Trayvon And Zimmerman—What It Means To Be A Man

Expressing our masculinity without violence.


I’ve had difficulty reflecting on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial. I realized that part of it was the result of being stunned by a verdict that seems so wrong. Part of my difficulty was in making sense of the complexity of this situation. Some people are seeing it as a case of racial injustice and profiling of African American Trayvon and the wannabe cop who was white… sort of (Zimmerman is of Peruvian descent and was classified as White Hispanic). Others see it as a gun law issue, a support (or indictment) of Stand Your Ground laws in Florida.
 
But as I keep looking into this tragedy, I am struck by the masculinity of it all. I’m struck by the ways in which problematic ideals of what it means to be a man likely played out in devastating ways. I see Zimmerman trying to be a man and protector, donning the identity and the weaponry of law enforcement. But he was play acting. There is limited evidence that he was trained rigorously in law enforcement and he was explicitly advised not to act out the role of the cop-protector in the heat of the incident. Yet, he had to be a man and confront Martin.
 
And Trayvon, probably rightly in fear of personal harm, no doubt attempted to stand his ground and defend himself. I would argue that he was playing the role of a man (young though he may have been) who doesn’t cower when confronted by a bully. Part of that impulse to not be bullied is about being black—I get that deeply as a black person. But racial dignity asserts itself in a variety ways, many of which are not about violent action. I think Dr. King taught us something about that.
 
Look, I wasn’t there and no matter what I think, if I were in that situation, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m just asking the question of what might have been different about that night—and about the dialogue that has followed these many months since—if we had a different collective idea of what it means to be a man. I wonder what would have happened if the broader deeper definitions of being a man were ingrained in our culture. What if being a man also meant:
 
  • Avoiding violent confrontation above all else, if at all possible.
  • Questioning your assumptions about the other men you encountered.
  • Accepting help as a virtue, not a sign of weakness.
  • Seeing retreat as a honorable option.
 
We can’t turn this clock back, sadly. But we can continue to work on helping broaden what it means to act like—and to be—a man.
Posted by Martin Davidson on Jul 18, 2013 12:30 PM America/New_York
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Martin, what's a wannabe cop? And what is "sort of"white?
  • Posted Wed 31 Jul 2013 10:05 AM EDT
Andrew, the data is flawed because of procedural flaws in the intial investigation, the affect of the intense media coversage of the event which, in my humble opinion, is frequently inaccurate and biased, and because of the human biases we all share when confronted by social and emotionally charged issues like race and politics.
  • Posted Tue 30 Jul 2013 11:30 AM EDT
Raina, I never claimed to know more or less than anybody else. I just feel like there are a lot of people who aren't being objective to the case. I mean, have you seen the pictures of Zimmerman filtering the altercation? You don't get the back of you're head busted up like that if you're on top of somebody. That happens from your head being banned against something hard. If somebody was doing that to me, I would most def fear for my life, as your head his the most delicate organ in your body. And Martin, how is it flawed? It sounds like it's flawed because it doesn't support your conclusion.
  • Posted Tue 30 Jul 2013 05:23 AM EDT
Andrew, your point in your second post that we can't know what was actually in Zimmerman's or Trayvon Martin's mind and heart is spot on--no one can but those two individuals. And we can never learn Trayvon's perspective. So we are left to further our learning by piecing together our best ideas based on the data we have. A lot of that data is brutally flawed. But we can explore possibilities and stimulate great dialogue nevertheless. I don't think any of us know or knew the actors in this tragedy. But we can discuss, debate, and learn from what happened. That's one of the many reasons I hang out on this site.
  • Posted Thu 25 Jul 2013 05:50 PM EDT
Andrew: It doesn't sound as if you know any more about the Zimmerman case than I do. We both have only our own impressions, based on what we've seen/heard/read, to go on. I agree that blind faith in "the media" serves no one, but I wonder where you get your information from--a website is as much a medium as a newspaper or a TV station. You're right that I'll never know exactly what was going through Zimmerman's mind when he shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. But I can make an informed guess. As for "real" manhood, I guess I'll never know what that is either--but I do know that, for me, the men who represent the best of masculinity are men like my father and brothers, none of whom would ever throw a punch or fire a gun unless their or my life depended on it (and I don't believe Zimmerman's claim that he felt his life was in danger).
  • Posted Thu 25 Jul 2013 05:40 PM EDT
And Martin, I fully agree that violence should be an absolute last resort. And Raina, men do get too macho sometimes, and I'm not saying that Zimmerman wasn't, but by stating that Zimmerman was being macho when you just can't know that about a person without being there yourself(and I've seen it happen way to many times), you put the lie to the goal everybody on this site claims to search for. You are judging him based on nothing. Hurray for PC.
  • Posted Wed 24 Jul 2013 01:55 AM EDT
Raina, when you say 'Trayvon Martin wouldn't be dead if it weren't for George Zimmerman's macho desire to prove himself', you are asserting your opinion as fact. That may be true, but it also could have been that Zimmerman was truly worried for the safety of his neighbors, as the character witnesses(many of whom were black) suggest. Also, one now curiosity. How is it, that you being a woman are such an expert on what a 'real man' is. You wouldn't know that anymore than I would know how to be a woman. Everybody on this site should go on this site called google and look at the cold hard evidence of the tragedy and loss if life that occurred in Florida with your own eyes. Don't listen to what the media says, with a picture of a 12 year old Martin as a cover. 5 years earlier. That's not manipulation is it. Take if the blinders people.
  • Posted Wed 24 Jul 2013 01:48 AM EDT
Thanks, Raina. I do believe that the key is for men and women to more deeply understand the range of options we have at every moment and in every encounter. The we understand and practice options, the mroe potential we have to resolve conflict creatively.
  • Posted Mon 22 Jul 2013 11:26 AM EDT
Thanks for another thoughtful post, Martin. "Seeing retreat an an honorable option" is a particularly important point, and one I'm glad you emphasized. Trayvon Martin wouldn't be dead if it weren't for George Zimmerman's macho desire to prove himself. It's crucial to teach boys and men of all races that there's no reason to escalate a potentially violent situation. Real men walk away before the first punch is thrown.
  • Posted Mon 22 Jul 2013 11:18 AM EDT

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