The Lesson of George Zimmerman’s “Not Guilty” Verdict
I feel as though this Time article hits the nail on the head about a lot of issues recalled during the trial. Race is something that is still very uncomfortable for white people to talk about – almost as though if we open our mouths and acknowledge that racism still exists, we will be implicating ourselves as an irredeemable racist. There is also this sense of guilt for many white people that, because they come from a place of privilege, they aren’t allowed to take part in discussions of racism. Open discussion of race and racism has become taboo, and admission of a system that perpetuates inequality is somehow dirty.
I went to school during a time when our education system had this weird approach to race where you “weren’t allowed to notice” it. If you were asked to describe someone, you uncomfortably went through height, eye color, hair color, and then lowered your voice and quickly rushed through mentioning skin color if you included it at all. Bringing conversation about racism and race relations to a full halt was never going to solve the problems, though. If you treat acknowledging a person’s skin color as sinful, aren’t you also in a way emphasizing that there is something wrong with that race?
People rally behind trials like George Zimmerman’s, and expect the jury’s verdict to have some sort of healing and problem-eradicating effect. As though if they found George Zimmerman guilty, people would be able to say, “Aha! See? Racism is dead!” But that’s not how trials work. And that’s not how issues of deeper-rooted prejudice are solved. Those six women on the jury were never going to solve the persisting racial problems in the United States. That takes all of us becoming less passive, actually opening our own mouths and engaging in the discussion, no matter how uncomfortable it is. I would argue that the discussions that took place from the time the incident happened through the conclusion of the trial just underscored the fact that, no matter what the jury decided, race would continue to be a very big problem.
Not admitting to a flaw does not make it go away, and that admission does not make you a weaker person. Rather it is vital to acknowledge that the problem exists, and to actively work on it. You cannot expect to leave the problem alone until someone else decides to solve it.
We can’t just sit silently waiting for the morning when we wake up to a newspaper headline that announces a magical cure to race problems. We all have to come to the table willing to discuss it openly. And it will be messy, it will be uncomfortable; people will fight, people will lose friends over the discussion. People will probably discover painful truths about their own perceptions and opinions. But it’s the only way to press forward. We’ve been idling in Neutral for far too long.