At last a comment that goes to the core: “I believe his heart was in the right place”. This from juror number B37 one of those sitting in judgment of George Zimmerman and finding him innocent. I believe most white people, certainly in New York, know that Zimmerman’s heart was in a racist space when he spoke to the police dispatcher and got out of his car and followed Trayvon, a young black male, against the dispatcher’s spoken wishes, because “They’re always getting away..” But African-Americans recognize something that is more than racist: this was a white man on the hunt and he was going to get him a black man.
Zimmerman’s actions and the juror understanding where his heart was, is only one end of the spectrum of a primitive pathology on which you find slavery, lynching parties, police shootings of unarmed young black men, Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remarks that minorities should be stopped and frisked more often, and general racial discrimination in its various forms.
Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome, where the emotional effects of centuries of slavery are transferred through generations, doesn’t just affect African-Americans, white Americans must be affected as well. I believe it is the centuries of rationalizations justifying the everyday torturing and lashings, watching people being driven and sold like cattle that have gone deep in the American psyche and eventually led juror B37 To believe in her heart, that Zimmerman’s heart was in a place she knew and she finds it sad that Trayvon got caught up in that, but she understands Zimmerman’s feelings. And she would not have to have lived here long or be of stateside heritage to arrive at that point. This pathology is embedded in the culture and is continuously reinforced, and is only most obviously expressed in the criminal justice system.
Many white folks have been consciously and successfully working this poison out of their system, are rightfully appalled at the outcome of the trial and the kind of justice it harkens back to and want desperately to remove this ugly thread from the American tapestry. The problem is, Americans have been poorly-educated and do not realize the extent of the barbarity that was accepted and even cheered for not too long ago and that is a part of their American heritage, although perhaps one not covered in the Common-Core education standards.
But until America comes to grips with the lasting psychological damage that slavery caused, that “right place” the juror spoke of, will continue to absorb our national energy and erode the financial and intellectual strength of the country. And as it does so, black people must beware of national scapegoating. In a 1996 interview with Historian John Henrik Clarke, we asked Dr. Clarke “What about black folks” going into the Millennium? He responded “I say if black people don’t unite and begin to support themselves, their communities and their families, they might as well begin to go out of business as a people. Nobody’s going to have any mercy. And nobody’s going to have any compunction about making slaves out of them”.
There’s nothing “post-racial” about this country, and if you look at the hunger-strikers at Guantanamo, the civilian deaths from drone attacks, and life in some prisons here in the states, then even saying “post-barbaric” is a stretch. There’s still a lot of organizing and hard work left to do as we cut the road around the mountain to the Promised Land.