, Newburyport, MA

July 22, 2013

Why we love to talk about Trayvon

Joe D'Amore Jr.

---- — This small-town tragedy has been turned into a national crisis partially by manipulative media. The racism card that drove up the ratings of media outlets covering the case was, to a large extent, a result of NBC’s deceitful splicing of George Zimmerman’s call to police. We can’t know how intentional this was, but we do know that the media had a hand in playing the racism card, that it benefited greatly from the ensuing chaos, and that the people of the United States are extremely vulnerable because of the anger and hate it has spurred. Government and media thrive off the emotional fallout of a misinformed people.

Perhaps Zimmerman deserves punishment for his mistake of following Trayvon Martin. If he had done his job correctly, Martin would not have died. Nevertheless, whether the murder was a hate crime is a completely different question, and possibly one injected into our minds for the sake of media ratings, much to the humiliation of the American people. The media is familiar with this kind of manipulation; OJ’s and Casey Anthony’s are gold mines.

That being said, one ought to also acknowledge that the protesters are not so much concerned with putting Zimmerman in prison as they are with exposing subterranean racial tensions that can’t receive the same attention they could half a century ago.

It isn’t easy to have a conversation about racism anymore. American social etiquette dictates that we be pleasantly diplomatic with each other, that we be moderate, uncontroversial and politically correct. This makes it very difficult to voice deep passions such as anger about racism (which is nowadays prevalent yet subtle due to a similar process of sublimation). America wants to talk about racism and is frustrated that it can’t. How often is it the subject of our jokes, comedies, music and films? In those contexts, it is easier to mention. You can’t just sit down at a lunch table and unprecedentedly rattle off some educated talking points about post-MLK American racism. It’s much easier to recite Dave Chappelle jokes.

What the Zimmerman case has given us is the relieving opportunity to talk freely about racism. That is why the megaphones have come out. The protesters aren’t primarily interested in sending Zimmerman to prison, and they probably don’t have a good chance of doing so anyway. What they really want is to talk about something that they don’t usually get to talk about. The cameras are on and the cafeteria social etiquette has been temporarily suspended. This is the time for anger to surface that has been suppressed for years.

Instead of arguing revisionist analyses of the case, many protesters and even the prosecutors have reiterated that black men should be allowed to walk home without fear of being shot. This tells us something. They aren’t talking about Trayvon Martin, but about today’s America, for the verdict is not the end nor is it really the point after all. There is a much deeper message emitting from the outrage that goes far beyond the death of Trayvon Martin. In other words, we have much more to discuss than Zimmerman’s fate: namely, contemporary racism and corrupt media.

Martin, a son and friend who has tragically died, has now become a symbol, even though his murderer might have acted in justified self-defense. One could say that millions of angry Americans have exploited Martin’s death, while others could say that attaching him to an idea thus provides a means of dealing with a loss so seemingly meaningless. There was no conceivable reason for Martin to die.

Christians ask why God would do something so apparently pointless and hurtful. One way to combat this existential crisis is to schematize the tragedy into something more meaningful: a conversation about something much larger than the untimely death of a single teenager in an obscure Florida community. Trayvon Martin, the symbol, is a somewhat Christlike immortalization of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager who was mysteriously taken from his family and friends. By looking beyond the verdict, we are at once helping his loved ones cope and paying homage to the conversation of racism that begs to be had in this country, regardless of whether Zimmerman is guilty.


Joe D’Amore Jr., a student at Stonehill College, lives in West Newbury.