Not Every Black Teenage Boy Who Flips Off a Camera Is a Murderer

Travyvon MartinSometimes people talk just because they have mouths and tongues and vocal chords. I’m convinced that George Zimmerman’s brother is one of them. And when folks like him have time to marinate in their own muddled thoughts and open a Twitter account, we all become privy to their clumsy attempts at reason. Hence Robert Zimmerman, Jr.’s effort to compare De’Marquis Elkins, who is accused of killing a 13-month-old baby in Georgia, to Trayvon Martin, who went to buy some Skittles and an iced tea before he was murdered.

Using photos of each teen brandishing their middle fingers and captioning the collage with “A picture speaks a thousand words,” Zimmerman seems to be trying to make a point. It’s not until he gets into his Twitter tirade that he reveals what it really is, though:


"Lib media shld ask if what these2 black teens did 2 a woman&baby is the reason ppl think blacks mightB risky"

So there we have it: one person accused of being dangerous defines the perception of an entire race of people -- the Obamas, Oprah, Bob Marley, me, Famous Amos -- the whole lot of us. We’re all perceived as potential threats because of what this one kid may or may not have done. That’s pretty reckless reasoning considering most white folks (even white Latinos) wouldn’t want to be measured on the Ted Kaczynski Scale of Socially Unacceptable Behavior.

Lumping these two kids, whose basic commonalities are that they’re black teenage boys with middle fingers, together into one generalization of thugishness says a lot for how Zimmerman not only sees young black men, but it’s representative of how a lot of people who consider themselves good, thoughtful, and humane see them, too. It was neon-bright obvious the last time I wrote about Trayvon in comments that justified the murder of a then-17-year-old. And on a site that speaks directly to mothers, that’s even sadder.

No 17-year-old kid deserves that, especially considering most of us go through a phase that reeks of teenage funkiness and self-righteous rebellion. Middle fingers doesn’t make someone a thug. And it certainly doesn’t make them a rightful candidate for murder.

If all it takes to be a thug is to be black, male, and not camera-shy about flipping the bird, three quarters of the dudes I went to college with, the bulk of my cousins, my Uncle Earl in that one picture with the big afro, most of the guys in this neighborhood, and just about every rapper everywhere would be locked up. I’m sure the Zimmerman boys think they should be.

So do plenty of other people, even in the confines of their secret, unspoken thoughts, even as they perceive the term “racist” to be another person’s problem and never, ever even entertain the possibility that it might be their own. Awesomely thoughtful writer Ta-Nehisi Coates recently penned a beautiful piece for The New York Times about that very thing.

Otherwise, racial profiling would be nonexistent and black boys throwing up their middle fingers would be nothing more than a tacky expression of immaturity and not a symbol of something far more sinister.

Is it impossible to be completely unbiased about other races?

Image via Hello Turkey Toe/Flickr 

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