NOLIWE ROOKS: We have our three panelists. We have a bio that we handed out for you. They are so incredibly prolific, have done so many wonderful, wonderful things. It's such a blessing to have them here.
I literally could stand here for 30 minutes doing the intro about who they are. So we typed up their bios for you to look at. I'm going to just briefly let you know we have Riche Richardson, Oneka LaBennett, and Carole Boyce Davies who are all professors here in Africana studies.
I also just want to tell you very briefly about the format that we're going to do. They will each make opening statements about 10 minutes. Then we'll have a few moments where all you could ask a question, or they can engage with each other about something that they said. And then we're going to open it up for questions.
I'm Professor Noliwe Rooks. I started my second year here now. So with that said, I think we're going to get started. And Riche, we're going to go in the order-- the panel's going to go in the order that you see. So introductory remarks.
RICHE RICHARDSON: Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
NOLIWE ROOKS: It's wonderful to see all of you this afternoon, and I am just delighted to have an opportunity to think and reflect with you today about a very important and influential case in our culture. In the wake of the stalking and tragic shooting death of the 17-year-old teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012, widespread public outcry at the national level unfolded over the failure of police to arrest his assailant George Zimmerman, a man who was eventually revealed by the media to be of both white and Latino ancestry. This tragic incident catalyzed demonstrations, vigils, and public dialogues across the nation and was widely discussed in the media in context from television to the internet.
The summer 2013 trial of George Zimmerman threw into relief the problematic script of Trayvon Martin as a non-being and holds important implications for the multiplicity of race, sex, and gender subject positions in the US, and particularly for black masculinity and femininity. The defense team's strategy seemed to pathologize, disembody, and desubjectify Trayvon throughout the Zimmerman trial, state of Florida versus George Zimmerman with Debra Nelson as the presiding judge.
The trial denied Trayvon a sense of self-hood and unsettled and confused the very meaning of self-defense, in the sense that the controversial legalized precept in Florida of stand your ground and precipices of self-defense implicitly seemed to be wholly divorced from Trayvon as entitlements and prerogatives, yet we're ascribed to Zimmerman. Trayvon's actions, whatever they may have been in the case that he had felt threatened after being accosted by Zimmerman and had made a preemptive effort to subdue his perceived attacker, an adult man and total stranger, did not seem to be legible, classifiable, or admissible as a form of self-defense or within the definition of stand your ground.
At bottom, in compromising the very notions of his person-hood and humanity, the case frustrated notions of being and what it means to be a self, obscuring the reality that Trayvon was a self. In this sense, it constituted Trayvon prior to his death as a non-being, beckoning an existentialist framing that seems equally relevant for thinking it's complicated racial politics. It recalls Ellison's model of invisibility, and even more specifically invites us to recollect the famous opening scene of Invisible Man under the streetlight, involving the nameless protagonist who was wilfully unseen by the white man who bumps into him. Nothingness seems to be the ascribed lot of a black masculine within this case's formulation.
If the trial rendered Trayvon as invisible, at these levels, it was also steeped in a narrative of his hyper-embodiment that accorded with the essentialist scripts that relate the black masculine body to athleticism, brutality, violence, and hyper-sexuality, and that it remained embedded in the American consciousness since the antebellum slavery. But if this reduced this case to the issue of self defense based on the tacit presumption that only Zimmerman had the right to it that night and that Trayvon had no rights at all, concomitantly it made the principle of self-defense reducible to possessing and firing a weapon. The legitimacy of hand-to-hand combat to the extent that it may have occurred did not seem to be a factor in defining this prerogative, but simply situates Trayvon as an aggressor who had threatened and assaulted Zimmerman, i.e, you're going to die tonight.
For many, the defense's logic seemed absolutely absurd, considering Zimmerman's stalking of Trayvon, initiation of the encounter with him in the first place, and flagrant defiance of the 911 police dispatcher's orders not to follow the teen. If nothing else, the case seemed to be about race and racial profiling, regardless of how vehemently the defense team, the defense attorneys Mark O'Mara and Don West, denied racist relevance. To be sure, blackness was the main factor that preconditioned and preordained the denial of Trayvon as a subject in this case and that precluded a narrative of self-hood in relation to him. More to the point, it was the primary factor that led Zimmerman to profile him, to stalk him, and in all likelihood, even to kill him.
The defense attempted to rationalize and defend Zimmerman's actions by disclosing information in the media about Trayvon's Twitter and Facebook social networking accounts in an effort to portray him as a teen who used drugs such as marijuana, who was obsessed with fighting, who had tattoos and wore the kinds of gold tooth fronts popular with gangsta rappers, who had stolen jewelry, and who was fascinated with guns. Such efforts to pathologize him attempted to counter, undermine, and invalidate the salient photographic images of Trayvon circulating in the media that depicted him as a friendly, athletic boy who had engaged in activities such as football, skiing, and horseback riding, and who loved children. Moreover, the negative publicity attempted to vindicate his assailant by attempting to unsettle scripts portraying Trayvon as an innocent teen who had been racially profiled, stalked, and accosted by Zimmerman while walking back from 7-Eleven on the rainy Sunday evening to the apartment of his father's fiance at the Retreat at Twin Lakes after purchasing Skittles and iced tea.
Such narratives accorded with portrayals of black masculinity as pathological and criminal. It is quite significant that a major weapon in the effort of Zimmerman's defense to attempt to portray Trayvon as a violent teen has been subpoenaing his Twitter account as evidence, an account that had been deleted after his tragic death. While Trayvon's social networking accounts were ruled to be inadmissible as evidence within the trial proceedings, it is sobering that their content was insistently interpreted literally in the defense's effort to malign him in the media and seemed to emerge as a subtext nevertheless. The surveillance of information from Trayvon's Facebook and Twitter social networking accounts, along with his cell phone text messages, was pivotal in the effort to pathologize him and to vindicate Zimmerman in the court of public opinion, and to some extent, inflected the court proceedings during Zimmerman's trial for the murder.
The extent to which Trayvon's posts may have been performative, imaginative, and illusory, and grounded in aspects of black vernacularity was not at all a consideration as they were publicly disclosed and disseminated. The internet, from the circulation of news stories about the case on Facebook to the justice for Trayvon Martin petition at change.org that reached 2.2 million signatures, and numerous blog commentaries was playing the most influential role in enlightening the public about the Trayvon Martin case. While 1000 people were signing the change.org petition on average per minute, the momentum of the petition measurably slowed precisely when reactionaries attempted to portray Trayvon as a thug who had initiated the attack on Zimmerman, to the point of even falsely identifying a photo of a tattooed black male youth wearing gold tooth fronts on Twitter as Trayvon's.
