It is a statement of self-delusion that finds its echo all throughout the Trayvon Martin case. Race had nothing to do with my shooting him, said George Zimmerman. Race had nothing to do with our letting Zimmerman go, said the police department. Race had nothing to do with our acquittal said the jury.
And yes, I am well aware that Trayvons parents also said the same thing. Race had nothing to do with our sons death.
Before I explain what the difference is, let me tell you a story. Three years ago, an 18-year-old black kid named Tyell Morton, sneaked into his high school in Rushville, Ind., wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He left a mysterious package in the girls restroom. The package turned out to be a blow-up doll. It was the last day of school and this was a senior prank.
For this prank, Tyell, an A and B student with no criminal record and dreams of college, was arrested and jailed on a $30,000 bond and initially charged with terroristic mischief. Prosecutors eventually came to their senses and dropped the felony charges but before they did, Tyell was facing eight years behind bars.
When this happened, a woman a letter to the editor of the Rushville Republican newspaper. "I want and need someone to PLEASE tell me, she said, this case is not going to become a huge deal because of RACE! She capitalized race and followed it with an exclamation point, adding, I feel very strongly that skin color had nothing to do with these charges ..."
Tyells father told me in an interview that he didnt want it to be about race either. He explained that Rushville is a small, predominantly white town, that most of his sons friends are white and that most of those who contributed to raise the $3000 needed to bail Tyell out were also white. So he did not, he told me repeatedly, want race to cloud matters. My sons life, he said, is more important than some racial issue that people cant seem to get over. Thats what I want to focus on, man."
But I pushed him on it. I asked him point blank if he thought his son would be in jeopardy if he were not black and poor. And this guy who didnt want to cloud matters snorted bitterly and said, "That question has been answered way before this happened to my son. Do I need to even answer that? Come on."
My point is that Tyells father, like Trayvons parents, understood intuitively that if you start making racial accusations, no matter how obvious and well-founded they are, some white people will retreat behind self-justifying statements of blamelessness, others behind statements of angry denial, and the justice you seek will just get that much further away. So I am not surprised Trayvons parents said what they did. But I would wager a months salary that if you could somehow induce that man or woman to speak their heart of hearts and ask if them if they believe their son would be dead if their son had been white, they would say something like what Tyells father said. Do I need to even answer that? Come on.
This, friends and colleagues, is the story we are not telling. Because this influence that color still has over our perceptions half a century after the civil rights movement and our denial of that influence has implications far beyond the killing of Trayvon Martin, tragic as that was. No, it bears directly upon the decisions we make, the policies we embrace, in the fields of criminal justice, education, the environment, health care, the economy, politics, foreign policy, terrorism, you name it. It bears upon how we all perceive the world. So where are our enterprise stories documenting these effects? Why are we as an industry with a few noteworthy exceptions silent on these issues?