The Zimmerman case and the death of Trayvon Martin have awakened feelings of racial disharmony across America.
Not since the O.J. Simpson case has our nation been so divided along racial lines with whites supporting the verdict that acquitted George Zimmerman and African-Americans demanding a civil rights investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice.
It is tragic however, that race, not truth, has become the currency of so many people’s decision making when it comes to justice.
Despite a preliminary investigation by the FBI and an exhaustive prosecution by the State of Florida, not a single shred of evidence demonstrating racial prejudice on Zimmerman’s behalf has come to light.
If anything, the 46 911 calls Zimmerman made since 2004 demonstrate an over-active resident who reported everything from loose canines, illegally parked cars, pool parties and open garage doors.
Zimmerman may have been lonely or looking for a reason to interact with the local police department, but the calls do not demonstrate a pattern of racism or racial targeting.
Still, millions of Americans, particularly those in the liberal media seem to want Zimmerman to be a racist. They also seem to want Zimmerman to be white even though he is Hispanic.
Unfortunately, this is indicative of our political climate the past several years.
An unspoken, reverse-presumption has arisen in the U.S. that whites are racist until proven otherwise. If a white person engages in an argument, confrontation or even disagrees with a black person, suspicion immediately arises that the white person may be racist.
In fact, when in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Virginia v. Black that it was unlawful to burn a cross with the intent to intimidate, justices based their decision on the notion that every person has the right to live their life free from fear. But when you live in a country where you know you can be falsely accused of racism simply for challenging someone with a different skin color, you have no choice but to live in fear.
In a strange twist of irony, whites now have to chill their own free speech and exercise caution about what they say to blacks -- not entirely dissimilar to the what blacks had to do when they spoke to whites before the civil rights era. Of course, the consequences for whites are not as severe as they were for blacks and that fact should not be forgotten. Still, no form of discrimination is just.
This unintended impact of reverse-racism was not the purpose of the civil rights movement. The purpose of civil rights is for everyone to be treated equally, not shift advantages and disadvantages from one race to another.
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy for both the Martin and Zimmerman families, but instead of this tragedy inspiring “calm reflection” as the president called for, the opposite is occurring.
More than ever, people are feeling outraged, angry and racially divided, and what is most frightening is that some people are expressing that anger.
These acts, if anything, tarnish the memory of Trayvon Martin since it is clear that his parents would never want his legacy tied to acts of retaliatory, racially inspired violence.
After all, the color of one’s skin is not what defines a person’s character. It is their intent and their actions.
To presume that anyone is racist because of the color of their skin is in itself prejudiced. That is what prejudice means—to "pre-judge." Calling someone a racist when there is no evidence of such prejudice just because someone white is racist in itself.
There is no doubt that at one time there was an understandable need for the phrase, “African-American.” A century of slavery and two centuries of racism proved that not all people were treated equally in the United States, and even after the 13th Amendment prohibition against slavery and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause were enacted by Congress, whites still did not show appropriate respect to blacks.
But since the U.S. Supreme Court decided cases such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 our country has dramatically evolved.
Classifying individuals by race—African-American, Asian-American, Latin-Americans or anything other ‘kind of-American’ does not unite our nation. It is the opposite of E pluribus unum: out of many, one.
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in Adarand Constructors v. Pena, “In the eyes of the government there is just one race here. It is American.”
Scalia was right, but that view should not be limited to the government. It should be within the eye of every citizen-beholder. To presume that anyone is racist simply because of the color of his or her skin is racist in itself.
We can no longer afford to let the past define our future. Although the crimes of slavery and racial hatred should never be forgotten, they should not be unjustifiably impugned upon people in the present who do not deserve it.
Everyone deserves an equal chance to be recognized for who they are, not the color of their skin.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist currently reporting on the Russian Federation.