There was nothing alarming in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial. Those who were surprised that the African American community in America was outraged are naive or lying. The script we inherit in our primary socialization and in our secondary socialization, and here I’m borrowing from Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality (a book all pastors ought to read), shapes what we see and how we interpret events.
What was alarming, then, was the subsequent-to-the-trial’s-decision observations, one from the juror who went public on Anderson Cooper and the other from Rachel Jeantel who was on Piers Morgan. The juror said race was never discussed; Rachel said it was racism. The jurors made the claim they saw no racism, expressed no racism, and thought the case had nothing to do with race. Rachel Jeantel, on the other hand, was absolutely convinced it was racist. So do lots of Americans, and it’s rather obvious to everyone so too does CNN. I watched FoxNews with Geraldo after the trial’s decision and he blamed the heat of the situation on African American leaders (he was thinking of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson no doubt, and he also pointed a finger at President Obama) who inflamed it all with racist charged rhetoric. In other words, they introduced a script he didn’t think belonged.
So, how can one group see the whole thing as racist and the other group not see any racism? The answer is this: Each side is using a racial script. Everyone’s script involves a racial perspective. Everyone’s.
I refer now to Korie Edwards, The Elusive Dream. “Race,” she observes, “is a social system that hierarchically organizes people in a society based upon physical characteristics” (8), i.e., skin color. “Ethnicity is largely about claims of shared culture, history, or common descent” (9). She also pins this to her board: “Whiteness is a social construction” and “what it means to be white is to be not some other race” (9).
Now whiteness consists of white structural advantage (the white person’s dominant status in the hierarchy called American social relations); white normativity means white people and black people and brown people experience American social relations as “normative.” But this leads to the most important thing we have to observe: “white transparency is the tendency of whites not to think … about norms, behaviors, experiences, or perspectives that are white-specific” (11).
Is it then not accurate to say that blackness is itself also a form of transparency, a kind of blindness to non-blackness?
There were two scripts for the jury. One script said “Trayvon was the aggressor, Trayvon threw the first punch, Trayvon tragically did the wrong thing and George Zimmerman shot him out of self defense.” I will call this the white script. That script can explain the evidence. The other script, the black script, said, “George Zimmerman scripted Trayvon as a black man, as a young black man, as a thug, as someone in whom there was real danger and burglary and killed Trayvon unjustifiably and so continued the long line of white hierarchical advantage.” That script, too, can explain the evidence. The jury, being “white” (according to Korie Edwards’ theory of whiteness because they were not black), read the events in light of their script. Many African Americans and their script sympathizers read the events through a different script.
It is hard to examine the evidence and let it form the script for that particular event. I trust our jury system as a wonderful system that gets us as close to justice as a system can get us even if at times it gets things dead wrong. But we must try, together. And try again. Until we get it right.