Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the fear of whiteness

George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin because he feared for his life, is looking to Florida's "stand your ground" law for protection. The law "states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat". Mr. Zimmerman had reason to be scared when approached by a black man dressed in a hoodie, he argues. (In his version of the story, Trayvon approached George, not the other way around.)

But, it's clear that before George got out of his car, he had been following Trayvon for quite some time. George's 911 call proves this.

Trayvon, 17 and unarmed, was being followed by a guy in a car. I know how that would make me feel. And I'm a middle aged white woman, no one is afraid of me. I think it's reasonable to assume that Trayvon knew that people would see him as a threat. He'd have to realize that those people would be threats to him in turn. So, who is standing whose ground here? Is George just defending himself when he shoots Trayvon? Or, is Trayvon just defending himself if he gets into a fist fight with George?

I had a slim, handsome, Asian, gay dance major in one of my classes once. He told the class how he would never go to the on-campus pub by himself, because he wouldn't feel safe. The class was stunned. They wouldn't believe that someone who seemed so proud to be who he was would ever be afraid on their own campus. But he was. Other gay men have told me similar stories. And they have reason. Gay men have reason to fear big, white, heterosexual men in groups drinking alcohol. If homophobia flairs up they know they'll be on the receiving end. It's not as if it hasn't happened before.

Hegemony is a process in society through which certain things come to appear normal, even though they are expressions of an ideology that protects the status quo. Hegemony is at play here. That's why it appears normal to us that George would be scared, but we don't consider the other side with the same ease.

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