Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted affirmative action, essentially saying that racism and discrimination based on race were no longer major factors in America. Saturday a “white Hispanic” man was acquitted of murdering a “black man.”
In 1995 a “black man” was acquitted of murdering a “white woman” — remember that one? I know why we put so much emphasis on race. It’s to create “other” so that we can figure out where we are in the pecking order of life. It’s about jockeying for position in society.
We are visual creatures and use beauty — however it is determined — as an equivalency to value. I agree that a beautifully done sculpture should be valued more than a piece of poorly constructed metal put together in a slapdash manner with no thought.
I can see the point in valuing animals with particular genetic markers and traits over others. I provide for a purebred dachshund and it was a deliberate choice on my part in that I wanted a good genetic structure to avoid hip and back problems.
The question becomes should that apply to humans? Clearly the answer is no. After all, we fought World War II specifically to stop a eugenics program. The deeper question, I think, is why? Why do we say it’s OK to prefer one animal over another, but say that all humans are equally valuable and we should not devalue any subset? My answer is free will. Humans have free will and a consciousness that can seek something better for themselves and their society.
Animals have no free will. They have desires and instincts — their “nature” as it were. They do not act in opposition to their nature. My dog will always seek food, it is his primary focus in life. Humans can act opposite their desires and instincts. Often when we do we are at our best.
There are anthropologists who say we naturally distrust the “other,” that which is different from ourselves. It is the root of our racism, our misogyny, our homophobia and it all boils down to one simple thing: fear. When fear is the motivating force in our lives we shut ourselves off and we react without taking the time to think it through. Reacting is based on impulsive behavior and is almost always a binary decision of “I live/you die or vice versa.” When we are in a crisis and we react based on our instincts, the results are generally not good.
I know almost nothing about the most recent racially charged criminal trial — the Zimmerman case — but it appears to me that Mr. Zimmerman was a fear-based man who was reacting without thinking. His actions seem to be those of a man who was afraid of the world and that is why he acted with such false bravado. The result of this individual case has sparked yet another round of protests with all the angry assertions about how hard it is to be black, how the justice system is faulty and how a “white” man can get away with murder.
Certainly those are all true feelings and the statistics do bear out that a black defendant has a much smaller chance of a fair trial than a white person. The system is faulty, and if you only look at one case it will always look like the system is defective. That’s because there is always a loser in any individual case. But to survey the system as a whole, one must look at the larger trends. In general, does the system work? Yes it does. Is it imperfect? Yes. Do mistakes happen? Sadly they do and with tragic consequences. Innocent people do get convicted.
We may desire retribution. It may be our instinct to want to convict George Zimmerman, but we are humans, and we strive to act better than our desires and instincts. This case is testing us in our aspirations to live beyond our desires and instincts.
I’m sure this is cold comfort to the family of Trayvon Martin. They suffered a devastating loss. But maybe the only positive that can be taken from the Zimmerman trial is that it stands as a true testament to the ideals of our society; that it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to be convicted.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.