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
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT