With the news that accused killer George Zimmerman had received more than $200,000 on a website he created to procure “living expenses,” we are left with an elemental question about the morality of the American marketplace—Should accused killers be able to profit from hate?
Because that’s exactly what’s going on here. Ever since Zimmerman announced several weeks ago that he had created the site, this was the inevitable result—he would be able to exploit racial hatred and animus to make a buck. Any creep in the American hinterlands who admired Zimmerman for gunning down an unarmed 17-year-old black boy instantly had a tangible way to demonstrate his veneration. Now we get word from Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, that Florida Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester wants to know more about the money Zimmerman raised—especially since Zimmerman pleaded poverty at the bail hearing.
The Zimmerman site couldn’t have been up for more than a couple of days. And even when it was up, it was so slow and prone to freezing that it was virtually unusable. But despite these impediments, the website still managed to rake in $205,000.
Evidently, the mind of a credit card-wielding racist is a lot more patient than my own.
Let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting that George Zimmerman is a racist—after all, as his father says, he has black friends—or that every person who sent money to him was motivated by racial hatred. But as I’ve said before, I’m sure Zimmerman is not going to return any money that came through PayPal sheathed in a pointy white hood.
Hate crimes and racially-motivated killings have been an integral part of the American story for as long as the red, white and blue has decorated the flag. Every year, every decade, every century has its interminable catalogue of hate—black and brown men and women whose lives were snuffed out because of the virulent, pathological current that has swept across the land with the regularity of the Santa Ana winds.
If we take a deeper look at the history of Africans in America, we see a pattern emerge: This nation has been using race-based hatred as a profit-making engine ever since the Southern planters realized they could maximize their revenue with the use of free African labor—and then could create a virulent form of racism to justify slavery and keep poor whites so distracted that they couldn’t even see their own exploitation.
So Zimmerman’s money-making move is firmly rooted in the fertile soil of the American marketplace—a marketplace that used the laws of Jim Crow after slavery’s end to banish people of color to a segregated other world, while white men used cheap black labor (and depressed white wages) to wring every cent out of the Industrial Age. (In the world of sports, they used the absence of black competition to establish an illusory dominance).
Even now, in the Age of Imprisonment, black bodies in prison jumpsuits are used to keep entire small towns afloat all over America—and used as free prison labor to make a wide variety of products sold for profit. We don’t even control the purse strings of our own artistic expression—white-controlled corporations use black rap artists to employ misogyny and sex as a means to higher revenues.
Throughout history this nation has embraced the pairing of American bigotry with the mindless insatiability of American capitalism. And what an ugly duo they have turned out to be. Zimmerman’s move is creepy only because we have gotten used to our exploitation going down a little more smoothly now, masked and buried so that we don’t even notice it any more. So maybe we should thank Zimmerman for his transparency. Without access to a SuperPAC or shell corporation to hide his intent, Zimmerman put it all out there for us to see.
By raising $205,000 after committing the dumbest crime of the year, George Zimmerman has handed us a reminder that profiting from the abuse, exploitation and extinction of black bodies is truly the American Way.