Trayvon Martin and Making Whiteness Visible

If there's one good thing to come out of the George Zimmerman verdict, it's the acknowledgement of white privilege

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Alex Garland / Demotix / Corbis

If there is one hopeful note amid all the anguish and recrimination from the acquittal of George Zimmerman, it’s that growing numbers of white people have come to appreciate whiteness for what it is: an unearned set of privileges. And as a result of that dawning awareness, it’s become possible to imagine a day when that structure of privilege is dismantled — by white people.

Recall that immediately after the killing of Trayvon Martin, people of every race took to the Internet to declare “I am Trayvon Martin.” They wore hoodies. They proclaimed solidarity. That was a well-meaning and earnest attempt to express empathy, but it also obscured the core issue, which is that Martin died not because he was wearing a hoodie but because he was wearing a hoodie while black. Blackness was the fatal variable.

(MORE: Maya Angelou Reacts to Zimmerman Trial, Evokes Civil Rights Era)

And so now, postverdict, a more realistic meme has taken root. On Tumblr and Facebook and elsewhere there is a new viral phenomenon: “We are not Trayvon Martin” (emphasis mine). Huge numbers of white Americans are posting testimonials and images to declare that it is precisely because they are not black that they have never had to confront the awful choices Martin faced when Zimmerman began to pursue him.

This isn’t about empathy or the posture of equivalency that empathy can tempt us to assume. It’s about owning up to the unequal privilege of being nonblack and saying, in essence, “I am George Zimmerman.” And because I am George Zimmerman, I get to have my fears trump reality. I get get-out-of-jail-free cards. I get a presumption of innocent victimhood, no matter what my own acts or attitudes.

Much has been made about the fact that Zimmerman is white and of Hispanic ethnicity, as if he therefore couldn’t possibly embody white privilege. This is a deep misreading of the dynamics of race and the media in America. As an Asian American, I am endlessly frustrated by how binary and black-and-white — literally and figuratively — the portrayal of race is in our country. Much of the time Asian Americans are an afterthought, or simply presumed foreign. But I assume that had I been the neighborhood watchman that day in Florida, I would have been understood in the media as the nonblack actor. Which is to say, for the limited purposes of this trial, I would have been granted “honorary white” status — whether or not I wanted it.

(MORE: Liu: The Uproar Over the Biracial Cheerios Ad Is Actually Progress)

Whiteness is the unspoken, invisible default setting of American life. We frame our conversations about race in terms of how white people see and what they think they see. We imagine that nonwhite Americans want to be more like white Americans. We imagine that to be American is to be white. When racial minorities complain about the slurs of a Paula Deen or a prank like the faked names of the Asiana pilots, they are often told by whites to stop being so sensitive or to take the context of tradition or history or humor into account. That ability, to dismiss and minimize people of color for being oversensitive, is itself one of the privileges that whiteness confers. The broader privilege that whites have by occupying the omniscient vantage point in media and civic life has to be named and then undone.

How will it be undone? Not, in the end, by the work of communities of color alone. Minority groups can and must be vigilant, vocal advocates for fair treatment and representation in public life. But if America is to transcend its long conflation of whiteness with Americanness, it will fall on white people — those wise enough to see they are not Martin and humane enough not to become George — to lead us all to that promised land.

MORE: Angered by Zimmerman Verdict, Some Call for a Boycott of Florida Businesses 

2440 comments
ahandout
ahandout

Let me say that I loathe the racism that drips from this article.  And, then Mr. Liu you can stop the mea culpa on behalf of
"whites" and just stick to Asians.  Must be Asian priviledge, huh?  Gawd, you are an idiot.

Asian Men Have The Highest Salary

GoranRanGo
GoranRanGo

I thought Trayvon was killed because he attacked someone. Silly me not to think in terms of race.

