The XX Factor

Why Did an All-Female Jury Let George Zimmerman Go Free?

The image in our cultural imagination of the fearful, gun-loving, I’m-not-a-racist-but white conservative—the kind that is currently applauding the fact that George Zimmerman literally got away with chasing down an innocent black teenager and shooting him dead—is almost always male. There’s good reason for this. The most vocal examples in the media are male. Gun collecting with visions of a race-riot-driven apocalypse in your head is mostly a male hobby. But the jury that set Zimmerman loose to roam the streets with his gun and paranoid crime fantasies again was all female: five white women and one Hispanic.

Jessica Valenti wrote a raw, moving piece for The Nation expressing her dismay over the white women who fall for the myth that black men are inherently dangerous: 

When I first heard that the jurors were women, I naïvely hoped they would see this teenage boy shot dead in the street and think of their children. But they weren’t just any women; most were white women. Women who, like me, have been taught to fear men of color. And who—as a feminist named Valerie pointed out on Twitter—probably would see Zimmerman as their son sooner than they would Trayvon Martin.

As Valenti notes, that’s exactly the impression you get watching the interview Anderson Cooper conducted with juror B37. It’s clear from her responses to Cooper’s questions that the juror’s racialized worldview made it pretty much impossible for her to see Trayvon Martin as the innocent kid buying snacks or Zimmerman as the stalking aggressor:

I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly, that he went above and beyond what he really should have done. But I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong.

Given that Martin wasn’t engaged in any vandalism, the “these people” she’s referring to are not “vandals” but “black people.” B37 thinks Zimmerman was doing the right thing and simply “went above and beyond.” Above and beyond, in this case, meant stalking someone minding his own business, assuming, because of his race, no doubt, that he’s one of the “assholes” who “always get away,” and scaring him for no reason. This is the “above and beyond” that led up to killing Martin, but for some women, like juror B37, the image of the chivalrous knight protecting the white women from the scary black teenagers (with their bags of Skittles) overwhelms all common sense.

I frequently get tweets and emails from people asking why there are so many women who align themselves with conservatives in an era when waging war on women’s rights appears to be the Republican Party’s No. 1 priority. I often lamely tell them that it’s complicated, and it is. Juror B37, however, tells us part of the story: This myth that the world is full of scary people who are out to get you white ladies works. Plenty of white women are so worried about the imaginary threats lurking outside their door that they don’t pay any mind to the real problems that threaten us: economic inequality and lack of health care access. Sure, there’s crime, too, but 80-90 percent of rapes are committed by someone the same race as the victim. White women have more to fear from the men deemed our protectors than the ones we imagine are out to get us.