Monday, July 15, 2013

Starting With Zimmerman's Race

I’ve heard somewhat frequently a variation on this theme: Doesn’t it mean/suggest/imply those who say Zimmerman is ‘white enough’ are displaying a kind of racism, themselves as glossing over differences among caucasians? Or is this a case of being ethnically insensitive/prejudiced rather than racist given Latinos and Hispanics have often and are still often grouped as simply white? Or does it mean perhaps many immediately began assuming based off a news report or tweet or article with no picture or word of mouth attached a race to the name George Zimmerman?

The Latino, Hispanic, and multitude other descriptions/labels/identifications for an extremely varied descendancy covering multiple continents are only that, labels. Identifying based on a nationally linked ancestral path could mean a variety of of things. Many are of a mixed european and Amerindian heritage, both of which have intragroup variances from portuguese speaking and often family traceable paths from Portugal rather than more Spain-linked country-identified countries such as Mexico or Puerto Rico. To say those two nations’ ancestry is insignificant enough to gloss over would be to diminish those differences. Expand this out and both Portugal and Spain were influenced in ways beyond cultural by various northern european, roman and moorish invasions. And none of this considers African, Indo-Sino and Semitic bloodlines.

So why is this mind blowingly complicated and delicate issue being dragged out in the media and expounded upon in our legal and public discourse spheres? Specifically *because* it’s so complicated, rife with shameful and confusing-to-consider practices of institutional, cultural and legal norms over the course of millennia. This is more than just workplace or law enforcement discrimination, more than segregation or jim crow laws. Deeper than slavery or colonialism. It’s beyond genocide or holocaust. These are the awful outcomes of a prejudice that is as much in the fiber of every one of us as as our religion or sex and gender facets or philosophical/values/ideology. If we are at work, let our value in production be the gauge in that part of our lives. If we are interacting with the criminal justice system, let our actions be the determiner of the kind of interaction that is. Being Irish and Catholic should be no more of a hindrance or boon in one’s interactions in all but those portions of society specifically based on one of these factors. Because this is such a commonly felt and historically present aspect of negatives in people’s lives, it’s something we can all relate to in some way, being invested in it and talking about it and seeing it. That’s how the media knows this is something that sells(ignoring the individuals making up the journalistic and editorial staffs of outlets). Why it’s so ugly every time this issue is raised is evidence not only of its unresolved status, but also our diminishing ability to productively engage one another on these topics. I don’t think this is a conscious and craven attempt to break apart our public discourse, but rather something that has arisen from multiple factors. Attempts to broaden audiences and comprehensibility of content have often led to shallower content, more argumentative and less intellectual discourse and a generally broader brush with which media paints things. This isn’t necessarily bad, as it can make issues that are normally bland and uninteresting suddenly topics that people are engaged in and eager to talk about. However, it can also mischaracterize issues as more simple than they really are and depict things in a much more black and white, right or wrong, specific and confined issue or not. Combine this with connected organizations whose purposes address only a single demographic group eager to utilize any and all current events as a cause celebre to affect some sort of change they feel would be positive but in fact often come off as opportunists seeking to exploit legitimate tragedies for dubiously linked policy goals. I think this is why it’s constantly being brought up in the media and why it so often seems to be a terribly execute conversations on the matter. That's not the incentivizing force for nearly anyone hosting or participating in the public discourse.

This relates to the Martin/Zimmerman situation in multiple ways. Profiling, not just based on race but even clothing can lead to an unproductive presumption on the part of not just individual officers or citizens acting within the letter of the law, but of the wording of laws themselves. What I mean by this is that when profiling and other noncriminal criteria are assumed as easily identifiable and properly applied, it stands to reason regulations can be regarding the application of penalties can be more permissive. Initial images of the two individuals proved to be at the least questionable if not biased in their depiction of Martin and Zimmerman. The first pictures of Martin proved to be years old and smiling jubilantly. Zimmerman’s, by contrast, looked like a mugshot. As tensions over the race and age and disregarding of emergency dispatchers and racial epithets muttered over the phone, I have long felt a highly underdiscussed aspect of this story has been that following his being taken into custody, examination and questioning by police the evening of the fight and shooting, Zimmerman was essentially done with the system. It wasn’t until public outrage, both local but especially national, made it all but absolutely necessary to further investigate the situation. However, this was still law enforcement and while they ultimately filed charged that have now lead to the trial, my frustration from the beginning has had to do with the ability to apply the stand your ground law in such a way that police officers at their headquarters were able to make the determination that the law was followed. I think there ought to have been at the least a scheduled hearing where at least a judge would review all evidence and testimony as well as witnesses and affected individuals could give context to the detached judgment of the judicial branch. It seems only proper given that a loss of life occurred, yet this was not the course the system was following prior to the involvement of federally appointed investigators.