AnotherOne
AnotherOne

Africa for Africans, Asia for Asians, White countries for EVERYONE!!! It is said there is a racism problem. It is said that this racism problem will be solved when the third world pours into ALL White countries and ONLY into White countries. And that the Whites have to interbreed with all the Non-whites. According to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, this is genocide. Stop White Genocide. Anti-racist is a codeword for Anti-white.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKDeyuM0-Og

formos
formos

Good article. Thanks for writing this, Liu. 

I hope that some day some one is dare enough to write something to discuss the race issue based on the profiles of serious killers and those who took a gun to the public and killed as many innocent people as possible. In those serious killing and mass killing incidents, if the killer is black, most assured is that the race issue will become one of the topics, if not the major one. 

But we never heard anyone or any media mentioning anything about the race issue at those multi-murder events. Guess what? Almost all of those killers are white. 

Why is the race issue completely missing when so many innocent people die in events when the offenders are white, in comparing to other much much less offenses when the offender is black ? In its most ridiculous extreme of "less offense", a black lady got 20-year sentence in jail for firing a self-defense warning shot at the wall in her own home in Florida. Can anyone image such a sentence if she were white ?

This is exactly what I believe this article wants to address --- white privilege. Or, to be more specific, "black de-privilege." 

Note that I wrote this not to promote the race should be an issue in those mass murderings, but to point out the existence of it when/where it shouldn't have been, as well as t the imbalance among the two.  IMHO, this society is not yet civilized until the balance is reached. 


united_we_stand
united_we_stand

I knew Time magazine choose Hitler as man of the year but I didnt realize they were still a racist magazine. Time is still mad America  ended slavery and defeated Hitler, so they are working overtime to keep racial division alive

Kevin_byDesign
Kevin_byDesign

As a homeless High School teenager i got away with lounging at an upscale hotel pool just because of the way I looked.  I stole food from a buffet and walked right past a security guard.  I don't think i could have gotten away with this if i was a different color.  It also worked to my disadvantage once.  i got off late from an after-school restaurant  job, walking down the wrong street. I was jumped by 5 guys who knew I didn't belong in their neighborhood.  One broken jaw, 5 cracked ribs and double vision for a week was the price I paid.   White Privilege absolutely exists.  That balance of power will shift within the next few generations. 

SavahnaPlummer
SavahnaPlummer

Its kinda funny that all these white people are screaming racism against white people and denying their privilege as white people. when they in fact do have privilege. racially, white people are privileged. its hard to see racism when you're white. idk why you guys try to deny your privilege. because its a shame. all white people and even minorities have moved as a whole society into colorblind racism where white people think that all people regardless of color are treated equally. you're all wrong. we won't be equal until the pay gap is eliminated and racial profiling is eliminated, etc. all these white people crying about how you can't just generalize an entire race.. shut up. until you recognize your privileges as a white person, you're going to be generalized as an ignorant white person. white people are in power, thats why you can't be racist towards the oppressor. racism is prejudice+power. its a white mans world, and until you stop screaming that you don't have privilege, you're only going to divide us more than unite us.

Firehazard
Firehazard

I am white and I am not privileged. Not every white person is privileged you close-minded person. I do not get any "extra benefits" for going to school simply because I am white. I do not make more than a "minority". I have money struggles everyday created from the fact that I make nothing. And no it is not just "whites" that make racial comments. Have you even ever hung out in the city? Probably not. You do realize that EVERYONE benefits from racism? Every minority gets specialized grants for school and has higher chances of being hired in ANY job because of the racism card regardless of experience or education. All your article does is GENERALIZE AN ENTIRE RACE. Which by the way is RACISM! Think before you talk.


adiwaker
adiwaker

Hello Editor

I am writing you being one of your subscriber of Time magazine & love to read impartial news & balance views on different topics

I do not know whether anyone of news writer or writers attached with Time magazine read the very very popular world famous Jury trial of Indian " Km Nanawati VS State which changed the law or of India & parliament of India removed Jury Trial systems from the judiciary or judicial systems of India - Its very interesting & very relevant in this present case of Zimmerman

1) Is it right to say whether " guilty or not guilty"

2) There are other factors or issues in the case, what happen to those ?

