George Zimmerman's White Privilege


After being acquitted of shooting an unarmed Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman requested that Florida pay $200,000 to $300,000 to cover his legal expenses. Though his actions are valid under Florida state law, his motives are not. But at this point we shouldn't be surprised that Zimmerman feels entitled to special privileges — including the right to shoot a black kid for the crime of wearing a hoodie in his neighborhood — though half-Hispanic, he enjoys many of the same benefits white Americans do, including a lenient justice system. Why shouldn't he expect that we pay him back?

What's clear is that Zimmerman’s actions are a blatant demonstration of white privilege. Zimmerman was raised by a white father and Hispanic mother, but culturally he seems to largely be perceived as white. He certainly has material privilege: his father yields judicial power and political connections. He was raised in a predominantly white upper- middle class neighborhood, Manassas, VA, a Zimmerman had access to quality education and health care, advantages uncommon to most people of color.

White privilege is an invisible force that gives unearned rewards to those who identify and/or are accepted as white. Rewards include (but are certainly not limited to) upward social mobility, economic independence, and political power. Some white people do not recognize their white privilege, as their unearned cultural advantages have been institutionalized for centuries.

Which is not to say that law itself doesn't make sense — presumably, real innocent people benefit from it. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida allows acquitted defendants to recover legal costs associated with their attorney fees.

But is Zimmerman deserving of taxpayer money? His powerhouse lawyer, Mark O’Mara, is already expecting difficulties. The Trayvon Martin case reignited discussions on racism and racial profiling. Although the jury felt that race was not a factor in Trayvon’s murder, many people disagree.

In July, even President Obama seemed to weigh in by via unscheduled remarks he made regarding the need for cross-cultural discussions within communities in a diversifying nation.

A key takeaway from the Zimmerman case is that race (and perceived race) play a crucial role in life-and-death choices, and it is time, as a nation, that we begin to understand the how we look (and see) impacts what we do. 

Zimmerman is responsible for the death of a child. His audacious request signals how unaccountable he seems to feel in regards to Martin's death and how little he values his victim's life. It's the ultimate exercise of privilege to ignore the messy reality that you caused a person's death in order to promote your own story of victimhood. What's worse, if his fees are paid, Zimmerman will be tacitly rewarded for protecting white residents from “the scary black thug.”

Zimmerman's behavior since his acquittal points to a man without remorse. Despite intense media scrutiny and public shaming, he recently in made headlines after touring the factory of gun manufacturer Kel-Tec, the same company responsible for the gun that murdered Martin.

I'm not fan of speculation, but I don't need it. I can guarantee that we'd collectively be distressed if a black man killed an unarmed white child and then went on a grinning tour of a gun factory. 

Or killed that child and went on trial, got to keep his freedom, and then felt he had the right to ask for his money back.