There’s a Wrong Way to Talk About Trayvon

Saturday night was a heartbreaking, if not surprising, one for many of us, when George Zimmerman walked away to a legally consequence-free life after having killed an unarmed teenage boy. He currently fears the same vigilante justice he so unceremoniously doled out. As of right now, the NRA has made no calls for young black men to arm themselves in self-defense against vigilantes.

Zimmerman, on the other hand, got to take his gun home.
Zimmerman, on the other hand, got to take his gun home.

If you take issue with my use of the term “vigilantes,” let me fix it for you. I meant “Neighborhood Watch” types who violate their own rules and, if I might venture to suggest, have personal histories that render them terrible candidates for gun ownership.

Others have covered the case better than I can. Bitch has covered six different perspectives on the matter and there are countless other excellent ones. Not among those excellent ones are articles with completely clueless, insensitive titles — titles and content that folks have gone out of their way to defend on the grounds that the title and content of the piece are “factual.”

I repeat: not only is there an article with a title like “The George Zimmerman jury reached the right verdict” on an atheist website, but there exist people who are invested in defending it because it is made of facts.

On the face of it, sure. To say that the verdict reached was legally sound, correct as per the law, in accordance with Stand Your Ground in Florida — that’s all fine. Ta-Nehisi Coates, an incredibly well-known writer and activist on matters including race, knows that the law was followed in the verdict and explains the whys and hows very well. Avicenna at Freethought Blogs wrote all about how the verdict was legally correct, as did Think Progress.

There is a way to talk about how Zimmerman’s verdict was legally sound that doesn’t utterly disregard and disrespect people of color. People of color, like the ones I’ve mentioned above, have been doing so. Indeed, so have those white people who have been paying attention to how the “justice” system serves certain people in certain ways and is far from the neutral(ish) body many would love to imagine it to be.


The difference is in the approach and the context. A context where the Stand Your Ground law is applied in a racially-biased fashion, where memes like this horrendously racist one make the rounds in the wake of the acquittal of a killer, where reality tells us that race matters whether we like it or not.

The approach of titling a piece that way, especially with its usage of the word “right” (a term that has moral implications), then, is clueless given the context in which it exists. Whether the author intended it to provoke or not, it hit all the wrong notes. On a day when the country was in mourning for a young honor student whose life was taken from him in cold blood, the author approached the matter in a way that utterly disregarded context.

A Utah vigil for Trayvon.
A Utah vigil for Trayvon.

There’s nothing “factual” about writing in a vacuum. The last time I checked, there was no requirement to check in one’s ability to grasp nuance and context at the door when entering into the hallowed halls of (dis)organized atheism.

Why am I fixating on this piece? Because it represents exactly what is wrong with the conversation around racism in general society — a wrongness that seems, to me at least, to be amplified in the white-dominated spaces of skepticism and atheism. Think Atheist carried the piece I’m addressing. The notoriously atheist-dominated Reddit failed to impress, as usual. Those atheist, humanist, and/or skeptical activists and laypeople with whom I am connected on Facebook had to do Racism 101 over and over again, sometimes to the point of un-friending. Too many of us tired on Twitter trying to explain, over and over again, that racism is A Thing, and one that is not the exclusive province of the KKK.

People of color do not have the luxury of ignoring the context from which emerged the verdict that allowed a man to walk after stalking and killing an unarmed minor. White people might often escape this awareness, but that’s where education comes in. Anyone writing on the Internet has access to a wealth of information, perspectives, and resources at their fingertips.


Here are your tools. For the love of all that is noodly and delicious, use them.

And until more people do, I’m going to retreat to a corner and cringe until someone tells my face and my palm to get a room.

There’s a Wrong Way to Talk About Trayvon