3) If the same case have been tried before the Judicial/Judge what could have been the judgment ?

4) Is it not necessary to debate whether Jury trial is relevant in US Judicial systems ?

5) Why not we have only judicial trial & judicial judgment only based on the evidences & arguments of both the parties

Let me see if any writer take out any relevant points out of Nanawati Jurytrial of India which chabge the entire judicial systems of India. People say that Nanawati was a Parsi & most of the jury members were selected Parsi community only

We have faced one jury trial in Middlesex county court NJ & feel very much hurt how it went ? 

Anyone google this case & get the facts

Ashok Diwaker   

ChasEllsworth
ChasEllsworth

As a writer, you have a whole lot to say -- about nothing.

I have a challenge for you and to ANY person that believes they are "white privileged" 

Do the following and get back to me how it went:

At night after it gets dark, go to an apartment complex where you do not reside, put a hoodie on and pull it up on your head, walk through peoples' yards (trespass), beat (assault) the hell (aggravate) out of a person who lives there when that person asks "what are you doing here?" in a yard where you clearly do not have permission to be, and see what happens to YOU.


h34
h34

The following statement is complete speculation: 

". . . Martin died not because he was wearing a hoodie but because he was wearing a hoodie while black. Blackness was the fatal variable."

The author should also have talked of Asian American privilege. In the Zimmerman 911, tapes, the 911 operators didn't even ask if the person was Asian. The question was White, Black, or Hispanic. That is fairly common on 911 tapes in the news. Presumed innocence? 

The author makes just an incredible statement about white privilege and what it is. Does the author bring any evidence? Did white privilege help the white teen victim of Roderick Scott when he was shot and killed in self defense? There are so many counter-examples to the author's concept of white privilege that it's easier to just say "google some criminal cases." 

In another of the author's statements, he equates Paula Deen's use of a historic term used to demean slaves and continue a system of forced oppression in the South with some jokes about Korean names. That is questionable. 

Another aspect of white privilege is the ability to tell minorities they are being oversensitive for reacting to certain things. The author should have also gone on to explain the privilege when white non-Hispanic peoples are told by minorities to chill out or "you can't complain, you're white" when insulted with racial slurs or demeaning racial terms, which happens all too frequently.  "Thank god there are no white people here," "I hate white people", "boring white girl" or a Sotomayor type of comment where you remove a person's individuality and self worth by reducing them to "another white guy" are fairly common terms on campus that, we're often told, are just acceptable things to say. Is that also white privilege? 

I'm amazed Time publishes such speculative, evidence-barren writing. 


outlanderinmyowncountry
outlanderinmyowncountry

Dear President Obama:

Tell me again, how was Zimmerman supposed to retreat while being straddled under a 168 lbs. violent punk who was beating him?

outlanderinmyowncountry
outlanderinmyowncountry

There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. -- Booker T. Washington

outlanderinmyowncountry
outlanderinmyowncountry

"Whites succumb to Negrophilia when, believing that people of color are somehow more benevolent and less corruptible than themselves, they develop an undue affinity for them," -- Eric Rush -- Ne•gro•phi•li•a From Slave Block to Pedestal - America's Racial Obsession

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

I AM SICK OF THIS WHITE AND BLACK CRAP............THERE ARE MORE BLACK BROTHERS BANGING WHITE WOMEN THAN EVER BEFORE SINCE THE 1970'S CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.......OBAMA......WAS DOING A LOT OF WHITE WOMEN....SINCE HE WAS ONE COOL DOPER COCAINE SNORTER.....

THE MEDIA CALLED ZIMMERMAN A"WHITE LATINO"......IN ORDER TO CAUSE RIOTS ,,,,,,AND SOON ENOUGH......THE RACE-BAITERS LKIKE JESST THE SHAKEDOWN CROOK JACKSON AND AL THE PIGR SHARPTON WITH THE RTAWANA BRAWLEY BOGFUS CRAP ON HIM.......WERE DOWN IN FLORIDA WITH THEIR &5,OOO SUITS.....AND SLICKED BACK HAIR.......FOR PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES.....AND TO RILE THE CROWD.....THEN....OFF THEY WENT IN PRIVATE JETS.......

