The Washington Post reported this week that civil-rights activists in Florida are dismayed that the George Zimmerman murder trial isn’t racially divisive enough. “It makes you feel kind of angry and kind of bad that race is not a part of this,” Reverend Harrold C. Daniels told the Post. “It’s a missed opportunity.”
The “problem,” as even the Martin family’s attorney concedes, is that there’s just not much evidence that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus. You’d think that would be good news. But it’s not, because so many people invested in the idea that “Trayvon Martin is Emmett Till!” in the words of one demagogic radio host.
When the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Voting Rights Act needed to take into account that blacks now vote more than whites in jurisdictions that are presumed to be racist, many responded as if the Supreme Court had reinstated Jim Crow. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry cried out on Twitter, “Damn, that citizenship thing was so great for awhile.”
Slavery and Jim Crow were horrible injustices, and the civil-rights movement was a shining moral triumph. But the light of that movement shouldn’t be used to blind us to important distinctions, chief among them: We don’t live in that world anymore.