It was fear that killed Trayvon Martin.
Fear makes you more apt to jump to conclusions and assumptions, to overreact, to pull the trigger. African Americans, the victims of this new form of prejudice, have often times themselves ironically contributed to it---without their apparent knowledge.
Let's say you're a huge black man and I'm a smaller white man. Physically, I the white man, am afraid of you, the bigger black man. You can hit me over the head. Beat me up. Knock me down. You, the black man, are pleased that I the white man, are afraid of you the black man. You enjoy my fear of you. You revel in it. You're proud of it.
You shouldn't be.
First of all, you're physically bigger than me. You have physical advantages. This is not courage, being bigger and able to knock down someone who is smaller. If you enjoy this fear that you cause me, you are perpetuating prejudice against yourself.
Fear is not respect.
African Americans have been treated as substandard sub-humans in a racist country for over 200 years. They were once slaves. We all know the character of Uncle Tom, the submissive good darkie in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Black people had to fight for their rights in this country and those rights only came about as recently ago as the 1950s.
Progress has been made, but the dark stain of prejudice is still alive and well. Only it has taken in recent years a new and more subtle form.
Fear is the new type of racism. Like an inside joke, it works well. Like an inside joke, you mock someone to their face but without their knowledge. Here's how it works. Let's say I want to belittle you and so I call you "Herk." You think I mean short for Hercules, a big strong man, and you take this as sort of a compliment. I'm calling you a big strong man.
Instead I really mean "Jerk." Herk closely rhymes with Jerk.
But I don't tell you this. If I did, if I called you a Jerk openly and honestly to your face, you might haul off and beat my ass. The sly secret putdown is cowardly and petty, but the victim goes along with it and even likes it.
Hollywood and the fashion industry are major culprits in the use of prejudicial fear against African Americans and there are countless examples.
In 2008, LeBron James, a standout basketball player, was photographed next to a blonde model on the cover of Vogue Magazine. He was portrayed as a snarling giant. Critics said the picture made him look like a brainless ape, a creature of mindless violence. James no doubt thought highly of himself in this threatening guise, after all, what was he going to do, pose like he was an effeminate and sensitive poet?
He went along with the producers of the magazine and adopted the persona of a supposedly brainless animal (comparisons were made with King Kong). Black people used to be portrayed in the movies of the 1930s as harmless butlers, maids or good-natured darkies eating watermelons and happily singing soulful ballads in cotton fields.
They were also portrayed as tiny little men usually being pinched along by their ear by huge henpecking wives in racist Amos and Andy comedies.
The editor and layout manager of Vogue Magazine instead conceived LeBron James in a much different light based on their own prejudice and ingrown fear of blacks, but unlike the harmless darkie image, James liked and was evidently proud of this new mystique.
Fear is not respect.
How many television commercials have you seen over the past 20 years in which a usually larger black man frightens a small white man, usually because the producers think it's funny? I've seen at least a dozen of them myself. It's evident the producers of these commercials view black people as a physical threat.
The big black man in these commercials, like the victim of a clever inside mocking joke, likes being portrayed as a brute animal, instead of the weak Stepin Fetchit character he used to be portrayed as. The black actor in the commercial is an accomplice in his own putdown.
Many white Americans still despise black people as those of a lower order, as harbingers of crime and violence. The racism of the past has morphed into a new more sly racism. If you're black, you're not as likely these days to have a burning cross planted on your lawn by white-robed Clansmen as you are someone who avoids you because of your color, or automatically observes you with suspicion because of it.
George Zimmerman did this. It's pointless in the absence of witnesses to say what exactly happened, who did what to who first. In a court of law, you have to show proof of crime and malice and in the absence of witnesses, proof is hard to establish. But I have no doubt Martin's appearance by itself primed the gun. He was black, he was a teenager. That automatically spells trouble. The safety catch on the gun clicks off into the "On" position.
Martin was suspect from the start.
It was Zimmerman's preservation instinct. If Trayvon Martin had been a small and innocuous looking Japanese boy, would Zimmerman have reacted similarly? Not likely. Regardless of who committed the first act of violence, Zimmerman was primed and ready like the gun he carried.
White Americans are physically afraid of black Americans and they won't admit it. This is the new racism, the sly, subtle, behind-your-back putdown. Black Americans are not judged by the content of their character as Dr. Martin Luther King once pleaded, but by the collective color of their skin and the crime and violence it has come to represent.
The very least we could do is understand.