I GUESS.....TO SETTLE THIS BAD BLOOD.....WHY DON'T THEY DO IT LIKE IN ANCIENT GREECE.....EVERY SUMMER .....AFTER HARVEST TIME......2 VIL;AGES GATHERED WITH THEIR MEN OPPOSITE EACH OTHER......THEN....WITH HERALDS ANNOUNCING THE PARTICULARS.....THEY SLAUGHTERED EACH OTHER TILL SUN DOWN.......WHENCE.....HEROES AND COWARDS WERE MADE....AND THEY BURIED AND HONORED THEIR DEATH.......

LET THE BLACK PANTHERS AND THEIR SYMPATHIZERS GATHER AND THE KLANSMEN GATHER FOR AN ANNUAL EQUAL FIGHT......LIKE THE GREEKSOF OLD.......AFTER SLAUGHTERING EACH OTHER......HEROES WILL BE MADE ON BOTH SIDES.......AND THE BRAVE RESPECT THE BRAVE.....THEN PEACE WILL ENSUE!

SO I SAY.......RACE BAITERS SHOULD PAY FOR THEIR CRIMES BEFORE GOD......

VALENTINE, WORLD HISTORIAN, COMEDIAN.....LOL

clint912r6
clint912r6

Whiteness is most certainly not "an unearned set of privileges". Where does that white-liberal mentality originate? It comes from precisely the wealthiest (usually white) upper-echelons of our society (Time Magazine journalists and film stars), who believe that they understand the world better than others, but in fact understand little because they do not live in the real world, and if they ever did, have forgotten.

The real world is a place where other people are not to blame for your problems. Where you stand up on your own two feet in a society that does offer (not always completely equal) opportunity to all, and you do your best, and succeed.

Jerry8500
Jerry8500

Question for this country from a white person, and try to be honest:  You and your honey are walking down a sidewalk in the city.  Which of these groups would more quickly make you want to move to the other side of the street? Be honest.  They are three 20-year-olds walking towards you.  The first group is all asian.  The second is all whites.  The third is Pakistani or Indian.  The fourth groups is all black.  I will leave it up to you to figure out what the honest answer says about our country.

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"I am white and I benefit from racism" - How many white people are actually writing this quote down and living by it? Doesn't the mere acceptance of this FACT make white people WORSE than racists because they are somehow in compliance with this "evil" in the world?

Cause using your brains to make snap decisions based on physical appearance is a bad thing? Because it disproportionately  effects blacks? 

And there is no reason black americans are more likely to be illiterate, incarcerated or commit race-on-race murder? Must be the white man's racism, statistics be damned! Cultural bias, disenfranchised from the start, etc....there's no excuse for the majority of the country not bending over backwards to help the descendants of salves get free money and preferential treatment!

SteveBowen
SteveBowen

This is dangerous hogwash that only impedes the unprecedented progress being made on racial matters in America. It... along with the race baiters like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson {mercifully running out of gas} and the guilty white liberal bleaters....distracts us from the real actions we need:

1. as MLK asked in 1961....stop the horrific crime levels in the Black community and fix the crumbling Black family infrastructure.

2. start a clear program with young men of all races to be ultra aware of the tension and stress felt by police in particular and especially at night. Stress the importance of being polite if stopped or questioned.

3. have the courage to do what NYC has done w/stop and frisk. If it's whites who are carrying guns...profile them. If it's Blacks...so be it.

4. Remind America of the wonderful progress we have made....better than any country in the world.... even as we address fearlessly the above.

steve Bowen

LaurenUdwari
LaurenUdwari

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-remarks-on-trayvon-martin-full-transcript/2013/07/19/5e33ebea-f09a-11e2-a1f9-ea873b7e0424_story.html

I have so much respect for Obama and these words further confirm, at least in my mind, that he's the leader our country needs. He says:"ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy."