Even as social media from Facebook to Twitter was a primary instrument in building literacies about this case, it has also played a decisive role in the effort to criminalize Trayvon, which contradicts the ideals associated with these media that herald at their potential to unsettle conventional race and gender inscriptions on the body and also raises important issues related to first amendment rights and privacy. Yet, perhaps more profoundly than any other measure in our time, the Trayvon Martin case has underscored the continuing legibility of racial inscriptions on the black body in the US. In other words, the case underscores that the US is by no means a post-racial society. It suggests that the very notion is a fantasy and an allusion.
While Trayvon was born into a world in which the internet had already been invented and at a time when its uses in the African-American context had increased exponentially, it is significant that the internet's perverse uses and abuses in the wake of his death in the effort to criminalize him have thrown into relief the internet's conservation of conventional racial politics and hierarchies. Indeed, this tragedy revealed and dramatized the internet's status as one of the most publicly accessible forms for race baiting and disseminating notions of anti-blackness. Notably, Zimmerman's younger brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr., used his Twitter account in an effort to criminalize Trayvon in the weeks before the trial when he juxtaposed a photograph of Trayvon flipping a middle finger with an image of De'Marquise Elkins, a black teen in Georgia accused of shooting a toddler to death in the attempted robbery of the baby's mother on their morning walk. The caption reads, "A picture speaks a thousand words."
Eerily, the voyeuristic effort to excavate and expose internet archives related to Trayvon in the wake of his death mirrored, extended, and paralleled Zimmerman's stalking and racial profiling of the teen on the fateful night of his death. It is noteworthy, too-- why use that passive voice there? On the fateful night he shot him. It is noteworthy, too, that the phone records of Trayvon's friend, the African-American teen Rachel Jeantel, the last person who talked to him on the phone, were similarly probed during the trial proceedings in the attempt to discredit Trayvon and label him as the aggressor with Zimmerman. In the process, she was pathologized on the basis of factors such as race, gender, class, and nationality.
It is also significant that after her testimony at the trial, the internet emerged as a salient medium in disseminating the reductive and unfair scripts that portrayed her as inarticulate and uneducated and that linked her to the angry black woman stereotype for her assertive and witty responses when being cross-examined by the defense attorney Don West while she gave her testimony and served as a witness for the prosecution team by Bernie de la Rionda.
This case has garnered widespread concern, because it threatens to set a problematic precedent in authorizing and legally sanctioning vigilante strategies of policing, controlling, and the annihilating black body. It is unsettling, because it threatens to recast and revive the anachronistic social customs that hearken back to the antebellum era, when black people needed passes to travel on the streets, even when freedom was a volatile status and when slave codes regulated every aspect of behavior and public comportment, only to be replaced by black codes in the late 19th century, and eventually by Jim Crow laws that remained solidly entrenched at least until Brown v. Board in 1954.
This is the kind of case that makes people feel as if we are moving back in time, not forward. When we consider the state sanctioned police violence against Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and Oscar Grant, and most recently, Jonathan A. Ferrell In Charlotte, the authorization of regular citizens like Zimmerman to enact vigilante violence on the black body, as demonstrated in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Darius Simmons further sanctions and rationalizes violence against the black body and attests to the precariousness and expendibility of black life. At the same time, it reinforces behavior that threatens Americans in general, along with democracy itself.
At the trial, it was sobering that both the defense team and prosecution seemed invested in repressing and denying the relevance of race to the trial, along with the role that it played in Trayvon's murder. While these arguments likely reflected the impact of the ideology of color blindness on the legal system in the US during the post-civil rights era, they must also be recognized as an outgrowth of the rhetoric of the post-racial and post-blackness in the new millennium. It is sad and shameful that this new century has looked and felt too much like the past one in terms of a politics of a color line. Thank you so much.
ONEKA LABENNETT: Thank you all for coming. I want to thank my colleagues for organizing this event. It's really an honor for me to be here and share in this dialogue with Professor Richardson and Professor Boyce Davies, and it's great to follow Professor Richardson.
I'm glad that our discussion today focuses on both Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantel. Can everyone hear me, or do you need me to speak into the mic? I'm glad that it focuses on both Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon's friend. As we all know, Trayvon was killed.
Rachel suffered public chastisement and its evaluation of her beauty, and she was subjected to harsh treatment while on the witness stand. To be sure, Trayvon's fate was worse. Still, because so much has been said about Trayvon, and especially because my colleague so eloquently contextualized the case for you and focused on him, I'd like to limit my comments to Rachel.
I'm going to focus on Rachel, and what I'd like to do, I hope, is add a finer point to some of the analyses and discussions about her. I want to place Rachel Jeantel alongside the working class Caribbean youth with whom I worked in Brooklyn. For my first book, I spent over a decade researching first and second generation immigrant girls from the Caribbean. This research enabled me to reflect on how black girls are positioned in relation to the dominant culture in the United States.
While most of my interviewees were from the Anglophone Caribbean, they shared quite a bit with Rachel Jeantel. And I have a lot to say here, but I'm going to limit myself to two points. My first point has to do with the issue of speech and code switching, and my second point has to do with black girls as agents in the face of racialized and gender discrimination.
So first some quick background information. Rachel Jeantel is 19 years old. She was 18 when Trayvon Martin was killed. Rachel comes from a Haitian and Dominican household and speaks Creole, Spanish, and English. Much was made during the trial about Rachel's English. English Professor John McWhorter and linguist Marina Bolotnikova have written about how linguists would interpret Rachel's speech. Bolotnikova reacted to the defense attorney Don West asking Rachel quote, "Are you claiming in anyway that you don't understand English?" Rachel insisted that she did understand English. West asked if she had trouble understanding English, because her first language was Creole, transmitted from here Haitian mother.
The linguist Bolotnikova argued that what West and what Jeantel detractors missed is that her English is perfect, perfect black English or African American English, which has its own grammatical structure. Bolotnikova's article also pointed to the widespread discrimination against black English. Even though those who speak standard American English also speak ungrammatically. As I read about and watched videos of Rachel Jeantel's courtroom testimony I wondered briefly why she didn't code switch.
Code switching is a linguistic term, but sociologists and anthropologists use it as well. It's the idea that we all modify our presentation of self, the way we speak, based on context. So some quick examples. The way that you speak to your roommate is different than the way you speak to your professor. The way I speak to my darling husband is different than the way I speak to my students. The way I speak to my grandmother is different than the way I speak to my boss. And we use different language, different words, different dialects in all of these settings.
So while Don West got caught up in whether Rachel could speak English, even if we consider that black English is stigmatized, a key issue has to do with why Rachel couldn't or wouldn't code switch. The issue was not about Rachel's English, but rather about the fact that she was speaking black vernacular in the courtroom and subsequently on Piers Morgan's show. Rachel's attractors on Twitter who called her dumb and an embarrassment were also chastising her for not knowing that you speak differently in court and on television.
I'm not the only one who's made this observation about code switching. Sociologist Ray Rashawn suggested that Rachel quote, "lacked the ability to code switch". Without the benefit of being able to ask Rachel, I want to suggest something else. The mostly working class youth with whom I worked were adept at code switching. They were able to-- they knew when it was advantageous to speak in a West Indian accent, when it was advantageous to speak in African American vernacular, and they knew when it was in their interest to speak in standard American English. And they seamlessly transition between each of these modes all the time every day.
The glaring difference here, however, is that the Brooklyn girls had not just learned that a close friend was violently killed moments after they spoke to him on the phone. The Brooklyn girls were not subsequently thrust into a courtroom as star witnesses. Our abilities to get our bearings, to present a self that is appropriate to a given situation depends on so much, and though we might be quick to suppose that Rachel's class or education prohibited her from code switching, perhaps there's something else that's significant here.
Rachel did very well in school and spoke Spanish, English, and Creole at home, but she was hurting over the loss of her friend, inexperienced at being cross examined, and rightfully guarded about exposing herself to scrutiny. She might have thought that code switching, speaking in a manner distinct from her everyday self, would seem as if she was lying. Pressed to tell the truth exactly as it unfolded, Rachel used her own words exactly as she would have used them if she were in her own neighborhood.
The controversy over why Rachel initially lied about her age and being in the hospital are also factors here. She'd already been taken to task for this and for initially neglecting to mention that Martin had called Zimmerman quote, "a creepy ass cracker". Rather than condemning Rachel as an embarrassment because of her failure to code switch, I would argue that she was pressed into a situation in which code switching was not a viable option, and the fact that detractors couldn't sympathize with a teenager placed in the most difficult of circumstances is not altogether surprising.
It reminds me of the public outcry over Gabby Douglass' hair looking unkempt at the Olympics, and this brings me to my second point, the ways in which Rachel has been chastised for lacking in respectability and has been deemed ugly. First a quick step back. Rachel told Piers Morgan that a dental condition, an underbite, makes it difficult for her to speak clearly and be understood. She said, quote, "I had the situation since kindergarten. Words I can say, they can't come out right."
Morgan asked if she was bullied over this. Rachel responded, "Look at me. No. No." During the Morgan interview, she noted she was respectful when speaking to Don West, the attorney.
"My parents taught me better. That's an adult. You don't have the right to disrespect an adult." Then she added with a grin, "OK, I did give some attitude. But you know, that's me."
As a few commentators have noted, it seems as if it were Rachel Jeantel who was on trial. She was condemned in the court of public opinion almost in real time. Tweets compared her to Precious and Madea, and asked, where's the fried chicken, and called her hideous.
Some of these negative tweets came from white conservatives, but many of them came from black people. Some people expressed shame, saying that she was an example of what was wrong with black youth. Others called her brave and suggested that her class and education limited her ability to present a more respectable self.
Many would suppose that Rachel is a victim of a sort of devaluation of black beauty that causes black girls to see themselves as ugly. I want to disagree. Rachel's comments to Piers Morgan about being bullied-- "Look at me. No, no."-- suggest her strength and defiance against those wishing to devalue her. The girls with whom I worked would have slugged you or dealt you a similarly damning insult if you dare to call them ugly.
We should not assume that Rachel sees herself the way her detractors on Twitter saw her. Yet, I'm not arguing that Rachel is a saint. She also sparked controversy over her own tweets about drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. All of these acts are typical of American teenagers, but are criminalized when they pertain to poor and black working class youth. Like the girls with whom I worked, Rachel's reactions to cross-examination and her comments on Piers Morgan suggest that she is well aware of the ways in which black girls are pathologized, labeled victims, or at risk, and devalued in our society.
Rachel literally asked Piers Morgan to see her. She presented herself as a person who knows how to be respectable when she has to be and as someone who can call out a defense attorney in court who is being condescending. Perhaps public discourse wants us to believe that Rachel is Precious, a fictitious stereotype. I want to make the case that she is a real self-possessed human being who sometimes acts like the teenager that she is. Thank you.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: Again, it's a joy being here to be with my colleagues as we pursue this, and I loved everything I've hear so far. And thank you for coming out this afternoon to engage with us on this question. So my piece is called domestic terrorism and hearing black women's voices.
On Sunday, September 15 at 10:22 AM, 50 years ago, within weeks of the March on Washington recently celebrated, four little girls were killed, the victims of a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan, 11-year-old Denise McNair, 14-year-old Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie May Collins who had attended Sunday school. This event, which was recognized this past Sunday with commemorations which honor the memories of these girls and now their killings, became iconic and is looked back on with appropriate sadness, but also recognition of the domestic terrorism perpetrated on black youth throughout history.
I listened on Monday to Angela Davis, who in a talk on Sunday night-- and if you can find it on Democracy Now, please do it. It's an amazing discussion. But it was [? carried ?] on Democracy Now the next day, which described this ongoing terrorism which the state rarely punishes. And I'm using the state in a broad sense, the US state. But which is alive in the killing of Trayvon Martin. But more importantly, one of the little girls who survived remains damaged and uncompensated by the same state in the person of Sarah Collins Rudolph, blind in one eye, working as a maid in Birmingham, still carrying the marks of mental and physical damage.
Each generation unfortunately still has its iconic example. Such an example for this generation is Trayvon, who though described by Rachel Jeantel, who was similarly profiled, as a little lazy, nonetheless was rapidly ushered into permanent memory by the bullet of a similar domestic terrorist, still walking around armed and bothering people, breaking the law all the time without punishment. I was surprised he got stopped with a gun on the high-- I could not see that happening to a black man. And no ticket, nothing.
He walked away from that. He got one recently, but he was involved in another altercation beating up his wife and similar damage, and he's still walking around like nothing happened. So this is an interesting, to me, aside in terms of this person being able to walk around with that past. So he's still walking around armed and bothering people, breaking the law all the time without punishment, and confirming that the past is still present. So I want to make a few points in the time that I have.
