Editor’s note: I meant to publish this on Friday, but I got sidetracked by a night in the ER and a busy weekend.
Those were the words of Frank Taaffe, a friend of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin after a confrontation with the unarmed black teen.
Taaffe (left) last week went on CNN’s AC360 and defended his friend, noting Zimmerman was not a racist. Anderson Cooper didn’t mince words with this questions during the interview:
AC: You know, a lot of people believe race played a factor in this. Form what you know about George Zimmerman, do you believe race played a factor?
Taaffe: Absolutely not.
AC: Why do you feel so strongly about that?
Taaffe: George is not a racist. He was just performing his duties as watch captain. Whether it be African American, Latino, Asian, or white, he would’ve done the same thing. He would have appropriate the person, asked him “What’s your business here?” and if he had just answered him in an appropriate manner, “I’m just here visiting. My mother’s house is around the corner,” and be upfront and truthful, there wouldn’t be any problem.
Out of all the things that have been said to defend George Zimmerman, that rationale by Taaffe ranks as the most offensive defense I’ve heard throughout this four-week long tragedy.
The idea that Taaffe believes its Zimmerman’s place to question a young black male because he appears to be “out of place” is seeped in the racist, patriarchal notion that black bodies are the possessions of whiteness. It’s seeped in the belief that people of color are not autonomous and deserved to be treated like children and criminals when whiteness judges our appearance to be suspect.
Taaffe is sorely mistaken if he believed this murder would have ended differently if Trayvon had been a good black boy and answered Zimmerman. Taaffee is ignorant if he believed Zimmerman, who has a history of calling the police an unusual number of times and a prior criminal record, would have allowed Trayvon to continue on his way without confrontation if he had just responded to Zimmerman’s questions.
Zimmerman would not have let Trayvon go without a confrontation because he had a warped belief that young black boys did not belong in his neighborhood and they were up to no good. Zimmerman, along with others who were part of the neighborhood watch organization, flippantly point out that the majority of the burglaries committed in their neighborhood were done by young black males. That claim leaves one with the impression that Zimmerman hid behind that allegation in their efforts to racially profile Trayvon Martin.
I find it ironic and laughable that Zimmerman’s parents would point to his ethnicity and his so-called black friends as proof of his shield against racism. First, one can be Hispanic and identify as white or black–that doesn’t shield one from absorbing whiteness’ belief that black bodies and their actions should be automatically feared, controlled or policed. Second, the tired and true “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black” back up defense has fallen on hallow ears as Zimmerman not only complained that “they always get away,” but he can also be heard using a racial slur while on the phone with dispatchers. That use of a racial slur could lead to hate crime charges on Zimmerman by the U.S. Department of Justice.
What’s also unfortunate, yet expected, in this case is the discussion of Trayvon Martin and his suspension from school due to traces of pot found in his book bag. The Miami-Dade School District suspended the teenager–on the same day he was murdered–when they discovered residue from marijuana found in a plastic bag inside his book bag. This “discovery” of Trayvon Martin’s suspension is not just some random coincidence; it’s an attempt by backers of Zimmerman and whiteness to paint Trayvon Martin as an up-to-no-good black gangster teenager aimlessly roaming the streets of a gated community.
What’s ironic is another friend of Zimmerman, Joe Oliver, claims the man actually said “fucking goons,” which he describes as a term of endearment and that he doesn’t know anyone under 40 who uses the words coon as a racial slur anymore. Yes, this man said that bullshit on national fucking television.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is a shining example of how far this country is from the post-racial fantasy land some would like for us to buy into. The Trayvon Martin murder reminds America of its criminalization of black boys and how thick the roots of whiteness are attached to our minds and actions. It also brings to light the long unresolved racial animosity buried deep within the American subconscious.
It also is a sobering reminder of what black mothers and fathers, black men and women, black boys and girls have to battle with each and everyday. Our skin color and race has been and will always be synonymous with criminality and negativity in the minds of the practitioners of whiteness. Every black person in this country faces the inevitable, unjust second guessing by whiteness and white people as blackness has been deemed evil, mysterious and not to be trusted. There isn’t a day that goes by in which a black person doesn’t think thoroughly about their actions, movements and speech in public spaces as anything unexpected would be deemed a threat. We all know at least one young black male who has been profiled, pulled over or aside, questioned about their presence and their destination and unreasonably searched just because of the color of their skin. We all know at least one black woman who has been followed by white salesmen and women throughout department stores because our race and skin color equates to crime and disrespect. We all know that any overzealous person with a gun can turn us into the next Trayvon Martin.
While it’s encouraging to see many people come together and denounce Trayvon Martin’s murder and the Sanford, Fla., police department’s handling of the case, this case extends beyond rallying for the respect of people wearing hoodies and carrying a pack of Skittles, which I’ve seen many people do. And while I applaud the many white people who are just as outraged by the Trayvon Martin murder as many in the black community are, their way of connecting to the tragedy is only superficial–by way of Skittles and a hoodie. White privilege provides a shield to white people as they will never know the pain and burden of adjusting to how whiteness demeans people of color. They will never know or understand how we all can be the next Trayvon Martin in just a split second.
The Trayvon Martin murder and its aftermath serves as yet another opportunity to discuss whiteness, racism and racial profiling and their impacts on people of color, particularly young black boys. It goes beyond the tired and true stereotypical forms of overt racism and validates the latent, subconscious form of racism people of color have long had to negotiate in their daily lives. And while it’s been encouraging to see both whites and people of color rally to bring George Zimmerman to justice, the real work will begin when white people start working to dismantle the institution of whiteness that confirms their superiority and validates their demonizing, subjugation and othering of people of color.