Zimmerman Verdict: Race, Guns, and Baloney

Perhaps it is wishful thinking to believe that there was anything that could have occurred in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting that would have headed off the explosion. As in a bad drama, the roles had already been cast, the plot had been written, and the stage had been set. Each side played their characters to perfection: the angry populists, the race baiters, the warriors against political correctness, the profilers, the politicians, and the whole gaggle of shouting, screaming, incoherent pundits who tried to tell us there were larger lessons to be learned from the shooting of Trayvon Martin -- that the incident proved white racism, or black racism, or that gun laws are too liberal or not liberal enough.

There is only one lesson to be learned from this tragedy. It's the same lesson we've been trying -- and failing -- to learn for 150 years: that whites and blacks in America will never be comfortable living together until we understand each other. And rather than use opportunities that incidents like the Zimmerman trial afford us to try and work past these vast differences in outlook, in culture, in how each race perceives reality, we use them to widen the chasm of understanding. The reason is simple: there is profit and fame to be had on both sides in acting the part of race baiter. By playing to the absolute worst instincts and prejudices of their partisans, those who seek racial conflict reap enormous personal rewards. They are considered heroes for battling political correctness or the white power structure. They receive tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees. They further their careers by tapping into the rage and emotional desperation of those who feel betrayed by "the system."

Maybe it isn't a question of "blame" as much as it is a matter of faith and hope. Black Americans don't need Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton to tell them that living in a white world carries with it burdens that they shouldn't have to carry as Americans. It is incomprehensible to them that Trayvon Martin's death can be seen as anything but an injustice. Indeed, it is fair and proper to ask the following question: Had it been a young white boy walking in George Zimmerman's neighborhood wearing a letterman jacket rather than a black kid wearing a hoodie, would George Zimmerman  have been quite as zealous in carrying out his responsibilities as a neighborhood watch commander that rainy night? Every fair-minded American knows the answer to that question, and upon that answer rests the source of pain and cynicism for most of black America.

For perhaps the greatest counterfactual of all: Would this incident have even happened if Trayvon Martin had been white? Would Zimmerman have seen a white kid's sauntering through the neighborhood in the same light as he saw Mr. Martin's? Would he have been as suspicious? Would he even have bothered to call 911?

If you're white, you probably believe we don't have the answer to those questions. But black Americans think they do. Their perception is informed by life experiences that most whites can't possibly comprehend. How could we when we can't comprehend "driving while black," or when casual racial stereotypes that are so offensive to blacks roll off the tongues of white people with regularity? It is a view of reality that whites have no way to fit into their consciousness, so alien and beyond the ken of understanding it is.

If it seems that this puts the burden of bridging the racial divide on whites, you would be correct. But with the way things stand, it also seems ridiculous to try. A "national conversation" about race? What are we going to talk about? What possible agenda could be developed that would even approach fairness or logic, or reason? Too many have too much invested in keeping the races at each other's throats for any meaningful dialogue to arise from incidents like the death of Trayvon Martin.

And that may be a lesson we'll be a long time learning.

More: Bill Cosby Agrees with the Zimmerman Verdict