One, about domestic terrorism in the US south. In the piece I wrote in the South Florida Times, I reminded that Sanford, Florida is a small southern city with a great deal of southern racism. This is a town, if you saw the film 42 with Jackie Robinson, where he had to escape an impending lynching, another form of domestic terrorism. Having traveled through various parts of Florida when I was on the Commission of Education's task force for the teaching of African American experience, I was able to see some of the Florida cities from the inside.
Like Mississippi or Alabama, Florida is also deep south, in similar ways as it relates to racial structures and history. The destruction of Rosewood happened in central Florida in 1923, documented by Zora Hurston, subsequently.
No, Florida is definitely not the worst state, nor is it all South Beach, Disney, or Daytona, Palm Beach, and spring break. It is instead the final point in the US where a range of extreme US practices operate without close scrutiny until something major happens.
The second point, race undercriminalization of Trayvon. I taught a class last semester on Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow, so the discourses of the criminalization of black male youth remained in my framework. Not only was Trayvon murdered by Zimmerman, he was also criminalized in his death in 2013 [INAUDIBLE] by an unfair trial.
Keep in mind that Florida still has the highest rates of disenfranchisement of voters, including those who have already served time if incarcerated. Remember the election which produced George Bush, the second? In which many black people were listed as ineligible to vote erroneously, by saying that they had been incarcerated before. Indeed the ACLU had a campaign to repair this, from which Obama benefited.
Specifically in this case, though the defense attorneys even brought in a piece of concrete to the courthouse where no such thing has happened-- indicating that Trayvon was armed with the sidewalk-- the prosecution never responded. Race was excised officially from the trial, while it remained visible throughout, as is usually the case.
Three, the prosecution never humanized Trayvon, leading many to assume that they threw the case. Numerous opportunities were missed from calling witnesses who knew him to match the long list of [INAUDIBLE] among witnesses, having his very capable mother humanize him as a victim, while the defense pushed the narrative of her son's culpability in his own death. Some of the police who did not charge George seemed also to not be good defense witnesses.
Rachel Jeantel, the last person to talk to Trayvon, was demonized and stupidized. I made up a word. We saw it unfold, and among ourselves felt it did not look good to the prosecution. People were calling each other saying, this is not looking good. But still had some abstract faith in the system, which was of course totally dashed. There's a long list of mistakes that black lawyers in a Florida forum that we organized a week after this depressing verdict was released have identified.
Fourth, the stereotyping of Rachel Jeantel. You did such a marvelous job. I don't think I need to do that.
But basically, I want to just say that race, gender, class, ethnicity, and disability came together to position her negatively. One lawyer friend of mine described ways in which she was not presented in court appropriately nor prepared by the defense. And I think Gloria Allred made this point repeatedly.
This is clearly true, but another said had she been wearing a black suit, pearls, she would have still been positioned as not speaking because of the way that black women's words are positioned in places of power. Positioned in places of power, the academy right here, the court, the Congress, the media.
I've written about this in my own work. Black women have written about this from the start of black feminist work, and it is still a shock when one sees it in practice or experiences it. Black women's words are consigned to the unheard, the problematic, i.e. a man can say the worst thing, offer the biggest challenge to another man, but it is seen as a kind of male dueling. But women's speech is automatically positioned as disrespect, fussing, quarreling, and so on.
I've taken to writing whatever I want to say, knowing it's going to be misunderstood anyway. So enter Rachel Jeantel, as I say in the other piece I wrote.
Five, black women scholars have been for a long time writing about the inability to hear black women's speech. Indeed, all the black women writers who are now published from the basic history begin from the basic history that black women's speech has been silenced [? in ?] dominant discourses. And we can go from Bell Hooks' Talking Back to [INAUDIBLE] women speak. And I have mentioned the piece I wrote on hearing black women's voices.
But I was telling my class today, as well, that up until the 19th Amendment, women were not really allowed to testify in court, and black people of course couldn't if testifying against a white person. When black people did speak, black women did speak, their words were consigned to fussing, nonsense, ignorance. But as we are insisting, the past remains present. Black women writers and scholars have battled and continue to battle these perceptions for years, and though the avenues from which we get our voices heard sometimes with difficulty, we still have more assurance now having battled the obvious positioning that occurs.
So the sixth, Rachel Jeantel in her own words has been fully stereotyped, positioned in ways that black women have historically been placed. In other words, she walked into an already constructed set of understandings in which the black and poor women is seen. Constructed as ugly and illiterate, a problem from the start, she explained in her interview with Piers Morgan that she had had many months of encounters with defense attorney Don West and that it was only her home training of not speaking back to adults that stopped her from saying what she really felt about him.
We do not get a sense that the prosecution spent an equal amount of time, which makes her words come out wrong. She says, in her clarification, that she has a born disability. In other words, the prosecution seemed to not have the equal time that the defense did with her.
A physical disability then is taken to mean stupidity in the fullest historical sense in which disabilities have been treated. There are words I can say, others know. Importantly, she proceeded to fill in some necessary knowledge gaps as far as Trayvon Martin is concerned. He was a calm, chill, loving person who loved his family, especially his mother, she said.
Trayvon was a funny person to his friends. He was a bit lazy and would not, it seems, stretch to do too much unless pushed. And what did they talk about for all those hours? What we were going to do and be in life.
Ironically, Trayvon never got to realize this projection into the future, and this is for me what perhaps hurt her the most, as equally as finding out that the person she was talking to was dead within minutes after their last conversation. She was on the phone with him at 7:16. He died at 7:17 PM at a time, she said, quote, "when people are out walking their dogs."
Still walking around. So what could drive Zimmerman to such an irrational conclusion for a young boy walking the street at 7:00 PM? The racial profiling response from numerous communities speaks volumes here, as does her sense that Zimmerman thought he was quote, "finally going to get one."
Seven, white female gender and ethnicity-- and actually Zillah's done an amazing piece on this, Zillah Eisenstein who's in the audience. But the selection of a largely white female jury in the south was another issue that many saw as creating the outcome of the freedom of Zimmerman, another prosecutorial mistake. So ironically juror B37, a white southern woman in the true tradition of the south, saw Rachel as inadequate in terms of her education and communication skills, felt something akin to pity for her. And so because of that, they kind of discounted her story.
The combination of racism, sexism, and classicism positioned a black young woman negatively from a variety of quarters, and you have done that nicely, Oneka. So I won't go into that, the range of people from the legal pundits to-- the range.
