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by Peter Moskos

April 21, 2012

I Don't Care if Zimmerman is a Racist

I think there's too much discussion about whether George Zimmerman is racist. I don't care. I don't think it matters. What matters is what Zimmerman did (and lest we forgot: suspect, pursue, shoot, and kill an unarmed and innocent Trayvon Martin).

Part of the problem is the racism is too broad of a label. Since there's no simple definition, it's difficult to place the label (well, it's easy to place the label, it's difficult to do so accurately). Certainly some people simply hate other people because of their race. And this goes for people of all races. Deep down-to-the-core racism. But to say you have to be this racist to be racist is setting the bar too low.

I give George Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and say he does not hate black people. But he did behave like a racist. And this begs the question: is someone who behaves like a racist a racist? Maybe, but I think it sets the bar too high. Everybody has at some point behaved like a racist, and a term that applies to everybody isn't too useful as a psychological or sociological concept.

It reminds me of how some people love saying police are racist. Once I (half jokingly) accused a partner of mine of being racist when he said something disparaging about the multitude of petty thieves, drug dealers, and junkies milling about Rutland and Barnes in 325 Post (back before those blocks were torn down). He got a bit offended and said, "I don't hate black people. I hate these black people." Yes, indeed he did, and not because of the color of their skin. He hated them for the content of their character. This was more about class than race.

Of course many of those quick to judge don't know police (or any working-class people, for that matter). Blue-collar views are often misunderstood by the smug liberal progressive suburban set, especially when it comes to race. When I was at the retirement party for another police friend of mine (who is not known for his liberal progressive beliefs) I couldn't help but notice that there were a lot more black people present (30 percent?) at his house than there probably will be at my retirement party. Now I know it's a cliche to say you're not a racist because "some of your best friends are black." But certainly it's better than not having black friends! As a white-collar professor, my professional and personal world is much less diverse (and much more white) than it was as a Baltimore police officer. 

In the long run I guess I'd prefer to judge people on how they act than try and gauge the depths of their soul. I don't think anybody doubts that had one of Trayvon's white friends been walking down the same street and spotted by the same George Zimmerman, the white kid would still be alive. Clearly race mattered. And that matters more than whether we call Zimmerman a racist.


Anonymous said...


Well how bout that?

PCM said...

How about it?

I already mentioned it.


So what?

PCM said...

And here's a pretty good bio on Zimmerman, if you care. I don't, since none of it has to do with the events that killed Martin. But here it is:

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