” "racism" is a bigger problem than systematic discrimination against people of color in the United States.
Fantasies of white oppression are not just the product of disinformation circulated by the Right-wing media. They do serious political work by legitimating the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, as well as distracting the public from how white racism and white privilege continue to systematically disadvantage people of color to the detriment of the country’s economy.
A yearning for a belief in the lie of “white oppression” also fuels the rise of the militia movement and domestic terrorists who believe that Obama is not a legitimate and democratically elected President. The logic which tries to falsely equate “cracker” and “nigger” is also operative in the Herrenvolk dreams of the Tea Party and the Republican Party’s efforts to resuscitate the Confederacy and Civil War era controversies about secession, nullification, and “states rights”. Ultimately, the lie of “reverse racism” and “white oppression” is a means to rewrite history in order to legitimate White power and dominance.
The simplest definition of racism is that it consists of power plus prejudice. On the night when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, it was Zimmerman with both the power of the gun and who prejudged an innocent person walking down the street by virtue of their skin color as a threat.
Such behavior has been the modus operandi and habit of “creepy ass crackers” in the United States for centuries.