Florida Juice: Thoughts Before the Trayvon Verdict

One of the best things about being in Europe the last month and a half is that I have been shut off from the 24-hour news cycle that has become American journalism. Consequently, other than my daily check-in of NBC.com, NYTimes.com, and ESPN, most of the last 80 days of my life have been filled with the BBC, RTE (Irish television), and SkyTV. For a news junkie like me the first few weeks were painful, but after awhile I realized that I wasn’t nearly as stressed or depressed. Words like Obamacare, Boehner, Reid, Rick Perry, LeBron James, and heat index quickly vanished from my daily vocabulary, and I picked up new ones like, test (rugby, soccer, or cricket match), Miliband, Cameron, and mushy peas (perhaps my greatest discovery). When I turned on the cable box for the first time Monday morning, I realized that maybe I had come home too early. Rather than seeing Chuck Todd, I was being treated to the Trayvon Martin trial live and in color.

From the initial reports of his death and the subsequent media circus that has followed it, I have kept silent about Trayvon, George Zimmerman, Sanford, Florida, and the stand your ground law. Perhaps my silence was inspired by the fact that between Facebook, Twitter, op-eds on countless blogs, and news sites, I was convinced that my voice wouldn’t be heard, or at the very worst couldn’t offer anything of substance.

I don’t like this case. I don’t like that a 17-year-old boy that looks like my nephew, Corvin, was shot down. I don’t like a case where a homeowner distrusts our justice system and police response so much that he decides to offer a gun-loaded hand. Most of all, I don’t like a case in which I know daggone well that no matter the verdict, no matter the outcome–our society will be ripped further apart into our corners of identity.

Whether he is found innocent or guilty, Mr. Zimmerman will never ever really be free, just like Trayvon’s parents will never get to hold their son again–even if Zimmerman is given the harshest sentence in the book. No, friends, there will be no winners on that day, with the exception of the pundits, columnists, and radio hosts. Perhaps most chilling is that as a country, one more giant nail in our collective angst over race will be driven into our heart.

Each of us will see what we want to see and very little of what we need to see. We will go to our corners and lament that THEY are tearing down the country and that THEY are undermining justice. No one will admit the complexity and complicity of our own words in the racialized world in which we live. Sadly, there will be no interrogation of the words that will be posted on that day of how the discourse we engage in is either building a bridge of understanding or constructing a tower of unintelligible, hateful babble. We will be deluded by our own sense of righteous outrage, remembering personal hurts and structural insults. Trayvon and George will become our standard bearers, or as theorist Kenneth Burke points out, our rhetorical scapegoats. By sacrificing the sacredness of their worth on our altars of egotism and need, we somehow will be able to be released from the guilt that we all experience as participants in systems of oppression. Many of the  black academic and professional class will defend Trayvon’s friend, Jeantel, from those who made fun of her enunciation and diction; yet will never reveal that they made fun of her as well. Those who are white will cheer Zimmerman as a hero for home and hearth, but won’t admit that if he had the last name of Lopez their willingness to embrace him might suddenly change.

Many churches and church leaders will hold vigils and offer prayers of the people when the inevitable firestorm of racial angst breaks loose. They will ask for calm, write soothing words about reconciliation–when it is their very ineptness at helping all of us deal honestly with difference that has doomed us to failure. Ok, maybe that’s harsh, but then again maybe it isn’t. You see, most mainline denominations have difficulty with discussing race, even amongst themselves. Substituting quotas and tallies of who is speaking for the really hard discussions of inclusion, difference, and the mandates of Christ, the church–particularly those denominations considered most progressive–fears such discussions. The problem is not with only the lighter hue of the pew. The African American church has lived so long in the world and discourse of struggle that it, unlike the church of South Africa, has yet to be able to fully embrace and cultivate a dialogue of racial reconciliation and renewal. So let’s be clear: There is plenty of blame to go around for why cases like Treyvon’s cause such national handwringing and outrage. It’s like my good friend and mentor, Mark Lawrence McPhail–one of the top scholars on race and rhetoric–writes, that no one has clean hands in this racial system.

