One Asian American perspective on Zimmerman, Trayvon

If the George Zimmerman verdict doesn’t feel like justice, it’s because his legal team in the Trayvon Martin killing focused on a self-defense strategy.

Nothing wrong with that; it proved to be a good one for Zimmerman. Especially when the prosecution went along with the idea, essentially cancelling out race and making racial profiling a non-issue.

In fact, race became a red herring in the Zimmerman trial.

That’s why the verdict didn’t feel like justice in terms of any racial issues. It’s also the reason the Justice Department should see if there’s a case to be made against Zimmerman on hate crimes or civil rights violations.

Using a “self-defense” tack meant Zimmerman’s ineptitude as a mixed-martial artist actually became more relevant than his ineptitude as a racial profiler.

If you’re an Asian American who still feels some indifference toward the case, think again. The Trayvon Martin case is all about racial profiling, and we get profiled all the time. And not just our South Asian American brothers and sisters over terrorist security checks and their religious beliefs. It happens in everyday life, and it’s not just the benign presumption that we’re “all good at math.”

(Don’t feel too bad if you’re an underachiever; the power of racism will give you the benefit of the doubt, for a while at least).

Our racial profile isn’t all Lucy Liu and Harry Shum. Most of us fall under the negative immigrant stereotype. From our eyewear, to our bowl haircuts, to our buck teeth. (I know they’re all fixed.) But not in the mind of the racist profiler, who still sees and hears us in the same way as racists always have—as foreigners, perpetual immigrants.

Asian Americans? We’re the xenophobes’ delight.

Hence, the racist pain of that gaffe by KTVU-TV, the Fox affiliate in San Francisco, that was victimized by a racist prank based on the names of the Asiana pilots:

Captain Sum Ting Wong?

Ho Lee Fuk?

Humor? If you laughed at those names, then I’m sure your favorite book in 5th grade was “Modern Urology” by Dr. I.P. Freely.

Asiana isn’t laughing. It’s suing KTVU for the “racially discriminatory” slip that the airline claims has hurt business.

It also shows how the general public is quick to go to the racist hot button whenever the focus is on Asians or Asian Americans. It’s in the racist DNA.

There’s no doubt that profiling was certainly at work in the Trayvon story. You’ve got an armed rogue volunteer vigilante obsessed by a racial stereotype of a hoodie-wearing black teen, who’s armed only with Skittles.

The vigilante, an adult, is told by a dispatcher to walk away and leave the non-crime (walking while black through a gated community) to the professionals.

But the vigilante seeking heroism disobeys.

The adult pursues the teenager.

Put yourself in the teenager’s shoes: Some old dude is stalking you. You’re freaked out. And what do you do when this strange man accosts you because of your clothing, your look? You defend yourself.

If you’re the pudgy adult vigilante, you’re getting beat up pretty good by the teenager. So you go for the equalizer–your gun.

Later, you cry self-defense.

But so can the boy.

Unfortunately, he’s dead. And now we aren’t sure who’s crying for help based on all the tapes played back in court.

Still, beyond a reasonable doubt, the boy is dead. A vigilante killed him. Someone should pay for that, right?

But no one does. The verdict does not give us is justice, just a blueprint for more of the same.

The next George Zimmermans and Trayvon Martins?

Fill in the blanks. New names, new instances. Coming to a cable TV program soon.

Until we control the use of racial profiling by law enforcement and their surrogates, people of color –especially our youth—are not safe.

It’s interesting that George Zimmerman is looking for sympathy and understanding, with his family pointing out he’s not white, he’s Hispanic. But Zimmerman’s race is irrelevant. His profiling of Trayvon by race is.

And we know what he thinks of African Americans in hoodies.

He surely didn’t see a hoodie and think MLK, as in the image tweeted by Van Jones.

April 4th, 1968 … #RipTrayvonMartin … Please RT to share this image. #MLK — Van Jones (@VanJones68) July 14, 2013

No, Zimmerman didn’t see hoodie and think love, or equality, or compassion.

He thought “perp.” African American perp.

That was Zimmerman’s “crime.” He just wasn’t on trial for that in Sanford.

One more race point. After the verdict, people asked the question what if Zimmerman were African American–what would happen then?

“Things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime,” defendant’s attorney Mark O’Mara said. He added that the “facts that night” did not indicate Zimmerman acted in a “racial way.”

O’Mara’s wrong here, of course, Zimmerman acted in a “racial way” as soon as he took action based on a racial stereotype.

But O’Mara also seemed to answer just part of the hypothetical. If you turned Zimmerman black, and kept Trayvon black, it probably wouldn’t have rated any time with Nancy Grace.

But what if Zimmerman were black and Trayvon were white?

In that case, Zimmerman certainly wouldn’t be smiling today. But the parents of the white Trayvon would be on TV with Sean Hannity, et al., high fiving and waiting to hear of an execution date.

Oh, and one last point in our racial substitution exercise: What if Zimmerman or Trayvon were Asian?

You probably wouldn’t see any mass protests, or any mention of the story anywhere of the magnitude we’ve seen.

That’s what real invisibility looks like in America. Asian Americans know it.

And that’s why it makes sense for Asian Americans to stand in solidarity. Not just for justice for Trayvon Martin, but for all people of color who too many times aren’t even worth their weight on the scales of justice.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

Read Emil's full bio →