Viewpoint

In Charles Dickens Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble is accused of stealing jewellery from Oliver's mother; and when his wife leaves the room he falsely accuses her of being the thief. The solicitor, Mr. Brownlow, advises Mr. Bumble that that is no excuse: “You were present on the occasion…and, indeed, you are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; For your wife acts under your direction.”

Bumble replies: “ If the law supposes that, the law is an ass"- an idiot. Bumble's characterization of the law in his attempt to exculpate himself is illustrated in the acquittal on Saturday evening of George Zimmerman of second degree murder for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in Florida on the evening of February 26 2012.

Martin-TrayvonIt is said that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. Black people in America mostly saw the injustice of the Trayvon Martin case, in which the White Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager going home from the store.

There has always been a binary opposition between race and criminal justice in America. White people generally get justice, especially if they’re rich, while Black people get injustice, especially if they’re poor. The very fact that the racial aspects of the Martin case were totally ignored by the White Prosecution lawyers indicates the level to which the issue of race is still an unresolved problem in America.

Back in 1903, in his groundbreaking book The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois argued that the defining element of African-American life was being viewed as a perpetual problem--one's very existence as a problem to be dealt with, managed and controlled but never solved. More than 100 years later, DuBois' rhetorical question seems as relevant as ever: How does it feel to be a problem?

There is a profound difference, of course, between having problems--which all people are allowed--and being a problem. One of the reasons that Trayvon Martin's tragic death resonated so powerfully with millions of people of color, black and brown men in particular, is that it was one of those rare situations in this so-called era of colorblindness when suddenly the curtain was pulled back.

This past week has brought an intense time of reflection and critical self-examination for many Americans. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, there have been emotionally-charged conversations about the way young black men are viewed in the U.S. and how valued their lives are.

All the way up to President Obama we are witnessing soul-searching attempts to confront the complicated role of race in our culture. In a public address, President Obama said 35 years ago, he could have been Trayvon Martin and was routinely racially profiled before he became a senator.

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