Article written by

Ed Brockenbrough

Ed Brockenbrough is an assistant professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, where he directs the Urban Teaching and Leadership Program, an initiative in partnership with the Rochester City School District that prepares urban teachers with a commitment to social justice.

13 Responses

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  1. Oliver Cashman-Brown
    Oliver Cashman-Brown at |

    The location of Martin’s death, within the confines of a gated community, brings to mind Setha Low’s (2009) article “Maintaining Whiteness: The Fear of Others and Niceness,” which interrogates the whiteness of gated communities. She posits that “social splitting, creation and surveillance of purified spaces, and the homogenization and racialization of space help to explain how dualistic thinking (in this case White/ non-White) becomes embedded in the local culture” (p. 90). Each of these explanations tie in here: The fear of the other manifesting itself in the built environment, the gates and walls splitting good insider from bad outsider, Zimmerman’s suspicions that an outsider would threaten the neighborhood’s stability, Zimmerman’s obsessive surveillance, and Martin’s inability to become an insider because he could never look the part. The consequences are deadly.

    There are so many ways, so many angles to begin this necessary dialogue. The horrors coming out regarding Trayvon Martin’s murder and the difficulty in deciding where to begin can paralyze us. So thank you, Ed, for opening this discussion and for framing it around action. If we are going to make headway in dismantling racism and racial stereotypes, we must interrogate Whiteness and white privilege fully, not only the Whiteness of people, but the Whiteness of spaces (like gated communities).

  2. S. Butler
    S. Butler at |

    There is no defense or justification for Zimmerman, period.  From his history of obsessive xenophobia and paranoia, it would seem that he is not merely a bigot, but also mentally ill.  He should be arrested and confined for the rest of his life.  It’s surprising that he was not recognized as a dangerous “time bomb” before this ever happened.  He had no business even being allowed to possess a weapon. This entire ongoing story is horrible beyond words.  I am a white woman, and I cannot imagine how anyone of any race could find anything to say in defense of Zimmerman.  This is a tragedy beyond belief.

  3. Jason
    Jason at |

    This continued demonization of “whiteness” on the Left and in particular educators who allow this brand of racism to continue in their narrative is inexcusable. Enough with the “whiteness theories”. To reduce what happened in Florida to “RACISM” is to completely avoid what actually happened there and what would make it better. The longer this kind of rhetoric and enabling continues, the longer the problems that plague the Black community will continue.

  4. Allison
    Allison at |

    I get that this tragedy was prompted by racism, but white supremacy? Wasn’t Zimmerman Hispanic? Our papers descibe him as a non-native English speaker whose primary language is Spanish. In the photos, he appears to be Hispanic. He is a minority too!

  5. Kristy Snyder
    Kristy Snyder at |
  6. Andrew Thomas
    Andrew Thomas at |

    As a white person living in this country, its often overwhelming to realize that an integral aspect of ones identity, which you haven’t ever been forced to consider, might provide unsought or unknown privileges that make one complicit in the brutal history of white supremacy.  As a white male teacher/teacher educator who seeks to teach anti-racism, I am a firm believer that a rigorous examination of white supremacy must always include a perpetual grappling with ones own identities and privileges.  Toward that end I thought I would share a short list of artifacts that continue to help me to do that work on my own identity; forcing me to perpetually identify and critique the ways in which I am complicit in the legacy of white supremacy, at the same time as they help me to think of new ways of forward.

    Making Meaning of Whiteness: Exploring Racial Identity with White Teachers by Alice McIntyre
    Black Bodies, White Gaze by George Yancy
    Race Matters by Cornel West
    Waking up White and in Memphis by Robert Bernasconi (Book Chapter)
    A Talk to Teachers 1963 by James Baldwin (Transcribed Speech)

    Although this diverges into territory that I don’t think we should spend too much time on (as Dr. Brockenbrough is right to point out) I did want to address Alison’s question.  Alison, I think one of the key points that Dr. Brockenbrough makes, is that white supremacy is not confined to overt acts of oppression and violence perpetuated by white bodies against black bodies.  Rather, its a historical legacy of systemic and institutional racism that impacts the lenses with which all of us view the world and the actors who inhabit that world.  This historical legacy continues to construct black bodies (of young black men especially) as dangerous, not only to white people but to all those who hold and defend (regardless of skin color) the power and authority granted by the legacy of white supremacy.  In this way, white supremacy continues to be felt throughout society, even as we move into (what some have mistakenly called, in my opinion) a “post-racial” era of American history.


