The death of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman evokes something deep inside nearly all Americans. Dozens of similar cases – if not hundreds – happen every day; what makes this one hit national news while the others barely hit local?
Because this story reminds us of a still-fresh national trauma – American slavery.
There are two narratives here: One with a half-white vigilante protecting the nation from a black aggressor, and the other with a black innocent persecuted by a half-white instigator. In either narrative, note how easy it is to focus on Zimmerman’s white heritage rather than his hispanic heritage. This is because it better fits the scenario of American slavery. It forces us to ask the question: Have white people overcome racism, or are white people still bigoted?
In an era where racism is socially unacceptable, the trauma of American slavery creates cognitive dissonance for today’s white people: “I like being white, but white people did horrific things to black people.” To make sense of these conflicting thoughts, a lot of white people cope by going into denial about racism. The statement becomes: “I like being white… now that we’ve stopped doing horrific things to black people.”
The white Zimmerman supporters (of course, not all are white) continue this trend of denial, denying the potential that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. Additionally, they rationalize Zimmerman’s behavior with inconclusive evidence.
However, Zimmerman supporters are not the only ones prone to maladaptive coping techniques. For example, many Martin supporters act out, taking their frustration of the case out on Zimmerman supporters. The maladaptive coping from both sides results in a schism of the nation, Zimmerman supporters vs. Martin supporters, a schism not unlike the American Civil War. In fact, it is the same schism.
When looking at the Trayvon Martin case in this way, one begins to see that the outcome of the trial is less important than how we react to it, how we cope with it. We can act out, rant, be bitter, and hate America, or we can make art, love, and peace. We can choose to argue with and despise supporters of the other side and further the schism, or we can choose to love and respect them and close the schism.
We can choose take this inherently negative energy and transform it into goodness.
In other words, we can choose to be stagnant, or we can chose to heal.
Why do you think the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story is so heated and controversial? Leave your comments below.