But what about the Latina juror who up until she came out was described as either Latin or black, i.e. not a possibility of both? Or as Zimmerman who is described as Hispanic but without the white as though Hispanic is a racial category. There are white Hispanics.
All of these elements were tested in this case. Zimmerman is a white Hispanic with a father who was a judge, and one who clearly had access to the system and knew what he could get away with. Basically in this framework, Rachel Jeantel's testimony disappeared.
Eight, white residential enclaves and stand your ground laws. One of the developing tenancies in Florida, as in other states like Arizona for retirees, is to create policed white residential enclaves where black people are not welcome. In this case, Trayvon Martin from North Miami where he's used to walking the streets casually now in such an enclave becomes profiled as a threat just for walking.
From driving while black to walking while black, the pattern has stayed in place. So two tenancies operate in Florida then, an urbanizing and ethnically diverse community on the one hand in the southern tip of the state, a white community in north and central Florida fighting how to retain political power and preserve white residential enclaves. The African-American community is caught between these two demographic movements, displaced by Latin American and Caribbean culture in Miami, still marginalized by a southern white community and its legal system. The similar case of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old also shot with the same logic in Jacksonville needs to be placed close attention to, as is the inequity in the sentencing of Marissa Alexander.
So finally, the denial human rights for black subjects throughout history is still a fundamental way in which racism is practiced. The entire judicial system, we learned from [? Marissa ?] Alexander, is stacked against black people. The school to prison pipeline was pretty much operating as well in this case, as Trayvon had been suspended, because they found marijuana residue in his backpack. But the walking while black, which mirrors the New York stop and frisk campaign or the London sus laws continue to allow his criminalization even in death.
This is another low, I think, which has been horribly enacted in this case in 2013. The one benefit though as well was that we were able, I think by these means, to kill the logic that we're living in a post-racial society. Thank you very much.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Well, I just have one really quick question before we open it up. One of the things that struck me about all three presentations is this sense of almost invisibility, aspects of black culture. If it is diasporic black culture, or gender black culture, or in the home, that it is not easily available or accessible outside of black communities or black homes.
And so I'm wondering, given the segregation levels, given the legality of how difficult it is for groups to actually have a humanizing interaction with not just others, but with people who are not very much like them, what do y'all imagine would need to happen to keep this kind of invisibility from leading to what we saw happen in this case? Does that make sense? Just really [INAUDIBLE].
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: Good ahead.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I mean, the first thing that kind of comes to my mind is that when, thinking about what I said, black vernacular is brought into the mainstream-- and it often is-- it can become part of our standard American discourse. So diss is in the library. Everybody knows what that means.
But all too often, especially when it pertains to black women, the ways in which black speech, black dance, black culture gets incorporated is in an equally objectifying or pathologizing way. So I'm thinking about Miley Cyrus twerking. Now everybody knows what twerking is, but if you think about that performance and the ways in which the black body-- going back to Riche's points-- were objectified, deemed vulgar, unfortunately that's the way in which blackness gets incorporated all too often. So what would have to happen? Not that.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: I know. Right. And in my sense, yeah. it would be-- it's a bigger issue, because it's a challenge to the sort of ongoing racial structure that exists. So I think what you're saying in terms of the separations have to do with all of that, including the academy where courses in Africana studies and so on still end up being marginalized or barely part of the larger academic enterprise. So at every level, we're still operating within a structuring that is racially based, and I think the large question is still how to battle that.
I think that is from DuBois-- I'm glad you [INAUDIBLE] the color line-- to now, it's an ongoing issue that black political activists, thinkers, and so on are still working on. Black president notwithstanding. He himself came out and said, it's not just my son. It could have been me. I went through that.
So essentially the positioning of race, unfortunately that's the-- I think that's the most disappointing thing, that the positioning of race and racism still remains when we had so much hope that we had moved to a different level. And it's like dragged back each time to a really horrible messy way in which that still operates.
And my point about the young lady who is blind in one eye and a maid in Birmingham is really critical. She never got compensated. So what does that say about how we address these ongoing traumatic situations and events? That means the past is still present, and that's what I was trying to argue in that piece.
RICHE RICHARDSON: Right. And I would add that the sociologist Orlando Patterson in a book that he published a few years ago commented that African-Americans remain the least assimilated group in the United States. I don't necessarily think that the answer is assimilation in the sense that an American ideology promotes simply absorbing cultures and creating this monolithic society that operates on premise of being deracialized and homogenized.
But I think that increasingly it will be important for there to be cultural exchanges that narrow the gap and that open up communication that lines that I think remain clogged all too frequently. I was really disappointed that there were so many failures, even in the court proceedings, to hear, to truly hear and understand Rachel Jeantel. I had no problems hearing and understanding her and what she was saying.
Even little phrases like [? coulda ?] hear, I mean, it was just not alienating for me. I can understand how some people may have felt alienated by the idioms that she circulated, but then the challenge seemed to be incumbent upon the court to try to at least make the effort. I think that ideally there should have been someone to stand in the gap and perform these acts of translation that would have been so vital to promoting understanding in the trial.
And by extension, a lot that perhaps should have happened and been available, I think, was provided in the media. The town hall session on CNN, I think, that promoted more clarification was one example of what I think could have helped. And I just feel that literacies-- increased literacies across cultures will be crucial.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So we have a handful of questions. As I said, I'm going to ask them in a group. The first group have to do with code switching. In different ways, we had people who would like to know that couldn't it have been the case that Rachel refused to code switch in order to maintain her dignity and remain true to self.
Another question along those lines, do you think code switching has made the black community slightly phony? Is it now a subconscious switch? And the last question in that group is, why isn't black English considered a bastardization of the English language? All right, so any response?
ONEKA LABENNETT: OK, repeat the first one for me.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Couldn't it have also been the case that Rachel refused to code switch in order to maintain her dignity and remain true to self?
ONEKA LABENNETT: Yeah, I think that's a valid interpretation, and that was in part what I was saying. Part of it is that she was pressed to sort of say things exactly as they occurred and had gotten into trouble previously for not doing that. But also she really was wanting to be true to herself, and I think that fits in with her character.
If you think about the things she said to Piers Morgan when she said, well, of course I gave him a little bit of attitude, too, because that's just me. She clearly has a very strong sense of self, and even if you read her tweets, whether you want to disparage them or you see them as brave, she really is asserting a sense of self. So I think that that's legitimate.