After my “Saying Grace” post, many accused me of being a ‘sellout’ to my race and to progressive politics. Because I refused to jump on the bandwagon of nailing Paula Deen to the wall because of her past, my credentials as an African American, progressive, Christian, and academic were questioned. As I tell my students, just like credit cards in a wallet, our identity is not singular but multifaceted. I am a proud African American; Southerner; Clinton Democrat/Kemp Republican; Alabama alumna; professor; theologian; consultant; daughter; wife; sister; Texan; suburbanite; AKA; pit bull owner; and video gamer–yet, even all of that doesn’t encapsulate all that I am in a given day.

While I am aware that there are expected scripts for all of these roles, part of being reborn in Christ is being able to disrupt the scripts I have been handed and speak in a way that challenges us all–including me. My hands are not clean when it comes to race.  I still struggle when the taxi passes me by but stops for my white husband. I struggle when I realize that I when I tell my nephews Corvin and Camryn not to wear hoodies that I will never have to tell my 6 nephews by marriage the same thing.

Yet I believe, and I will continue to believe, that every identity card that I may want to slap down on the discursive table must be couched in the most important identity I carry, and that is as a Christian saved by grace. It is that identity that reframes and redefines words like justice, truth, evil, responsibility, honor, difference, inclusion, and most of all, love.

When the Trayvon verdict comes down, it is my heartfelt prayer that progressive and conservative Christians would remember one thing before they take to their smartphones, IPADS, and Macbooks– that the world will know we are Christ’s by the fruit that we bear.

Me and Michael Brown’s Mama — Nothing in Common
Masking our Faith: Ebola, Dallas, and the Church
Still striking out: Why I won’t be taking anymore college students to Church
A Dream Deferred: Christopher,Terrell, Trayvon and the Outrage of Silence
About Maria Dixon Hall

The Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall is an associate professor of organizational communication/Non-Profit studies at Southern Methodist University and a commissioned deacon of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church

  • sheila0405

    This is a great post. I, too, am a Christian. I confess not to know what it’s like to have dark skin in a white world. I recognize the advantages I have because I am white. I’m also a woman, so there are some burdens in my life that are uniquely female. For me, personally, this trial has not at all been about race. It’s nothing short of a tragedy–two people who misinterpreted the actions of the other, with one ending up dead. No matter how this ends, we will never know what happened with certainty. No one witnessed the death of Trayvon. No one will ever know if Zimmerman’s account is true, because only Trayvon can dispute it, and he has no voice. Who knows what was in Trayvon’s mind that terrible night? If Zimmerman is convicted, that doesn’t mean he is guilty; on the other side, if Zimmerman is acquitted, that doesn’t mean he is innocent. And that’s what makes this case so awful–we can never know what really happened.

    • ounbbl

      I glanced a scene of a peaceful and spontaneous ( – these ARE important qualities here) demonstration somewhere in California on the street middle of night on a TV news (as the jury verdict came down). I guess what they are demonstrating for or even against. However, would there be a demo if he got guilty a verdict? Or, would it make those would-be demonstrators happy and content so that they would go on their life? What difference does it really make if that was the case? Putting him in jail does accomplish anything other than satisfaction of sense of revenge or due punishment, I wonder. The world moves on and nothing will be much different, say from 10 years now (I would surely be gone by then), or 25 years, or 100 years? After evil, there will be always evil to come up. People are being fed of amillennial heaven-on-earth idea with American (pipe)dream. Pursuit happiness is our unalienable right? Where does get support from the Scripture? Where does peddling of prosperity gospel – purpose driven – possibility thinking gospels come from other than Aladdin’s lamp?

      • Maceo

        Justice is an important part of the Criminal Justice system. Did anyone say after the Boston Bombings, what difference does it make if Dzhokar Tsarnaev goes to jail? Its true that the Bible doesn’t promise heaven on earth, but neither does it say we should let the poor go hungry, the sick go untended, and the criminal go free… Societies with a marked lack of justice have a marked lack of peace. That’s actually what kicked off the American Revolution, lol!

        • ounbbl

          I believe our human legal justice or judicial justice itself is quite different from true justice from above. See what kind of justice people get inside Syria, North Korea, Burma, etc. etc. Yes, justice is meted out there, but it’s just ‘justice’ – (unjust justice?), isn’t it – to serve power that be.

  • AuburnCathy

    wow…this is the 2 post I’ve read of yours…the first was the Saying Grace. I regularly read Tony Woodlief on Patheos and I’ve added you to my reading. What wisdom you give…and all those compliments from an Auburn Tiger :)

    I pray with you that we who know Christ can share with others the peace that only comes from Him.