This is the voice of a true leader who aims to unite rather than divide. 

CommitmentMan
CommitmentMan

Illogical and self serving article. I went to a black school. My parents barely graduated high school. I worked since I was 14 years old and am now over 50. I have worked, never taken anything from any government assistance; never played any "victim" card or made any excuses. Just wanted a good life for myself and my family. was it hard at times-of course. Did it matter that it was hard-yes-because it kept me going. I have always done better than what people expected. I "outworked" everyone I worked with, which is why I am a success.

It's not always about RACE!

The real race is for economic freedom which is rooted in the family and hard work. By the way- I graduated college, got an MBA (from a second tier school-but it gave me the tools I needed to compete) and have been a business owner for many years. This country allows for opportunity, but it does not guarantee success without work.And it has little to do with RACE, unless you want to make excuses!

Russell C.

uogbe22
uogbe22

@AnotherOne you're an idiot and i really hope you don't believe the crap you just posted because if you do, you have a sad, sad life. If only that were true. The problem with your logic is that white people have been going into OTHER countries, commiting genocide, economic stagnation and persistant conflicts amongst the natives so they can prepogate their western ways of life. If they don't want other ethnicities to move into their countries, way don't they create fair policies that will allow those countries to have a decent way of life? You create problems which makes it impossible for people to have a good life in THEIR OWN COUNTREIS, then get mad when those same people demand change. All of a sudden it's 'anti-racist', 'anti-white'...lol, you are beyound insipid!!!

mwmcbride775
mwmcbride775

@formos

In your humble opinion our society won't be civilized until we reach a (presumably per-capita) balance in the rates of serial murder among races?  Seriously?  White privilege leads to "serious...mass murderings"? 

I'm surprised nobody has pointed out that the most notable fact of black "serious" killers is their bare existence.  

For decades, "serious" killing was the exclusive province of white middle-aged males.  There was little if any discussion (at least from a race-conscious standpoint) of the racial component of "serious" killing.  It was assumed that the factors that led one to engage in "serious" killing were present only in the Caucasian man.

Only relatively recently has the academic group-think regarding "serious" killing come around to embrace a more egalitarian view.  Blacks, Asians, even women have now been let into the club.  And you can bet that with the proliferation of internet media and a twenty-four hour news cycle that black killers will figure more prominently in future discussion of "serious" killing.  Of course, nobody in the aforementioned media will dare imply that there is a causative link between the color of a black man's skin and his propensity for "serious" violence.

I know you want to add to the discussion and you've got some passionate views, but, yeah, I don't think you could be more wrong. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@SavahnaPlummer Are you forgetting who is in the white house with the most power. bleeding heart liberal wake up there was white privilege the tide has changed now there is just double standard, in favor of blacks more then anyone that is the reason for the race card usage blacks get an answer they do not like it has to be whiteys fault so lets get them crackers.

JustinLong
JustinLong

@FirehazardYou have privileges solely because of your skin. For instance, "presumption of innocent victimhood, no matter what my own acts or attitudes."

uogbe22
uogbe22

@Firehazard you obviously don't know what white privilege is and yes, you do have a lot of privilege for being white. Learn some history. Even look at the sociological definition of white privilage and you're know exaclty what i'm talking about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vX_Vzl-r8NY

formos
formos

@Firehazard "Not every white person is privileged you close-minded person. I do not get any "extra benefits" for going to school simply because I am white."

The writer didn't define "white privilege" as something white people enjoy in EVERY ASPECT of life.

LoraPfundheller
LoraPfundheller

@h34 This is the opinion page. The article represents the author's opinion. There is even a disclaimer in the "About Author" section. Time has always published a variety of opinion pieces. Creating controversy sells magazines.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@h34 BS.    his attitude and hate for whites and love for fighting got him killed .

Openminded1
Openminded1

@outlanderinmyowncountry The President opened his mouth on asubject he knew nothing about he had a knee yerk reaction to black out cry. And no longer needs the white  vote that put him office. so now his true color comes out he not the President of the U>S> he President for and of Black America.