The question about code switching being seen as phony, everybody code switches. Everybody does it all the time, and so it's not phony in the sense that we all have multiple selves and different ways of being based on context. And the idea that you would speak differently because it's advantageous or disadvantageous in a certain setting is not necessarily phony. Its part of being human. It's what all people do, so it's not something that black people do or white people do. Everybody does this.
And then the last thing about--
NOLIWE ROOKS: Is it a bastardization of the English language?
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: Oh, black language.
ONEKA LABENNETT: Oh, is black vernacular-- well, I think all of us can speak on this. Standard American English-- the linguists that I quoted argue that people who speak standard American English also speak ungrammatically all the time. But the way that they speak is not demonized or stigmatized in the way that black English is stigmatized. None of us speak perfect English, or the Queen's English, or whatever you want to call it. So I'd say that no, black English is not a bastardization of English.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: And I would also add English itself, there are many Englishes. If you go to England, there are some people you would not understand, many people. So I mean, there's BBC English. There's international standard English. There's Queen's English. There's Cockney.
ONEKA LABENNETT: Cockney.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: There are a range of different types of English, so yes, you're right. Suddenly when it pertains to black people, it's bastardized. That's [INAUDIBLE] back to racial logics. Yeah, but there are many Englishes.
And people who work in some of the fields I work in, African literature, talk about this all the time, particularly looking at the way that English is used in African context. [INAUDIBLE] using Caribbean, not all even. In Caribbean, you could have multiple forms of English from patois in Jamaica to Trinidadian Creole to everything.
So there are forms of English that people put together in different ways. English itself is a combination of different languages. Y'all need to keep that in mind as well, that what you have today as English is full of blendings from a range of other linguistic fields. So language is a fluid thing, and people use language in the ways that they can articulate themselves based on their culture, where they are, their location, their place, the streams that they interact with.
RICHE RICHARDSON: Right. And I think it's so arrogant in a way on the part of the US mainstream to presume that every person should present themselves in a way that's scrutable for the mainstream-- this ear, this kind of normative sense of what it means to be American, without raising questions and critiquing even something like the American educational system and the actual system that is producing the youth who are the object of the critiques, typically youth such as Rachel Jeantel and Trayvon Martin. It seems hypocritical, even at a certain level, to critique Rachel's speech without raising questions about the educational system that has produced certain youth who regardless of certain exposure to the English language remain somewhat alienated.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So we have two more questions that are more specific to George Zimmerman. One asks, what if George Zimmerman was black, or what if Trayvon was Tiffaney Martin? What I mean is I would like the panel to tackle the intersection of race and gender in this respect. The other question is, did any of you consider the fact that Zimmerman could have been innocent?
AUDIENCE: What was the last word she said?
NOLIWE ROOKS: Innocent.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: Well, he actually killed a person, [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: No, [INAUDIBLE].
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: It's amazing Sorry about that. He actually killed a kid. When I saw the-- I don't know if any of you saw the mistake. Somebody dropped a real picture of Trayvon Martin dead.
When I saw it, that's when it broke my heart. It was a kid lying on the ground. Have you all ever seen the photograph?
RICHE RICHARDSON: Yes.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: It was a kid with little ashy legs and his sneakers. I was like, oh, my god. This is the person the prosecution tried to create into a monster.
I mean, it makes me tear up when I saw him lying there and wondered what his family-- oh, god. I mean, so I won't even entertain any thought that this man was not-- he is the killer. He's walking around beating up his wife, and you all are still asking that. That is inexcusable.
I never considered the fact ever. I would never, because he is an admitted murderer. And whether he planned it before or [? after ?] he killed somebody.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I wonder if the question also-- I mean, if you're talking about the standard, if you're saying innocent or talking about the stand your ground law. If you're saying, well, we have to call him not guilty because of that law, that's one thing. But considering the possibility that he's innocent, I think Carole's being pretty clear here.
Yeah, there's-- he admitted to shooting Trayvon. People heard the gunshot. He had a gun. It is his gun. He said he pulled the trigger.
So did I think of him as innocent? No. Did I think that perhaps this crazy law might somehow make him constructed as not guilty? Yeah, that occurred to me, and I was not surprised that he was found not guilty. I was not at all surprised.
RICHE RICHARDSON: I have a colleague, Rebecca Wanzo, who's written a very important book entitled The Suffering Will Not Be Televised, in which she discusses this tendency in the media to publicize stories of victimization related to young, attractive, white women, but the resistance to similar narratives about young black women. So say if a young black woman ends up missing, then it's far less likely that the story will be reported, or circulated, or given [? occuracy ?] in the media. Examples from recent years would be Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway, but where was that similar coverage for Phylicia Barnes, the young girl who disappeared in Baltimore.
So these double standards that shape the media's approaches to different groups somehow have to be dealt with. I think that a media persona like Nancy Grace delivered very consistent coverage about the Trayvon Martin case, even though in some ways she's kind of reinforced that tendency to focus primarily on certain stories. But the insertion of Shellie Zimmerman into the narrative last week so saliently when Zimmerman went to her father's house was a signal moment for me.
I think that in the best of worlds for instance, people who care about domestic violence would have related this case to the discourses of domestic violence even at the height of the trial. I mean, the relevance was very obvious to me and to a lot of other people who think in terms of intersectionalities related to race, gender, class, and sexuality.
With the accusations from Zimmerman's niece that he sexually abused her for years, for instance, there was profound salience for the discourses of gender, violence, and domestic violence within the case at that point. Or we can think, for instance, about the issues related to child protection that should have been raised with Zimmerman's stalking of Trayvon, the status of Trayvon as a minor. And so we always have to ask that question. Well, why now is the connection to domestic violence becoming so much more obvious? But the point is that it should have been obvious all along.
And I would say that in terms of this issue of the question of Zimmerman's innocence, of course it's very crucial to be fair minded in thinking about a variety of legal cases and concerns. People are innocent until they're proven guilty. And I deeply resented the accusations even that no one would have ever cared about this case had it people like Al Sharpton or Attorney Crump not brought it to people's attention and attempted to make it one about race. I think that that's too much of an oversimplification of the African-American and African Diasporan population, and that the accusation is extremely unfair.
What I would question in terms of narratives of Zimmerman's innocence has to do with why there are so many people, primarily among political reactionaries, who resist empathizing with the tragic death of a young black male. Why is it so easy for them to align themselves with and find a certain kind of kinship with Zimmerman, and on the other hand to criminalize Trayvon?
