As the Trayvon Martin tragedy has unfolded over the last month, one thing has become clear: We are still in the infant stages of dealing with race. And pop culture adds a trivialization to his horrible death.
Look at how we reacted: Initially, we were shocked. How could this have happened? Then we took sides: Martin was no angel. Or Zimmerman is a racist.
And the media added to that narrative. Remember the pictures of the two? Martin’s media image was that of an innocent-looking youth. In part because the picture the media used was five or six years old. And Zimmerman? Well, the initial picture — and the one still more likely used — is a years-old booking picture.
The media immediately took sides. And immediately had their hero and villain. Which is what the media need for any narrative like this.
Quickly enough, the professional racialists became involved. Jesse Jackson reappeared, and Al Sharpton showed up, too. To make fiery speeches designed to inflame their audiences. To their audiences’ credit, no violence has come from those demonstrations, impressive in light of the speakers’ tones and the apparent incredible irresponsibility of the Sanford, Fla., police in their investigation of the shooting.
The parents of each principle initially displayed some dignity at a time when many of us wouldn’t. But soon enough that was tarnished, too, replaced by the Martin family copyrighting his name and the Zimmerman family going on the offense, suggesting that Zimmerman was the victim.
This was followed by the predictable celebrity idiocracy weighing in. Somehow, show business types actually believe the rest of us care about their views (of course, we do, which is another sign of our delayed maturity).
And with social media, the celebrity idiocracy can give us instant insight. Which Spike Lee and Rosanne Barr did. Both tweeted what they thought was the Zimmerman family’s address. Lee had the wrong one, but Barr’s was correct. Of course, the family Lee tweeted immediately received death threats and had to flee their home. To Lee’s credit, he apologized for what he did and paid their costs. But why did Lee do that in the first place? A little vigilante revenge?
Barr, too, dropped the tweet with the address, but then — in the hubris of the celebrity idiot — said she’d retweet it if the police didn’t arrest Zimmerman.
In the fog of all this lies some serious issues: Did the police underinvestigate the shooting because of Martin’s skin color? Was Zimmerman allowed to walk because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law? Is that law — which Arizona, too, has — so broad that it invites this kind of shooting? Should that law be reexamined? And if Jackson and Sharpton can become exercised over Trayvon Martin, why aren’t they equally exercised over this horrible fact: The number one cause of death for black men ages 15-34 is murder. And over 90 percent of those murders are committed by other blacks.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t be horrified by the death of Trayvon Martin. At the very least, Zimmerman shot an unarmed man after being told not to follow him, following Martin in his car, and getting out of his car to pursue him, all because he was black and wore a hoodie, thus making him “suspicious.”
But our culture makes a circus out of this shooting, suggesting that when it comes to race, we are still infants.
Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.