George Zimmerman waits for the resumption of his second-degree murder trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, July 1, 2013. (REUTERS/Joe Burbank)
My first week of college, I had a heated debate about abortion with two new friends—both were white, and one, Nancy, was extremely pro-life. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for having such an “adult” conversation—we disagreed, but everyone was being respectful. Then my other pro-choice friend asked Nancy what she would do with a pregnancy if she was raped. I will never forget what Nancy said: “I think it would be cute to have a little black baby.” When we expressed outrage at her racism, Nancy shrugged. It never occurred to her a rapist would be anyone other than a black man. (DOJ statistics show that 80 to 90 percent of women who are raped are attacked by someone of their own race, unless they are Native women.) When this young woman imagined a criminal in her mind, he wasn’t a faceless bogeyman.
I hadn’t thought of this exchange in years, not until I was reading the responses to George Zimmerman’s acquittal—particularly those about the role of white womanhood. When I first heard that the jurors were women, I naïvely hoped they would see this teenage boy shot dead in the street and think of their children. But they weren’t just any women; most were white women. Women who, like me, have been taught to fear men of color. And who—as a feminist named Valerie pointed out on Twitter—probably would see Zimmerman as their son sooner than they would Trayvon Martin.
Brittney Cooper at Salon expressed the same sentiment: “I am convinced that at a strictly human level, this case came down to whether those white women could actually see Trayvon Martin as somebody’s child, or whether they saw him according to the dictates of black male criminality.”
And indeed, Anderson Cooper’s interview with juror B37 sheds light on who was considered deserving of empathy and humanization. Hint: it wasn’t Trayvon Martin. As Igor Volsky of Think Progress pointed out, “B37” used Zimmerman’s first name in the interview frequently and twice used the phrase “George said” even though Zimmerman didn’t testify. She also indicated that she wasn’t moved by Rachel Jeantel’s testimony because of her “communication skills” and that “she was using phrases I had never heard before.”