I mean, I really don't get people who lack the ability to empathize with the suffering and death of a child, but who are very willing to make excuses for Zimmerman, to the point where regardless of what he does-- as my colleague Carole Boyce Davies suggested-- it's as if he has a free pass to do it. So the double standards I think have been most alarming to me. I would say that the narrative about Zimmerman has been overwhelmingly one of his innocence, and that has been the major problem in all of this.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Now we have two-- OK, now you have to [INAUDIBLE]. We have two questions about President Obama. One is, what is your take or position on the position taken by a select group of African-American intellectuals on this issue, such as Allen West, Tavis Smiley, Cornel West about is the president doing enough to elaborate this conversation? That's one.
The second question, should Obama not be condemned for not speaking more forcefully about racism in America and the appalling numbers of blacks who will pass through the criminal justice system, or more simply, how is it we finally have a black president, and yet nothing changes?
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: Who wants to go first? [INAUDIBLE]. Go ahead, Riche. You go first.
RICHE RICHARDSON: OK, well I-- it's a very interesting and timely question to be sure, and I value a public sphere in which dissent is accepted and permissible. Because I think that approach, that climate, will represent the healthiest and most democratic kind of public sphere. So I certainly don't feel that because, say, President Obama is African-American he should be immune to criticism. And so I think it's reasonable, actually, in certain ways that certain questions have been leveraged at him related to the status of the black population and general population in the US on the one hand and then relate it to issues such as Trayvon Martin more specifically.
I can go back to last spring when there was the uncertainty prior to George Zimmerman's arrest. My blog post that's copied in this packet reveals just my own reaction during that moment. I mean, I was literally up night after night until 3:00, 3:30 AM studying the case, wondering what was going to happen, just so worried about what was going on, and thinking, wow, if I feel like this, then what on Earth does Trayvon's family feel like? This is just horrible.
And in the midst of all of that, a movement began to coalesce on Sanford, Florida, and I think that the epicenter of concern at a certain point was increasingly being redirected there. So when the president finally inserted his voice into the situation in remark that if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, it was refreshing. I am not sure that it was absolutely necessary.
I'm not sure that I felt a personal need to hear what the president had to say about it. Nevertheless, I was very concerned that when he did finally speak out, he was so viciously attacked by some critics who presumed that he was being a race baiter or was trying to make race a part of it.
And then more recently, even in the spring, we had a revisitation of a lot of this question of President Obama's linkage to the African-American context when he gave a commencement speech at Morehouse in May. And then of course in the aftermath of the verdict, Obama actually revised his previous statement and said, I am Trayvon Martin, or I have had those kinds of experiences. And so it's been very powerful, I think, for him to affirm his identity as a black man and to a certain extent to affirm his solidarity with black men. I think that where his critics come in is that they really want to see some policymaking to back up the rhetorical overtures to African-Americans, and that would mean more of a concerted effort to deal with issues such as gun control, for instance, and definitely more of a kind of direct engagement of issues related to poverty.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: I've been still trying to understand the president. At first I saw him, and I still do in a certain way, as a kind of-- because I'm from the Caribbean and I've seen neo-colonial leaders, he strikes me as operating pretty much as a neo-colonial leader. And what I mean by that is the neo-colonial leader who comes in pretty much does what was being done before. He just continues it in a different way.
And it seems to me this is what's going on. But we don't have a way to speak about it, nor do we have the language. And so even as he tries, he's still operating within a structure that is managing our lives in very particular ways. And you see this again recently with his mistakes around Syria.
So it seems to me he's operating almost identically as some of the first neo-colonial leaders did, in that he's not really trying to change things in too radical a way, but he's just managing the state. And there's maybe some people abused it with neo-imperial. I don't know.
He is the face of US imperialism still, but as a black man, does that change? No. If he drops any bombs on people, they won't feel any better because he is black.
So I think there's the-- political scientists, some of my colleagues who are and others who work in these areas, are going to have an amazing amount of material that they can work and new definitions that we can put forward about what this means in this particular juncture. I don't think we have the language fully yet to articulate all that this particular moment in history means. And I think I'll stop there.
NOLIWE ROOKS: This questions asks, could you comment on the opportunities and pitfalls of social media in facilitating conversations about race that reflect diversity of perspectives? And I'm going to take the moderator privilege and ask you to also maybe expand that to talk about social media in relation to movements, to social movements or activism, which is sometimes people sort of say folks on social media like to talk about movements and justice, but is it the same thing? So is social media-- does is it actually lead a diversity of perspectives is the question. And then, can you build a movement using it?
RICHE RICHARDSON: My observation has very much been and one thing that I think I was led to conclude even from my talk was that it cuts both ways. It's kind of like a blessing and a curse at once. Of course, the most salient example in culture that we can think of is the Obama election in terms of how useful, how serviceable social media proved to be in mobilizing masses of people in support of President Obama, including many, many youth.
And so that election I think set the bar for what's possible, what's conceivable in terms of using social media as an instrument to bring people together. And even more recently, we've seen it work to interesting effect like in the Middle East in terms of promoting awareness about certain dictatorial politics and bringing people together. And so it's definitely I think been an instrument and tool for revolution and for politicization in certain ways.
But then when we think about the egregious ways in which it was used even during something like the Zimmerman trial, we see the downside of its uses, and I think it's important. One of my colleagues Anna Everett writes very compellingly on the uses of the internet, social media, and digital discourses in relation to black subjectivity and has been a pioneer, I think, in terms of producing scholarship about what those breakthroughs have meant for minority communities. And so she's one person that I think is a good resource to look to for information about that.
I mean, when we first began to hear theories of the internet, they were overwhelmingly positive. Even idealistic, there's this idea that if you are in a virtual space, then you are removed from the body, removed from the significations of race, of gender, of class, of sexuality, and so it was promoted initially as that kind of medium that would be one to bring people together and to help them to bridge from their differences. And because it was global, the ideal was that it was a unifier, but we've seen it be very divisive in some cases.
Even more recently, hot off the press, with the selection of an Indian woman, the very first Indian woman as Miss America just the other night, we had this eruption of all of this negative feedback and reaction on sites such as Twitter with accusations of terrorism to this young woman. And I think it's incredibly-- it's just so disheartening that there are people who continue to be invested in xenophobia in this purist and exclusionary narrative of what it means to be American, even as on the other hand they promote this ideology of a post-racial.
ONEKA LABENNETT: I really loved what you said about the internet in your presentation, and it sort of reminded me of a moment that I recounted in my first book when-- the teens I was working with in Brooklyn, one of them took a picture of a girl at this after school program. And the girl said, what are you going to do with that picture? And he said, I'm going to put it on the alternet. And she said, the alternet?
