Jack Ohman

Zimmerman verdict and the never ending race...

With the acquittal of George Zimmerman for Trayvon Martin's death, this country is once again plunged into yet another race conversation. Unless you're living in a gated community in Northern Idaho without cable or Internet, you're forced to participate.

For many people in this country, starting, say, in the late 1950s, this is a chat that we've gotten the memo on. This group of people wants racial equality for all, and this is beginning to feel like a continuous tape loop. We're all on board. Everything's cool. Let's live together.

Then there's the other group in America.

It's a minority, to be sure, but there is a significant element of society that just can't get over the fact that either:

A). The United States isn't operated like a country club in the 1920s, or

B). The United States is a perpetually racist concentration camp that threatens to enslave all minorities.

I'm white. Like, really culturally white, from Minnesota white. Not my choice, not my fault. It's just what it is. A colleague I was having a discussion about this today is African American. She noted that to deny her racism or mine was impossible. When she talked about racism, it was more about the assumption of racial stereotypes, such as when I brought up Minnesota white people. We're not all alike, and yet I buy into that stereotype as shorthand. I didn't disagree with her. I would call it more a form of racialism, which I would define as the acknowledgement of race without intending to discriminate. 

The last time this country went through the Race Dance was the 2008 presidential election (and which a lot of people kept churning over the preposterous debate over Barack Obama's birthplace). Before that, I would say we had the national furor over the O.J. Simpson verdict in 1995. I recall standing among a group of reporters at the moment the news of his acquittal was broadcast, and not 10 seconds had gone by when another African-American reporter said he thought Simpson was totally innocent. We all rolled our eyes. Not out of racism, or, at least, I don't believe out of racism. Just out of incredulity.

When the Zimmerman verdict was announced, I was watching a table of young men, late 20s to early 30s -- three Asian, two white, one African American, and one I think was Middle Eastern -- not a typical group of guys out for drinks, I thought. They didn't seem to know each other that well. It might have been some kind of work team, all finding themselves in Lake Tahoe on a Saturday night, making the best of everything. One of them got the news on his phone. He gasped.

"Dude, Zimmerman got off."

Everyone seemed to be in shock. Phones were passed. They weren't enraged. No one knocked over the table. Drinks were consumed. Life went on.

A very conservative opinion maker I know texted me a note immediately before the Zimmerman verdict was announced:

"Got your burn baby, burn toon ready when GZ is acquitted?"

With apologies to my texting friend, this is kind of the problem: the anticipation of the reaction to the verdict was of course going to be racial insurrection, a Blade Runner Riot, and CNN was going to be live with the play-by-play. Great. 

More racism: Those People will riot! You know how they are!

Whether or not Zimmerman is personally racist, I guess we don't have a standard litmus test for that. I have my own theory. After the news came out, Zimmerman's brother was on Piers Morgan, yacking away, only periodically pausing to reveal what I saw as snide rage. A quick Googling noted the brother had tweeted what I think is unquestionably racist content. 

On CNN, minutes after the verdict was announced, there was an ad for a movie that appeared to be about a bunch of cops beating up an African American. 

That's entertainment, right? 

More tellingly, there was another ad by the Coca Cola Co. It was addressing the obesity issue it apparently feels defensive about, and its officials decided to create...

...Hispanicize! For the obese hispanics who drink too much Coke!


Maybe we need to have this race conversation again. Because companies like Coca Cola, movie producers, and frightened people who think it's OK to bait kids into a fight and then shoot them (Murder 2 or manslaughter, whatever), are just not really getting the picture. I'll have this conversation as many times as we need to.

Until we don't think to have it anymore. Maybe it'll be another 60 years.

I can wait. Otherwise, it's a race to the bottom.

Are we there yet?