  • Copper Stewart

    The love of Christ and capitalist individualism don’t go together. When so-called Christians start to hold all things in common, then they may actually contribute to social reform. Can we put aside our constructed identities and our wealth and enter into mutual dependence? Can we advocate *really* living together, under the same roof and at the same table? That’s the real Body of Christ, if we want it.

  • http://www.BR-549.com Junior Samples

    George Zimmerman’s Black Ancestry is Revealed

    George Zimmerman: the black, Hispanic, Peruvian, kind-hearted non-white, not-racist poster boy

    George Zimmerman Has ‘Black Roots’

  • Dred37

    When I see things like the Zimmerman trial and think about the things that lead to it I know that this is not a Christian nation. Nor is any nation. No matter what our Founders had in mind, our cultures, black and white, are very far from being anything near Christian. We are hardly even humanist. Maria Dixon is correct is saying that our clergy and our churches (black and white) do not help us deal with race…or any other prejudice. The church has failed as an example of Christlikeness. No matter the verdict, God help George Zimmerman. If he goes to jail he will have to be in solitary for life or he will be dead. If he is acquitted he will have to hide for the rest of his life. And Trayvon’s parents will have only a memory. Those who love Christ need to be in serious prayer for our nation, our culture, our Congress, our President, our courts, and our law enforcement agencies. We all need God’s love and help.

  • Bryan Kingsford

    I thought your post was excellent. Some roles are more important than others and the role of Christian certainly carries with it a responsibility to replace hate and condemnation with love. I wonder if worrying so much about inappropriate discrimination tends to increase it, in our own hearts and in others.

  • jsmunroe

    I don’t believe in race. I think that the racial divides we create are unrealistic, rather arbitrary, and extremely shallow. I know black people who aren’t from Africa, and Hispanics that look just as white as I do. Racism is a psychosis, a remnant of our ancient, fallen minds. We all have prejudice. It is human nature, and a never ending struggle. But what many call race, I see more as culture, and culture can be shared.

    • billwald

      I don’t believe in “believing in,” pun intended.

      Have you concluded that Great Danes are some different than miniature
      poodles? In dogs, the collection of characteristics that differentiates one from the other is called “breed. In humans, race.

      So in the bad old days when some Indian People were called “Half breeds.” The intent was to insult both parents and the child. A half breed dog might be (called) a cockerapoo (sp?) which is about the same thing but is considered a selling point for a mixed-breed dog.

      In both cases, the bottom line is the mix of dominant and recessive genes in the final product.

      • jsmunroe

        By “believe in” i mean “assent to the existence of”. I’m not about to compare dogs with people. The genetic separations between human beings are much slighter than those between breeds of dogs. Dogs have undergone extensive artificial selection, humans have not. The variation in the human species doesn’t even have any evolutionary significance yet. Its little more than familial variation. It makes much more scientific sense to say my dog is a dachshund than it does to say that I am white. I wasn’t speaking scientifically, but I am familiar with genetics. Thank you.

      • Barfly_Kokhba

        That is a false analogy because dogs did not come up with, and do not self-identify on the basis of, “breeds.” Humans established the breed concept from outside their species (extra-special? extra-specious? extra-specia-califragilisticexpialodocious?)

        However, it was humans who also decided to delineate and differentiate our own species based on “race” and ethnicity. Dogs didn’t do that wonderful, helpful, taxonomic favor for us.

        So your comparison is false.

    • ounbbl

      I know American blacks are not Africans. Not from Africa? Don’t they say Obama is (was) a Kenyan – African?

      • jsmunroe


  • ounbbl

    That cab stopped for your husband so that he can open the door for you. It sometimes fits for a woman to take after a man, so that he can say and do ‘after you, please’. We all see things preferably from a certain viewpoint of ours, don’t we ;-<

  • Maceo

    You heap a lot of blame on Progressive churches & on the black church. The thing about it is, though, if it weren’t for progressive churches and black churches we wouldn’t have even had a Civil Rights Movement in this country. Just last year a Southern Baptist church forbade an interracial couple from marrying there.

    At least preachers like Al Sharpton are trying to fulfill the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law. What you’ve written here seems entirely dismissive of the need to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.