And he said, the alternet. That's what my grandma calls the internet. And so I used that term, the alternet, to sort of speak about the ways in which black youth use the internet, and there are particular freedoms attached to the internet in terms of what you were speaking. But unfortunately, it seems increasingly the internet becomes a space in which black youth can be criminalized, and we see that with both Trayvon and Rachel.
If we were to look at the Facebook pages or the Twitter accounts of any American teenager, there's all kinds of things there that their parents would not want them to be sharing with the public. Talk about code switching, right? There's all kinds of things that they wouldn't want a potential employer, or an admissions officer to see. But when those things are seen in the accounts of black youth, they become a tool for criminalization, for pathologization, even though this is what's going on with all teens.
And I'd also add that there is a digital divide. The internet is increasingly available, and cell phones are increasingly available all over the world. Both of us work on the Caribbean, and we know that cell phones are really prevalent in the Caribbean. Before coming to Florida, I worked in the Bronx and conducted oral histories with Bronx residents. And my students who went out into the field and did their own oral histories met older people in the Bronx who didn't have computers at home and didn't know how to use the internet. And so my students literally worked with people to teach them how to shop online, how to look something up online, how to find a definition. So there is a digital divide, and there are kind of race and class ways in which the internet is used as a tool.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So we're about out of time. We have time for one more question, although we will have a reception, and I invite you all. There are about a handful of questions that I did not get to pull. The panelists will all be here, so feel free to interact with them.
The last question though is, where do we go from here? It's not my question. [INAUDIBLE] question.
CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES: At the panel we did in Miami, we had wonderful recommendations from the lawyers, particularly trying to suggest that black youth have to be taught continuously how to protect themselves in these situations of race. When you said about Zimmerman stalking Trayvon, it reminded me of something I wanted to say, and that is Florida has a high case of sexual predators. And so it was not unreasonable that he should have been afraid when he saw this grown man sort of following him, because there have been cases where kids have disappeared or moved from one place to the next once they've been accosted.
But they talked about that, and of course, everybody knows that black people get the lesson about how to behave when you're approached by police. But this was not a police person. This was not even that. This was somebody in a neighborhood, a vigilante. So then, what do you do with that?
In fact, one of the questions they asked was, what did he do wrong? A lot of little kids were saying, what did Trayvon do wrong? And you can't find anything that he really did wrong. If he had run, he would have been shot, so he was in a place where he-- it was not him. It was, what does white society do about this ongoing pathologizing of black youth? I think that we have to flip it.
So for me, I've always said it's not just hearing black women's-- not a black woman not speaking, but are we really hearing? So it's always the disabilities presented on the other side, as opposed to the disability on the dominant culture's side. That's where the disability is, that the illness of racism is so perpetuating that it keeps damaging people in an ongoing way in which violence then becomes circular.
So make sure that the kids know very early how race works and the structures of racism as they operate. That has to be very early, and the information is that if you don't tell either set of kids about how racism works and the possible structures, then they're walking into like big traps all the time. So the question of informing about that is really critical. And really working to support youth movements, like the Dream Defenders, I think that has been really an amazing breakthrough.
It was unfortunate that they got treated like that in the March on Washington, but this is an amazing group of black and Latino youth who came together right after this trial and verdict to really build a social movement that would challenge the criminalization of black and Latino youth. So there are movements in which kids are trying to break through. There were white youth in the protest I went to trying to break through the rigid separations that the adult culture keeps in place, and I think we need to encourage and support all of those various movements. That's one of the places I would go.
ONEKA LABENNETT: It seems that there's a common thread amongst the three of us that has to do with empathy and the ability to put yourself in the place of the, quote unqote, "other". If we think about hearing Rachel speak, or seeing her, or seeing Trayvon for being a 17-year-old boy with Skittles and iced tea, and the inability to sympathize with him, I mean, I think one thing we can do is be able to place ourselves in the life experiences of someone else and to be able to see this case in that light. But also I think in terms of how we think about racial justice in the United States, there are laws that we can do something about. If we think about stand your ground, if we think about stop and frisk, there are these deeply problematic laws, and you were pointing to youth protests. All of us as citizens obviously can do something about those things and can speak out against them.
RICHE RICHARDSON: Yes. I definitely feel that this case has been a kind of defining moment, and also especially for a newer generation that may not have been as immersed in the possibilities for racial violence or aware as maybe people who were conditioned in past decades have been. And it's been incredibly mystifying for some, and yet illuminating. It is that kind of case that has really assaulted our consciousness very profoundly. It's collectively traumatized a large segment of the population, and I think that one challenge is for there to be understanding across community, across racial lines to figure out why.
The reactions in the national context were so profoundly different in some cases. As some critics remarked, there hasn't really been as much of a dividing line in terms of, say, a racial response to a case since O.J. Simpson. And I think that it actually represents insensitivity in the mainstream not to understand even what some figures represent, so that-- I don't know. Even in the new millennium, we've seen Mark Fuhrman who's very likable, as he was interviewed during the last season of the Oprah Winfrey Show.
But most recently, Mark O'Mara has been appointed at CNN, and yet and still there is no criticism necessarily of what this figure represents, or this insistence on suggesting that the case wasn't about race, or that Zimmerman was a victim [? means ?] for some of us who see the case very differently and who interpret it very differently, and for very good reasons that the defense team remains oblivious to. And so that's just a problem.
And I feel that-- I also really believe that addressing these issues at the level of policy has the potential to make all the difference, and so yes, keep the pressure on stop and frisk and stand your ground. And promote even more literacies about the links between Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. That continuity makes a big difference in terms of helping people to see that.
For some in the US, the Trayvon Martin case is an extension of a lot of the issues that were encountered during the civil rights era. The Jena Six, I think, in more recent history brought a lot of those issues to light as well, but even more saliently, the Trayvon Martin case has crystallized the continuing problem of racial alienation and exclusion for African-American in the United States and people of other ethnicities who don't-- have not been embraced fully by the American ideal.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Can we thank our panel again?
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Africana Studies faculty members Carole Boyce Davies, Oneka LaBennett and Riché Richardson spoke about the ways in which race and gender complicated the Trayvon Martin case at a Sept. 17, 2013 panel discussion moderated by Noliwe Rooks.
The event is part of the colloquium series, "Scholarship & Activism: The Black Radical Intellectual Tradition," organized by the Africana Studies and Research Center.