Skip to main content

What if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were white?

By Al Vivian, Special to CNN
July 25, 2013 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/27/justice/gallery/zimmerman-trial/index.html'>View photos of key moments from the trial.</a> Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, is joined by her son Jahvaris Fulton as she speaks to the crowd during a rally in New York City, Saturday, July 20. A jury in Florida acquitted Zimmerman of all charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. View photos of key moments from the trial.
HIDE CAPTION
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Photos: Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
Reaction to Zimmerman verdict
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Al Vivian asks, what if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were both white?
  • Vivian: The uncomfortable truth is that most people would see the case very differently
  • He says we all have unconscious biases that impact the decisions we make
  • Vivian: When will we reach a day when we don't have to refer to crimes in racial terms?

Editor's note: Al Vivian is the president and CEO of BASIC Diversity Inc., a 39-year-old consultancy that specializes in reducing cross-cultural biases and holds Race Awareness Workshop. He has worked with clients such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Kroger, McDonald's, the National Security Agency and CNN.

(CNN) -- Since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, everyone has had an opinion about the verdict.

I am not about to second-guess the jury's decision or pass judgment on them. Our judicial system is operating as it was designed. The jurors reached their conclusion based on the evidence placed before them and their interpretation of the law as it was explained.

As human beings, we see the world through the lens of our own experiences. Both science and history prove that we all have unconscious biases that impact the decisions we make.

There are some who say that the Zimmerman-Martin case had nothing to do with race. There are others who say that the case was all about race.

Al Vivian
Al Vivian

One idea that has come up: "What if we reverse the races so that Martin was white and Zimmerman was black?" That exercise, while potent, doesn't prove or disprove the relevance race played in the case.

A more powerful approach is to totally remove race as a factor by creating a scenario in which both the perpetrator and the victim are of the same race and then see whether people change their views. For example: "What if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were both white? Or both black?"

If Zimmerman and Martin were both white, ask yourself:

• Would it have taken 44 days and a national protest to merely justify the arrest of a known killer? A killer who shot an unarmed child, initially stalked that child, was charged with two previous felonies -- "battery of law enforcement officer" and "resisting officer with violence" -- was accused of domestic violence (both charges were reduced, though some would say that's the benefit of Zimmerman having a father who is a retired judge) and disobeyed the authorities when told not to follow the person he eventually killed.

For some, outrage from verdict not over
Pres. Obama on Zimmerman verdict

• Would authorities have not drug tested the killer but instead drug tested the victim?

• Would hordes of people have donated money to help the killer hire a strong defense team that eventually got him acquitted?

• Would society have given so much credibility to the killer's version of the events?

Many have tried to deflect the discomfort of this scenario by focusing on black-on-black crime. While such crime is a very serious issue that must be addressed by our society and especially the black community, turning to black-on-black crime is a form of avoidance. The uncomfortable truth is that very likely, most people would see the case differently if the killer and victim were both white.

When will we reach a day when we don't have to refer to crimes in racial terms?

In light of how much we know about ourselves on a scientific level, it is a shame that people are still so divided by race. In 2003, the mapping of the human genome code proved that there are no significant genetic differences between what we call "races." Every human being on the planet is 99.9% genetically identical to every other human being. But as societies, we live in constructs.

For those who fear the average random black male wearing a hoodie, I can empathize with you. But statistically, you should be more afraid of the person you see every day in the mirror. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, suicide is one of the top causes of death for white Americans (PDF). Homicide is not. So, your chance of killing yourself is greater than your chance of being killed by anyone, of any race.

Let's turn back to the question: "If the victim and the killer were both white, would society have given so much credibility to the killer's version of events?"

I doubt that a jury so heavily made up of white mothers would have related to or felt empathy toward a man who had stalked and killed an unarmed child who could have very easily been one of their own.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Al Vivian.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT