By PAT WATSON
“Racist” is a very loaded word. A person who has been called a racist will likely feel he or she is being attacked.
Racist describes an individual who holds to the belief that one so-called race of people is superior to another.
When one of the defence attorneys for George Zimmerman asked Rachel Jeantel to acknowledge as racist the slur Trayvon Martin used to describe the man following him on the night the unarmed teen was shot and killed, that attorney was very much in error.
Jeantel, 19, the last person to have a conversation with the unarmed teen – they were speaking by mobile phone – not long before Zimmerman shot and killed him, stated under questioning by Zimmerman’s defence attorney that Martin told her he was being followed by “a creepy ass cracka.”
In an attempt to draw a characterization of Martin, the attorney then asked Jeantel if she thought the description was “racist”. He asked Jeantel the question more than once and each time, in her own way, she repeated that she did not think the expression was racist.
It’s an interesting thing that has happened to the term ‘racist’. It has come to mean any expression or action against a person of one race by a person of another race. In fact, such actions are expressions of racial animosity, or even discrimination.
The words ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ categorically refer to belief in racial superiority.
So many people had a good ol’ time making fun of how Jeantel presented herself during questioning, but when she correctly stated that the term Martin used was not racist there was no recognition of that.
Yet, when Zimmerman’s attorney attempted to use the term, elements of racism were in play to allow him to misconstrue the meaning of the term.
Here were all the key components: A Black female in a courtroom reluctantly having to bear witness for a young Black male, now long dead. She is questioned by a White male individual in a position of authority, freely misusing a term linked to notions of racial superiority.
In this situation – not lacking in irony – the lawyer asks this Black female if she felt her now deceased friend was using a term that would support her friend’s belief in whose racial superiority? His own? The racial superiority of the person following him? Can a Black person be racist if racism is the supported belief in racial superiority? And whose racial superiority?
Doesn’t racism come with the means to control the levers of social and economic power and the subsequent means to enable discrimination that would then privilege one group and disadvantage another?
In fact, what Martin was most likely expressing was irritation at being followed. Furthermore, if anyone is using any understanding of human emotion, he was feeling some measure of fear, passing for bravado. There’s actually an expression for that kind of response: It’s called ‘whistling in the dark’.
So yes, Jeantel was absolutely correct; Martin’s expression was not racist. The attorney was out of line for trying to contextualize his response as such. The fact that he was able to get away with such a line of questioning, however, is racist.
The fact that so few can see that, tells us that we are so deep into the miasma of discrimination by one group against another that we are inside-out about what racism actually is anymore.
Racial animosity and discrimination sadly can and does occur among persons and groups of persons of differing racial identifications. But racism as it functions presents in who holds positions of power, has the most wealth, makes the decisions on education focus, housing and employment levels; on how daily news reports are framed; on the balance of power in systemic discrimination and systemic privileging; who gets sent to prison; and who faces the death penalty – whether on the streets of America as sanctioned by racist laws, or sitting in an electric chair.
A note on political shenanigans…
The RCMP now believe they have a case against a number of members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner circle regarding that $90,000 repayment for improper claims for travel expenses by Senator Mike Duffy. With these revelations, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus wants to know from the PM how “a secret cover-up including a large payout that was intended to keep potential fraud quiet was allowed to happen on his own watch and in his own office”.