A Culture of Fear Acquitted: A Rational Explanation Of Why Zimmerman’s Acquittal Is Bothersome

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two people, one in person and the other via facebook, ask me to explain my perspective on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. As one of them put it, “You are using a rational approach to expressing the same thing I have seen expressed much less rationally but still do not understand.” I imagine there are others of you who are struggling to understand why people—in particular, black-Americans—are at the least disheartened and at the most enraged that George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder as well as the lesser charge of manslaughter.

First let me clarify that I totally understand why George Zimmerman was acquitted. In a case with no other witnesses aside from Zimmerman it is extremely difficult to provide substantial evidence that he was lying, omitting facts or details, or otherwise twisting the truth. The justice system worked the way it is supposed to. Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty and the prosecution had very little to work with. I am not God nor do I presume to be. The problem I have is: in a way, someone or something else was acquitted right along with Zimmerman. In the minds of myself and many others racial profiling aimed at black men was excused as well.

It was bad enough that black men have had to be concerned about being profiled and pulled over by police or profiled by security in malls and stores. Now the outcome of this trial has now a green light for civilians to profile pursue and detain black men they deem suspicious. We know better than to get mouthy or defend ourselves against police officers and security personnel, even though we’ve done nothing wrong. The outcome of this trial means that in at least 25 states with Stand Your Ground Laws, we can no longer defend ourselves against civilians who would find us—as we say—“under the suspicion of being black” and attempt to question or even detain us. That is where we feel the justice system failed us. That is where we feel the sting of inequality.

There are some making genuine attempts to look at this case objectively who would balk at my assessment because it is rooted in my and others personal experiences of being profiled. Many would suspect us of playing the race card and allowing our paranoia of racism and prejudice to shape our interpretation of these events and experiences. Many don’t understand why we assume that the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was racially motivated occurrence. However, it’s not just black people who are greatly concerned about what the verdict of this trial means for racial profiling. There is a growing generation of white-Americans who have skin in the game.

Here is a snippet of what a friend, who is white, posted as they tried to sort through their emotions, “Right now I’m teaching all four of my children to fight back, scream for help, bite, kick or whatever they need to do to resist an attacker. But one day, when they’re older, I need to tell two of them to do the opposite, and not defend themselves because it’s too dangerous. Two of my sons are black so I’ve been reading and listening for years to black parents—who’ve lived through profiling by police, store clerks and their neighbors—that I need to teach my twins as they mature NOT to resist or fight even if they’ve done nothing wrong because it’s too dangerous. They must completely submit lest someone decide to issue their own form of justice and end their lives because they look ‘suspicious’.”

Let me reiterate I am not God nor do I presume to be. I don’t know anymore than anyone else whether or not George Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night is completely true or a lie. Nor do I presume to know what the intentions of his heart were that day. In a lot of ways, this isn’t even about Zimmerman and Trayvon anymore. Our society has packaged sold and promoted an image of black men that is overwhelmingly negative and brews fear, mistrust and suspicion. I am sure of this because I have even found myself to be suspicious of black men for no other reason than they were black all in the name of being safe. It’s an awful feeling to realize that you would be suspicious of yourself if you saw you in a different part of town and dressed differently. Popular media such as music, movies, TV shows and especially the ten o’clock news anywhere near an urban area reinforces the message that black men are a menace to society. I had a sinking feeling about the verdict not because I was convinced that Zimmerman was guilty, but because I felt as though the justice system acquitted a culture that says I’m a menace and suspicious. I feel as though the justice system justified the people who stare and keep an eye on me when I’m out with my wife or out in public with students in my youth ministry (just about all of whom are white). And that is why many of us who are fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters, neighbors and co-workers of black men are concerned about what this verdict means. It justified the caricature of black men in pop culture that is one of the root causes of the suspicion people have about them.

Can Overtly Sexual Commercials Be A Golden Opportunity With Your Teen?

Watching the commercials during the Super Bowl, or any televised sporting event for that matter can be a perilous activity for a family. Between the commercials for beer, Axe body spray, and GoDaddy, there are plenty of moments to turn the channel momentarily or send the kids to refill the bowl of chips just in case.

Back when I was in college I took a sociology class on Pop Culture. One day we spent an entire day analyzing popular advertising, which to this day was one of the most memorable two hours of any class I ever had in all my years of being educated. Our professor gave a very interactive lecture, meaning he encouraged a lot of dialogue from us on the more subtle messages of advertisements. He displayed numerous clips of print and TV advertising and pointed out some of the more subtle messages that are communicated that we don’t necessarily pick up on, which can also be the most influential because we haven’t been trained to think about it beyond its bad because it’s overtly sexual. In regards to print advertising, he trained us to observe how in clothing and especially fragrance ad women were almost always in postures that suggested she was available sexually and was placed on a lower plane on the page that suggested her submission to the male character. In other words the subtle message of male dominance and female submission to men was more influential than the overt fact that she, or both of them were half naked. More subtle than the fact that all the women look like models in most beer commercials is the subtlety that, one, opposite sex interaction was easier with a beer in hand, and two, if the girl even looked at the guy she not only was attracted to him but wanted him sexually. Some advertisers are savvy enough to poke fun at their own strategy (think the Merc Benz commercial where the guy almost makes a deal with the devil to get everything that goes with the car). If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew numerous guys who went through life thinking in these ways, if a girl even looked at them and gave so much as a polite smile it meant she wanted him, it wouldn’t have been such an impressionable lesson.

Now instead of simply recognizing how women are being objectified I recognize how men in particular are advertised to as if their Neanderthals whose sole purpose in life is to mate and reproduce. By purchasing this product the odds of my happiness, fulfillment, survival, social status or whatever it may be will instantly multiply, is the underlying message. When I was a teenager all I saw was the product and pretty girls who depending on the ad wore next to nothing. It wasn’t until my twenties that I saw more.

Here are some suggestions for parents of young teens who want to help their kids decipher the more subtle messages of advertising. This way they can become more empowered to not fall for the subtle lies used to sell the product. Plus you may have an opportunity to get to know a little bit more about your young teen as you enter into dialogue about something other than what they did or need to do.

  1. Find Out What They’re Thinking. Ask them what they think about what they just saw. Ask them how they think the marketers are trying to convince us to buy the product. Ask them what they think the ad says about the nature of men and women. Ask them what they think the ad says about life, fulfillment, happiness etc. This will also help you get a gauge on whether or not they are thinking concretely or abstractly (Hint: if they already are starting to pick up on the subtle stuff then they are entering abstract thinking).
  2. Make Observations. Instead of making direct comments about what you think is wrong with the commercial, which if you are raising your child to have a moral compass shaped by God’s word will be fairly obvious to them, point out some of the more subtle things. For example instead of pointing out how overtly sexual the ad is, point out how the mood or tone of the individuals change when the product appears or is put into use.
  3. Discuss the Message? Advertisements, whether commercials or print are like art, and portray a worldview; life is good or as it ought to be if ‘x’; there is a problem or life is broken because of ‘y’; life is back the to the way it was meant to be or even better than before because of ‘z’. This doesn’t have to be like work and could be turned into a fun little exercise to connect with your young teen as you watch tv.