Full disclosure: The George Zimmerman verdict surprised me. It surprised a lot of other white folks too. As far as I can tell, it didn’t surprise any black folks. This is a seriously important data point.
It comes at an awkward moment for me, since I’ve been inveighing recently against ‘anti-racism’ (particularly of the hucksterish Tim Wise variety) as a political strategy. Was I wrong?
Of course not. That goes without saying. Never happens. But I’ve been doing some head-scratching all the same.
I tend to think of racism primarily as an ideology; and on that level, racism is dead. Next to nobody is willing to say he’s a racist any more, but a few decades ago that would have been a quite different story. Very few people are willing even to articulate the old Herrnstein-Jencks bellcurve bullshit any more. It’s just not respectable. Oh there are probably a few old fools who still believe it, but they know better than to say it.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that if Trayvon had been paler than George, the outcome would have been the same.
The jury consisted of six more or less ‘white’ people — people who would no doubt describe themselves as such.
(As it happens, they were all also female people, a fact now enshrined in the crisp phrase ‘six white women’. There is a certain drollery in this. Does anybody suppose that if there had been a few ‘white’ men on the jury the verdict would have been different? — But that’s a hypothetical; and since I never answer them, I shouldn’t ask them.)
The police did everything they could to sweep this matter under the rug. Forced to prosecute by public indignation, the prosecution did a lousy job, essentially ceding every legal point to the defense. The judge gave a grossly slanted charge to the jury, and of course the jury was stacked. One has to ask oneself: How far are we, really, in practice, from the days of Jim Crow?
Clearly, the answer is, Not as far as we would like. Yet at the same time I want to argue that our foe is not the old foe. We sometimes underestimate how Protean and shape-shifting the organs of domination are.
Racism is such a capacious term that it’s hard to say even what it means. But let’s run with it for a moment.
Does racism persist? Or is it continually re-created? Is it now the same thing in a different guise, or a different thing in the same guise?
Do our rulers still need to segregate? Or do the mechanisms of domination now simply take opportunistic advantage of a segregation that actually exists? Is there some reason why black folks need to be the ‘other’ of choice for smug, isolated pig-ignorant boy-in-a-bubble nincompoops like the infamous Juror B37, or is that just the path of least resistance? Would Muslims do as well? Even as we speak, experiments are being conducted, and though it’s early days yet, the results are encouraging.
After the Zimmerman verdict, it’s kinda hard to say there’s no such thing anymore as racism. But is this racism an autonomous, self-subsisting thing? People often speak as if it were, but I’m skeptical.
More to come on this topic. It’s keeping me awake at night.