Trayvon Martin and categories

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Trayvon Martin and categories

The writer is aware of the propensity for categories.

She has different names for the ways she spends her time and fills in spreadsheets where these types of work are duly recorded.

She knows and employs known categories for food, weather, terrain, books, and people.

When the furor over the Trayvon Martin case erupted, she figured that one’s reaction to it would vary depending on the group one belonged to.

African-Americans would be certain that Martin was deliberately murdered for being black, as has happened so much in their history in this country, and would call for justice to be served.

White people’s reaction would vary, depending on their political orientation.

Liberals and progressive would likely side with Martin’s family, claiming a history of racism in which the police would have colluded.

Conservatives and law and order proponents would side with George Zimmerman, claiming evidence that he had been attacked and that he had a right to defend himself.

Recently, the writer watched a CNN report where these issues were hotly debated.

African-American commentators were invited on to repeat their stance that this was indeed about race.

White commentators were split, about half saying it had nothing to do with race, enjoining us to ignore that and focus on the facts of the case.

The facts of the case were also hotly contested and hard to determine.

In the middle of a somewhat heated and quickly moving presentation, a CNN anchor said she needed to interject one remark.

The anchor’s face tensed, as if in worry, and yet one had the impression that she felt she needed to be brave.

The anchor said that we had to remember that, a few days before the incident that resulted in Martin’s murder, a young black man had broken into a nearby house.

The writer considered this fact, and began to wonder about George Zimmerman’s feelings and motives that evening, whether he was just genuinely worried about protecting his neighborhood.

To test her theory, the writer decided to do a thought experiment.

This thought experiment involved changing the racial makeup of the drama.

She imagined that a young white man, while walking the streets of a gated community where he was staying with friends, had been followed by an older man concerned about crime, that the two had fought, that the young white man, unarmed himself, was shot.

She then imagined that, after an ensuing trial in which the older man was acquitted, a broadcast journalist asked us to remember that, a few days before this unfortunate incident, a young white man had been caught breaking into a house.

The writer realized this statement would have been met with disbelief and outrage.

What did the action of another white man have to do with this one, everyone would want to know.

There was no proof that the two even looked alike, they would say: they might have had completely different physiques, hair color, eye color.

The entire statement would not even have been made, the writer realized, it would have been too absurd to be taken seriously.

The writer remembered the words of Malcolm Gladwell, a well-known writer whose African heritage was not obvious to the world until he started growing his hair out.

Life became more difficult for him after that, Gladwell reported.

Once, after another stop by the police, Gladwell asked why he, an African-American man of medium height and slight build, was being profiled when the perpetrator was several inches taller with a heavier build.

The policeman, Gladwell reported, had no answer.

The writer doesn’t have an answer, either, though she knows it has something to do with categories.

She still doesn’t know what happened that night, but she has observed that the less time you spend looking at someone, the less distinct they are, and the more they look like all the others.

Like all the others, that is, in the category to which you think they belong.