  7. WE4SJ
    WE4SJ at |

    In response to Allison: Leonard Pitt’s A whiter shade of privilege editorial explains the “whiteness” of Zimmerman better than I can. Check it out:

  8. Barbara Jean Douglass
    Barbara Jean Douglass at |

    Thank you Kristy Snyder for your lesson plan (above link), asking students to view Trayvon as “inherently Other that night” and asking your students to think about the assumptions made of that event and the issues leading up to the event.  Your idea of reading the first two chapters in Troubling Education by Kevin Kumashiro in preparation for this lesson is a great lead-in.

    Another lens to see this issue through is the way the police handled the situation.  Imagine, for a moment, that the youth that was killed was white or latino or mixed race, and the neighborhood watch volunteer was a black man (carrying a weapon that he wasn’t supposed to be carrying).  Upon arriving at the scene, seeing that a black man had killed a white or latino youth carrying a bag of skittles and an iced tea, do you think the police would have believed the black man’s story of self-defense and let him go, not even giving him a drug or alcohol test or doing a background check?  I think not.  More than likely, they would have arrested him on the spot “pending further investigation” at best. 

    The media, too, would have more than likely vilified the black man in the press.  BLACK MAN KILLS UNARMED WHITE/LATINO YOUTH might have been the headlines.  And the public outcry would have been focusing on the sentence the black male should get – he would have been guilty until proven innocent. White supremacy is a systems problem – it is racism that has been institutionalized. 

    Legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley explains his definition of white supremacy as follows:
    “By “white supremacy” I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”  Ansley, Francis Lee (1997). “White supremacy (and what we should do about it)”. In Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (eds.). Critical white studies: Looking behind the mirror. Temple University Press, p.592.

    We need to dismantle the system of racism in education and society if Brown v. Board of Education is going to have any lasting meaning.  One excellent way of continuing that work is by critically analyzing the Trayvon Martin case and connecting it to the everyday decisions we as educators make in empowering ourselves and our students with knowledge and a sense of responsibility toward social justice activism.

  9. Leigh
    Leigh at |

    Excellent and insightful piece.  Certain to stir up responses on all sides.  Important to speak the truth, to call it like it is and to encourage action as an antidote to the terrible despair this murder has generated.  Thank you.

  10. Sikivu Hutchinson
    Sikivu Hutchinson at |

    I recently wrote a piece on the historical legacy of suburbia, white innocence/nationhood and Latino identity vis-a-vis Trayvon’s murder

  11. Henry Leonard
    Henry Leonard at |

    The sad part is that this is not an isolated incident.  Check theSPLC Report.  The murder due to Zimmerman being filled with fear or hate or whatever is a trajedy.  The fact that so many people want to justify his actions, points to the greater trajedy, not learning from the event, not humbling ourselves to come together and start working things out.  We will continue to repeat these actions till we become mired in senseless retribution.  The innocent are always the ones that get hurt when this occurs.  After the Obama election I had family members that were so angry with us that we could not have civil conversations.  They looked for any shred of evidence to condemn or ridicule us.  The motive was… you figure it out.  When political leaders say that we should shoot illegals like we shoot wild pigs and they are not censured and forced out of office, (Kansas legislature I think?) what path are we on?  certainly not a peaceful or sane one.   

  12. luke liberty
    luke liberty at |

    actually, there is a defense for zimmerman.  it is called due process.  deny that, and you defile the memory of every sacrifice made for the ideals of freedom from oppression, you defile martin luther king.  and you defile the memory of trayvon martin.  you seem to think zimmerman guilty of murder.  i do too, but i do not know, and you do not know.  we all “knew” of course, that the duke lacrosse team was guilty of privileged white guys gang-raping an oppressed black woman, and even had those smart professors at duke write a group statement of condemnation for these guilty curs.  Then the truth came out through due process barely carried out.  now in this case we have NBC falsifying the transcript of the 911 call in the Martin case, and CBS releasing substandard video of zimmerman.  We later find that the transcript was doctored, and the video really does show injury.  does the commercially-valuable but morally bankrupt false certainty of mr. brockenborough accommodate the possibility of facts like these in pursuit of what happened? if zimmerman is guilty, justice does not need lies by NBC, or race-mongers like brockenborough to assert knowledge they do not possess.  
    nice to see rochester university has put race-baiting hucksters in positions of responsibility. my children live love, respect, and powerful community with people of all flavors and colors.  they will never go to a place that promotes such hucksterism.  

  13. Fritz
    Fritz at |

    I am on my feet applauding the response above by “luke liberty.” There is far too much “certainty” on both sides. People jump too quickly to conclusions, based mostly on what they want to be true or what they expect to be true, and what is lost in all that is TRUTH. Justice for Trayvon? Yes, I hope for that. But there can be no justice without truth.

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