One Asian American perspective on Zimmerman, Trayvon

July 15, 2013 2:37 PM

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. 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.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, @emilamok.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.


1. The last two paragraphs are true and insightful. The prosecution's obvious mishandling of this case has to make you wonder if they were even trying.
Posted by: Keshav Poddar | Jul 17, 2013 8:15 PM

2. So true... I've heard so many racist jokes about Asians and Mexicans- all from white people. I find it funny when SOME whites ask, why are Asians standing firm with the Martins. Cause they have been profiled throughout America's history, too! Very interesting article.
Posted by: Denise | Jul 19, 201311:58 AM

3. To ask Asian-Americans to stand "in solidarity" with the Martins is ridiculous. This is exactly why Asian-Ams are "invisible." Would the Martins have stood in solidarity with an Asian victim? No. Nor would any other so-called minority group. Worse, it is just as racist to turn this into a Whites versus the Rest of Us scenario. I know just as many non-racist Whites as I do racist Blacks and racist Hispanics. A young Black kid taunted me on the subway last year and called me "Ching Chong" while other Blacks stood there and laughed. I would never stand in solidarity for any kid who tried to fight against a Neighborhood Watch person in a gated community: the kid should have responded respectfully instead of calling the Neighborhood Watch person a "Cracker."
Posted by: Audrey | Jul 19, 201311:33 PM

4. Stand in solidarity? You're kidding right? WIth what? As you can see with the protests its mostly liberal whites and black people who are doing all the demonstrating. Where are the Asians? Obviously they didnt get your memo. The underlying anger with the black community has nothing to do with a 17 year old black boy being killed. In fact, that happens every day without black people saying anything or protesting. They are protesting because they are angry with white people. As an Asian-American, I don't have that same anger against the so called "white establishment" or "white justice" I happen to think the verdict was just based on the evidence presented. Now, lets all move on with our lives.
Posted by: Filipino-American CPA | Jul 21, 2013 8:26 PM

5. I'm Asian American and I don't agree with you at all. Both are guilty of profiling. Trayvon told Janteal that a "Cracker" was following him and GZ saw a kid in hooded shirt followed him because he looked suspicious and maybe b/c he was black. The mindset of Trayvon was that "i'm going to tell this cracker whats up". That's the mindset of thugs and Trayvon was one based on his past criminal history. I don't stand by Trayvon at all. I'm with Zimmerman. If i lived in a neighborhood where homes were broken into, I would want the neighborhood watch to follow a guy wearing a hoodie at night. It doesn't matter if the guy was black, white, Asian. What's the point of calling the police if you can't point the person out when the police arrive. The case was about whether GZ felt his life was threatened, which it was. if someone was bashing your head to the ground, what would you do? would you just just try to fight him off or would you read for the gun. that's what i thought.
Posted by: David Truong | Jul 22, 2013 3:14 PM

6. This is not an insightful article at all. It shows that you have not looked into the case or at the facts, transcripts or documents while writing and have just heard the over blown stuff on the media. While the media is overblowing the race deal due to their overzealous to catch audience attention, they did not focus on Zimmerman's blows to head or nose. All pictures of Trayvon are from when he was 14. It's racist plus a stupid idea to stand behind anyone in support just because of their race, it would be just as ignorant for me to support Trayvon if he were Asian. Supporting a individual's actions entirely based on the fact he's of your race is not justified and unreasonable.
Posted by: Nancy | Jul 26, 2013 1:06 PM

7. Love your article Emil, even though I'm not Asian American, I'm African American. And I do agree with you that all minorty groups should support each other so that at the end of the day we all have a chance to succeed in America because America is too diverse for only one group to have the sole power.
Posted by: Crystal Knowling | Aug 27, 2013 1:46 AM

Leave a comment

required, but will not be published