DougWilliams
DougWilliams

@outlanderinmyowncountry Dear country, tell me again how Martin was sitting on the guys chest, suffocating and punching him, and reaching under the hip that was am Martin's left side and behind him to find a gun hidden inside Zimmerman's pants, and yet somehow Zimmerman got the gun first and shot Martin in the chest, AFTER having his head smashed into the concrete sidewalk 20 times or so.  Oh and then miraculously the death occurred on the grass.  Oh and then Zimmerman didn't need but two band-aids for medical attention, wasn't the least bit dazed.  Tell me THAT.

DougWilliams
DougWilliams

@outlanderinmyowncountry   Yeah they are what you guys usualled term, "the good coloured folk." Until they disagree with you.  Then all bets are off.  I know.  I'm one of them.

LoveTrumpsAll
LoveTrumpsAll

@clint912r6 I would argue that my "white liberal mentality" originated from critical reflection, and a desire to live in a society where EVERYONE is treated with respect and dignity. "Our point of entry into the system of social inequality is determined, in large part, by our ancestry. Being born to privilege or poverty sets the stage for our future schooling, occupation, and income". ~ Gerber and Macionis

Higg's_Bosom
Higg's_Bosom

@Jerry8500 How are they dressed? Maybe I'm classist instead of racist, but the group that would cause me to cross the street would be the most disreputable looking one. Black guys in suits? Hey, good evening guys! White guys who are dressed like thugs or look obnoxious? Ah, better cross the street.

LondonLovestoned
LondonLovestoned

@Lego.my.eggo What does knowledge of something have to do with a person being good or bad? I know how to make a pipe bomb but does that make me a worse person than somebody else?


There is no reason that people in the communities with the poorest performing schools would be more likely illterate? You don't think illiterate people are more likely to engage in criminal activity due to not being able to even feel out an application to a legitimate job?

LondonLovestoned
LondonLovestoned

@SteveBowen Stop and frisk is one of the worst things I've actually witnessed in action.  Other than that you make some very good suggestions

Openminded1
Openminded1

@LaurenUdwari Think again that was after he caused the race card to be played and the media had a field day and likes of big mouth REV AL. The President is on spin control do not buy is BS he is a racist under cover of the Oval office. He is smart and articulate but a con man just like most political types. do not fall for the soft spoken bs he delivers. No President in history has ever been involved in a case like this. He needed to be Presidential not the Bros President the President of the United States not just black America. And I am black so do not jump to the wrong conclusion I am sick of the double standard it needs to stop that is the only way the race card wont be used by blacks.

LondonLovestoned
LondonLovestoned

@CommitmentMan Congrats for all your accomplishments.  I do not think the author would want to take credit away from your hardwork that got you to where you are today. You are correct it is not always bout race.  I did not write the article but overall I think the article is just saying that there is not always an overt racism that happens in society and certain races benefit from the color of their skin.   I'm sure the author would agree that Black people who physically look like White people are also people who benefit from White privilege.  No one is blaming White people for other's ignorance and prejudices toward other colors. I think people get so caught up in race the fail to factor in other things like social capital.  No one lives the exact same life as you and no matter how much on the surface it seems they do it's just true.  People fail to factor in social capital when they talk about coming from hardships.  The access you had to certain people alone could give you a step up over somebody that seems to be in the same position.  Instead of always assuming people are playing the victim card people need to realize some people are doing what they can to get to a place like you.  In some people's journey that may include government assistance.  

Openminded1
Openminded1

@uogbe22 @AnotherOne Anotherone is racist without a doubt, but so are you, you also sound like you hate the USA. you must  be blackm or maybe just a bleeding heart liberal

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@LondonLovestoned @Lego.my.eggo  

ummm....just no,

And knowing how to make something (a pipe bomb), and knowing something's wrong but doing nothing to stop it (white person guilt acknowledging evil racism as acceptable because it benefits them) is about the same as apples and oranges.